Racing Roundtable: Aqueduct juveniles and emerging turf stars

December 5th, 2023

This week's Racing Roundtable reviews the big two-year-old races at Aqueduct, the budding turf stars that won at Del Mar, and other notes of interest from the first weekend in December.

What are your takeaways from the Remsen (G2) and Demoiselle (G2)?

James Scully: The stretch drive of the Remsen (G2) left something to be desired and the Demoiselle (G2) winner had everything her own way on the best part of the track. Dornoch and Sierra Leone, the top two finishers from the Remsen, and Demoiselle winner Life Talk all remain promising types, but I need to see more before buying stock. Dornoch didn’t switch leads on cue, drifted into the rail and lost momentum in upper stretch, and then came back to win the Remsen because Sierra Leone completely shut things down after overtaking his rival. It wasn’t pretty, both appear to need racing experience, and connections will aim for two Kentucky Derby preps over the next six months. 

Vance Hanson: Both races were won by the betting favorite, so it's hard to make a case that they were solely the result of the speed-favoring nature of the Aqueduct strip on Saturday. However, given the way the track was playing, Sierra Leone arguably ran a better race than Dornoch in the Remsen. He made a sustained rally from more than a dozen lengths back, appeared on his way to victory after taking a lead of around a half-length with a furlong to go, and then inexplicably idled in the final yards and yielded the race to a resurgent Dornoch. Perhaps you can chalk up that, and his propensity to lug in, to relative inexperience and a lack of maturity. Whether he grows out of it in time for next spring's classics remains to be seen, but both he and Dornoch look like capable colts moving forward. Dornoch obviously has the favorable pedigree, being a full brother to Mage, though I question how battle tested he will be leading up to the Derby if he stays exclusively on the New York trail.

Do Program Trading and Surge Capacity look like major players in the turf division next season?

JS: Yes. After capturing the Saratoga Derby (G1) on the front end three starts previously, Program Trading displayed an improved turn of foot to win the Hollywood Derby (G1), and the progressing colt has won four of five starts since making his career debut in mid-May for Chad Brown. His lone setback, a runner-up in the Virginia Derby (G3), came to Integration, who remained unbeaten when romping the recent Hill Prince (G2), and one may argue that Integration and Program Trading are the top two American turf horses entering 2024. Surge Capacity has more to prove from a class perspective, picking up her first Grade 1 tally in the Matriarch, but the once-beaten sophomore filly has plenty going for her.

VH: Both three-year-olds got a late start to their careers and have only five starts each underneath them, thus they remain with a lot of upside. But I'd give Surge Capacity the nod to make more of an impact in her division, as she looks like the archetypal female turf miler we've seen emerge from the Chad Brown barn for many years now. She had a far less glamorous trip in the Matriarch, but really kicked on once she got through to narrowly edge stablemate Fluffy Socks. Beating that rival, who's been rather win shy during her career, perhaps isn't the most flattering of accomplishments, but again there's room for her to get better.

Program Trading has obviously done little wrong, though Integration handled him pretty well in the Virginia Derby (G3) and appears the stronger prospect of the two going into next season. Also, there doesn't seem to be much separating Program Trading and Webslinger, and I question that rival's ability to be in the top tier of the division.

What else caught your eye over the weekend?

JS: Hoist the Gold dominated the Cigar Mile (G2) and handicappers had to be willing to draw a line through three California starts in his last five appearances. Based on his non-California races, the four-year-old appeared to be peaking for Dallas Stewart, registering triple-digit Brisnet Speed ratings for an Ellis allowance win and his first stakes win in the Phoenix (G2), and the four-year-old registered a career-best 106 number for his 4 1/2-length decision in the Cigar Mile.

I’ll also mention El Capi, who rolled to a 9 1/2-length win when making his career debut in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Aqueduct Saturday. The Rick Dutrow-trained colt was on the best part of the track, leading clear throughout, but El Capi caught the eye drawing off smartly and registered an impressive 100 Speed rating. He’s by Maclean’s Music, who is best know for siring champion sprinter Jackie’s Warrior but also produced 2016 Preakness (G1) victor Cloud Computing, and El Capi’s stamina-laced female family offers encouragement for longer distances.

VH: Although he turned in arguably the performance of the weekend, it's probably best to treat Hoist the Gold's authoritative win in the Cigar Mile (G2) with a grain of salt. The speed-favoring nature of the Aqueduct strip on Saturday aided his domination to a significant degree, I think, as the field looked far more evenly matched on paper going in. Connections of Hoist the Gold are having a look at the one-turn Saudi Cup (G1) in February, a logical spot, but one I'd be reluctant to back him in, given the favorable conditions he encountered at the Big A.