Racing Roundtable: Stars of Tomorrow II

November 29th, 2022

With the 2022 Churchill Downs fall meet in the books, James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson look back on the final Saturday's juvenile action in this week's Racing Roundtable.

Would you like to see Hoosier Philly take on males, or stick to the Kentucky Oaks (G1) trail?

James Scully: If she continues to progress over the winter, Hoosier Philly will deserve the opportunity. I like the Kentucky Derby (G1) bravado from trainer Tom Amoss, the gray filly has made everything look easy so far, and Hoosier Philly appears well-situated for distances longer than Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Golden Rod (G2). Her Brisnet Speed ratings (career-best 93 Speed figure) are eligible to keep increasing, and I've been impressed by Hoosier Philly's powerful turn of foot in three career starts.

Kellie Reilly: The much faster pace in the Golden Rod has to be factored in when comparing Hoosier Philly's final time to the colts' slower Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). Still, the fact that she did it under a hammerlock, unextended, is a strong hint about her ability. I doubt, however, that the judicious Tom Amoss would pitch Hoosier Philly versus males until she's had more experience in her own division. His post-race quote that he's "entertained the thought of putting her on the Road to the Kentucky Derby" sounded more like a thinking-out-loud than a declaration of intent. Indeed, Amoss clarified as much to Horse Racing Nation's Ron Flatter on Monday. If Hoosier Philly had made it to the races sooner this season, perhaps a tilt on the Derby trail would have been tempting next spring. But I'd prefer the Rachel Alexandra/Rags to Riches program of progressing through the Kentucky Oaks, then all being well, take on the boys.

Vance Hanson: I think sticking to the Kentucky Oaks trail is the prudent move for now. If she runs out of competition in the filly ranks, and proves fast enough while doing so to be competitive in Fair Grounds' later Derby preps, then it might be worth taking a shot against the boys. With the real Derby points not available until late February and March, there is no need to rush a quality filly like her.

What are your takeaways from the Kentucky Jockey Club?

JS: The ridiculously slow pace (six furlongs in 1:15.02) makes it difficult to evaluate, and I want to see more from Instant Coffee before declaring him a top contender for the 2023 Kentucky Derby, but the Brad Cox-trained colt commendably grinded his way to the lead in deep stretch after a less-than-favorable trip, racing well off the pace and wide on both turns following a tardy start. Instant Coffee received a 105 Brisnet Late Pace number, and continued to progress after recording a belated fourth in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) previously. He remains an intriguing prospect entering 2023 despite the slow final time in the Kentucky Jockey Club.

KR: The result was yet another boost to the Breeders' Futurity form. KJC winner Instant Coffee and unlucky fourth Red Route One had both run well in that Keeneland race. They rallied to round out the Breeders' Futurity superfecta, albeit at a respectful distance behind Forte and Loggins. Forte underlined his merit by coming back to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and surely wrap up an Eclipse Award; Breeders' Futurity fifth Newgate was runner-up in the Bob Hope (G3); and seventh Two Phil's romped in the Street Sense (G3). All of that increases my interest in Loggins, who continues to strike me as Brad Cox's top Derby contender. To be fair to Instant Coffee, he did very well to quicken off a dawdling pace in the KJC, while enduring a wide trip throughout. Yet his performance wasn't the kind of show-stopper to suggest he'll defy the historical trends against KJC winners in the Derby.

VH: The one-two finish by Instant Coffee and Curly Jack sure flattered presumptive division champion Forte, who finished well ahead of both in the Breeders' Futurity and Breeders' Cup Juvenile, respectively. However, we might eventually look back on this as a sub-par renewal of the Kentucky Jockey Club, given the raw final time turned out more than a full second slower than the Golden Rod (and Hoosier Philly was cantering to the wire). Much of that was the function of the slow early pace, but in general I don't believe this will prove to be the race's finest hour.

What else caught your eye on the Stars of Tomorrow II card?

JS: I'll focus upon a pair of maiden winners by Gun Runner: Point Proven and Vahva. Point Proven stylishly stretched out to a route, breaking his maiden over a 1 1/8-mile distance by a widening five-length margin, and the regally-bred colt appears to be developing nicely for Todd Pletcher. Vahva looks like a filly with a future, offering a sharp move to take a clear lead in upper stretch before cruising to a three-length decision in a seven-furlong test. Trained by Cherie DeVaux, Vahva is still figuring things out at the starting gate, and she's a promising sort for longer distances next year.

KR: To highlight just one angle from an informative day, Gun Runner sired three promising maiden winners — Gun Pilot, Point Proven, and Vahva. Gun Pilot could be the most interesting after outperforming his 11.75-1 odds on debut. The Steve Asmussen trainee had the tactical speed to force the pace from post 11, took charge, and opened up. The Todd Pletcher-trained Point Proven relished the stretch-out to 1 1/8 miles to break his maiden by five lengths. The filly Vahva, last seen sustaining a tough beat in a Saratoga maiden, rolled by three lengths for Cherie DeVaux.

VH: Although not visually striking taking a first-level allowance, it's worth noting Confidence Game ran the fastest 1 1/16 miles on the card, quicker than the times posted in the Golden Rod and KJC. A son of Candy Ride and out of a half-sister to Zenyatta, Confidence Game was making his fifth career start for trainer Keith Desormeaux. The downside is that he was well-beaten in his only stakes try to date, in the Iroquois (G3).

I'll echo the observations on Gun Runner continuing his outstanding record with young runners by siring three of the 12 winners on the card. That included first-time starter Gun Pilot in the nightcap, who trainer Steve Asmussen snuck by the betting public to the tune of a $25.50 mutuel. Those kind of market oversights don't arise very often.