Seven older horses to follow in 2024
The Eclipse Awards on Thursday night honored the horses, and people, who compiled championship seasons in 2023. In reviewing last year’s racing, thoughts also turn to several talented runners who could be poised for a bigger year in 2024.
A few eligible candidates will be back in action already on Pegasus World Cup Day at Gulfstream Park – unbeaten Integration in the Turf (G1), First Mission in the World Cup (G1) itself, and Star Fortress in the Filly & Mare Turf (G2).
But for my short list, I’d rather flag horses for a little further down the road, or away from the obvious spotlight at the moment. Add them to your TwinSpires Stable Alerts to monitor their progress.
We’ll reserve the three-year-olds for future stories on Road to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks prospects.
Last seen pursuing Arcangelo in the Travers (G1), where he was beaten only a length in second, Disarm has a right to become a top older horse. Might he even improve to the degree that sire Gun Runner did for the same trainer, Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen?
Disarm has never regressed from a Brisnet Speed ratings perspective, either improving or matching his figures throughout his nine-race career. A setback at two forced him to play catch-up on the 2023 Derby trail, so he did well to make it to the Run for the Roses and rally for fourth. The Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred built on his Derby effort and posted a trio of 104 Speed ratings in the final three starts of his sophomore campaign. Disarm, back on the worktab at Fair Grounds, promises to pick up where he left off.
Asmussen is aiming high, as he recently told the Fair Grounds publicity team:
“I’m hoping he’s the best older horse in training and it will culminate with the Breeders’ Cup (Classic [G1]). I believe he’s the only three-year-old that ran four triple-digit Beyers in a row last year.
“He’s everything you want him to be. Knowing what our end goals are with him, we will not be in a hurry to get him ready.”
Program Trading was Chad Brown’s most accomplished turf three-year-old of 2023, but Carl Spackler had the flair to suggest even greater raw ability. An Irish homebred for e Five Racing Thoroughbreds, the son of Lope de Vega turned the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2)/Saranac (G3) double in style at Saratoga.
Unfortunately, Carl Spackler hasn’t been seen since. The subsequent exploits of the Hall of Fame third, More Than Looks, only made Carl Spackler’s absence more lamentable. More Than Looks was a sneaky sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), closing furiously from last to go down by all of two lengths.
Brown’s bench is so deep that it’s easy to overlook twice-raced Royalty Interest, who has a lot to prove in the filly and mare turf division. Yet the French import looked like a class act when dominating her debut as the 3-2 favorite at Tampa Bay Downs last March. Bet down to 4-5 in the June 2 Penn Oaks, Royalty Interest was a too-bad-to-be-true last of five. She’s been gearing back up at Payson Park, and I’m hopeful that the Klaravich Stables runner will pan out yet.
Aside from her very positive first impression, Royalty Interest is by a stallion (Le Havre) who’s gotten some outstanding fillies in Europe, as well as a couple of useful performers for Brown stateside in Rymska and Orglandes.
While I’m looking forward to the day when Randomized, Xigera, and Pretty Mischievous clash in the older dirt female division, don’t forget about a filly who made a splash on the 2023 Kentucky Oaks (G1) trail. The Brad Cox-trained Botanical burst onto the scene with four straight romps on the Turfway Park Tapeta, culminating in the Bourbonette Oaks.
Pedigree strongly implied that her form could translate to the dirt at Churchill Downs, but Botanical never factored in 13th of 14 in the Oaks, and she headed to the sidelines. Bred on a similar cross to champion Forte, as a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro and a Blame mare, Botanical still has the potential to be surface-versatile. But Cox is wisely starting over at Turfway, where she will launch her comeback in Friday night’s eighth race. Note that stablemate Idiomatic used Turfway as a springboard to her championship-worthy campaign in this same division in 2023.
Five-year-old Shotgun Hottie is a veteran with 15 starts under her belt, but the Cherie DeVaux mare was just reaching the peak of her powers at Monmouth Park last summer. Another Gun Runner to improve with maturity, Shotgun Hottie drubbed lesser in the Lady’s Secret S., then scored an upset in the July 22 Molly Pitcher (G3).
The form of that race is pretty salty. Runner-up Le Da Vida eventually placed in both the Spinster (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), beaten only a half-length by Idiomatic in the latter. Search Results, third as the Molly Pitcher favorite, was coming off narrow losses in the La Troienne (G1) and Ogden Phipps (G1), and she went on to roll in the Locust Grove (G3) before checking in a decent sixth in the Distaff. Shotgun Hottie was put away after the Molly Pitcher, but she’s recently returned to work at Fair Grounds.
Bright Future is an anomalous inclusion on this list, since he’s already on the radar as a Grade 1 winner for Todd Pletcher. But I can’t resist a lightly-raced son of Curlin who was just starting to put it all together in the second half of the season. After edging divisional mainstay Proxy in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), Bright Future dropped way too far back early in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and found himself having to close from last in the 12-horse field. In the circumstances, he did well to reduce his deficit to 3 3/4 lengths in a respectable sixth. Proxy was third in the Classic, underscoring the value of his form, and Bright Future’s 104 Speed rating nearly equaled his career-best Speed 105 from the Gold Cup.
Straight No Chaser
When Straight No Chaser blitzed the Maryland Sprint (G3) on Preakness Day, rolling by 7 1/2 lengths in a stakes-record 1:08.27, he appeared ready to mix it up at the highest level. Instead, the promising speedster was sidelined for the duration of the year. The what-ifs emerged as the Maryland Sprint third, Nakatomi, went on to finish second in the Phoenix (G2) and third to divisional titan Elite Power in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). Straight No Chaser is reportedly back in light training with Dan Blacker at Santa Anita, and if he can stay healthy, he looms as a major factor on the sprint scene.