Racing Roundtable: Travers, Jackie, and upcoming juveniles

August 2nd, 2022

In this week's edition of the Racing Roundtable, James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson talk Travers (G1), Jackie's Warrior, and some of the promising juveniles recently seen at Saratoga and Del Mar.

Who do you see as the primary threat to Epicenter in the Travers?

James Scully: Cyberknife. He's got more to offer following a game victory in the Haskell (G1). I'm confident he'll be even better next season, but Cyberknife remains eligible to make a major impact in the coming months. Well-regarded before his first start, Cyberknife needed three starts as the favorite to break his maiden and finished an awful sixth when making his stakes debut in January's Lecomte (G3). His Arkansas Derby (G1) was one of the slower final preps, and the chestnut was no factor in the Kentucky Derby (G1). He's now won two straight, and his Brisnet Speed ratings (104 for Haskell, his first triple-digit number) are starting to catch up to his talent. Cyberknife is reminiscent of his sire, Gun Runner.

Kellie Reilly: Charge It's Dwyer (G3) romp came against inferior competition, but his 106 Brisnet Speed rating indicates that he's beginning to fulfill his potential. He brings the alluring combination of rapid improvement on top of a foundation from earlier in the season, when the Kentucky Derby was just too much, too soon. Interestingly bred on the same cross as Flightline โ€” by Tapit and out of an Indian Charlie mare โ€” Charge It hails from the immediate family of 2013 Travers champion Will Take Charge and 2019 sophomore star Omaha Beach. We probably haven't seen the best of him yet.

Vance Hanson: He's met Epicenter three times this season and has finished behind that rival in every single one, but Zandon still looms as Epicenter's leading foe in the Travers. The gap between the two was smallest over the Travers' 1 1/4-mile distance, in the Kentucky Derby, and the general expectation ahead of the Jim Dandy was that Zandon would probably need the race more for conditioning purposes in advance of the Travers. He might not get the upper hand later this month, but to me Zandon will have the best chance of doing so in a likely larger field.

Is Jackie's Warrior gliding too easily toward the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1)?

JS: The American sprint division is very weak this year and while Jackie's Warrior towers over the competition, I wonder if Joel Rosario is doing any favors by not riding him in races. He couldn't have been more complacent in Saturday's Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1), acting as if Jackie's Warrior was going to win by 10-plus lengths, and the four-year-old colt held by two lengths over fast-closing Kneedeepinsnow. Of course, it's fair to ask who's going to beat Jackie's Warrior in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. I will keep my fingers crossed for Jack Christopher to be redirected to the Sprint โ€” Jack Christopher is the only American-based one-turn specialist with talent on par to Jackie's Warrior.

KR: File under the "it's a good problem to have" category. While there's something to be said for having a battle to hone skills and toughen up, rather than cakewalking into the Breeders' Cup, I'm not sure that applies so much to a horse like Jackie's Warrior. That's perhaps more of an issue for horses yet to be tested by serious opponents. Jackie's Warrior, on the other hand, has withstood pretty severe tests in the past, and his unflinching displays in last year's H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) and Pat Day Mile (G2) proved his mettle. You can't hold his 2021 Breeders' Cup Sprint loss against him, since he exited the race with a knee chip that required surgery. As long as he stays sound and healthy, he still has that fight in him, if called upon.

VH: Jackie's Warrior can only beat who is entered against him, and as noted, the older male sprint division is light on depth this year. That doesn't mean, however, that Jackie's Warrior might not be worth opposing (again) in the Breeders' Cup at a short price. Odds-on favorites have a poor record in the Sprint historically. Groovy (twice), Housebuster, Lost in the Fog, and Jackie's Warrior himself are among those who lost at miserly odds, so taking a jaundiced view of him a few months from now might indeed be warranted.

Which debut juvenile winner over the weekend impressed you most?

JS: Todd Pletcher unveiled Prank on Sunday, and the two-year-old Into Mischief filly delivered a spectacular wire-to-wire victory over maiden special weight foes at Saratoga, winning by nearly 10 lengths and netting a strong 96 Brisnet Speed rating. It's interesting to see the Hall of Fame trainer with promising juvenile half-siblings to the top three-year-olds in his barn. Prank is a half-sister to Belmont S. (G1) winner Mo Donegal, and Lost Ark, a Violence colt who won by 5 1/2 lengths at Belmont in early July, is a half-brother to Nest. At Del Mar, Newgate looks like a good one for Bob Baffert, overcoming a rough start to win going away by 3 1/2 lengths on Saturday. By Into Mischief, the $850,000 colt opened up at 1-9 odds, eventually leaving the starting gate at 1-2, and his pedigree is geared toward longer distances. Newgate earned a solid 89 Speed rating.

KR: Last weekend's two-year-old maidens at Saratoga and Del Mar showcased some exciting debut winners. But the absolute stars were a pair of fillies on Sunday, both winning in a particularly memorable manner. At Saratoga, Prank scorched a 5 1/2-furlong maiden wire-to-wire in 1:03.94. The way she zoomed off by 9 3/4 lengths in the stretch immediately made me think of Covfefe, the champion three-year-old filly and champion female sprinter of 2019, who delivered an eerily similar performance in her 2018 unveiling at Churchill Downs. Both are by Into Mischief, and Prank is a $500,000 half-sister to reigning Belmont hero Mo Donegal, her stablemate in the Todd Pletcher barn.

A few hours later at Del Mar, Justify's daughter Justique employed the opposite tactics in a stunning last-to-first performance. Slowly away, she began to pick off rivals on the far turn, then flew in the lane to win by 2 1/2 lengths. It wasn't just how easy she made it look, as though merely galloping, but the fact that she was debuting for John Shirreffs, a 5% trainer with firsters. This was likely meant as an educational run, but Justique was simply too good. A $725,000 half-sister to Grade 1 winner (and freshman sire) Mo Town, Justique looks like she can top his resume in time.

VH: Besides the aforementioned Prank, the Irish-bred filly Be Your Best impressed at first asking earlier on Sunday's Saratoga card. The daughter of European sprint star Muhaarar romped by 3 1/4 lengths going 1 1/16 miles on the turf under Jose Ortiz, and will surely hop into stakes company either later in the meet or elsewhere in advance of a possible tilt at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) at Keeneland. 

What first-crop of two-year-olds would you like us to add to our mix?