Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: Winners from coast to coast

December 18th, 2023

All around the country, promising 2-year-olds posted sharp maiden victories last week, throwing their names in the ring as potential 2024 Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders.

At Fair Grounds in Louisiana, Crafted impressed on debut in a six-furlong maiden special weight last Thursday. The stoutly bred son of Vino Rosso carved out fast fractions of :21.78 and :44.87 before digging deep to prevail by half a length in 1:10.81. Expect Crafted to improve with distance and maturity for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

Two days later at Fair Grounds, Honky Tonk Highway broke through in his fifth start, leading all the way to trounce an off-the-turf 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight by 6 3/4 lengths in 1:04.44. It was a step in the right direction for the Bret Calhoun trainee, whose sire—City of Light—already has Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Fierceness on the Kentucky Derby trail.

The fifth time was likewise the charm for Lat Long, a son of Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner Liam’s Map conditioned by Kenny McPeek. Placed in his first four starts while facing rivals like future Remsen (G2) winner Dornoch and upcoming Gun Runner S. entrant Track Phantom, Lat Long found the competition more suitable in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on Sunday at Oaklawn Park, launching a mid-race rally from fourth place to score by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:46.79.

At Gulfstream Park, Change of Command starred in a seven-furlong maiden special weight on Sunday. After hitting the board in his first three starts against talented rivals like Fierceness and Remsen (G2) runner-up Sierra Leone, Change of Command took a step forward in his Florida debut, pressing the pace before taking over to dominate by 6 1/2 lengths. The $1.05 million yearling acquisition is progressing in the right direction for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.

Scatify didn’t need as much experience to win a six-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday at Los Alamitos. In fact, the John Sadler trainee didn’t need any prior racing experience at all. Debuting against a small but promising field, Scatify didn’t get off to the best start, but assumed a pace-tracking position and eventually took over to beat heavy favorite March of Time by half a length in 1:09.81. Scatify finished up nicely (running his final quarter-mile in about :24.06), so the future looks bright for this son of Triple Crown winner Justify.

Across the country at Aqueduct, Strat Mo Matic was also ready to win on debut. Heavily favored to win a six-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday, the son of champion two-year-old and successful sire Uncle Mo tracked an opening quarter-mile in :22.96, took over through half a mile in :46.87, and finished fast (final quarter-mile in :24.16) to prevail by a head in 1:11.03. Strat Mo Matic appears to have upside for trainer Edward Barker, so don’t be surprised if he turns up in one of Aqueduct’s many upcoming Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifiers.