Two Phil's just one of notables graduating from Colonial Downs

July 30th, 2023

Summers at Saratoga and Del Mar are synonymous with the unveiling of highly-regarded juveniles. But promising types are graduating from other circuits as well. Ellis Park has been a notable venue for two-year-olds to gain experience, and Colonial Downs is getting in on the act. In recent years, a number of major performers broke their maidens at the Virginia track, including Kentucky Derby (G1) runner-up Two Phil’s.

Trained by Larry Rivelli, Two Phil’s progressed from a fifth on debut at Churchill Downs to wire a six-furlong maiden at Colonial July 18, 2022. The son of Hard Spun immediately jumped up into stakes company, dominating the Shakopee Juvenile at Canterbury by 9 3/4 lengths. His only disappointing effort came when he wheeled back, stretched out to two turns in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), and never got involved from post 12.

Two Phil’s rebounded with a vengeance back at Churchill in the Street Sense (G3). Placed on the Derby trail at Fair Grounds in the Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2), the chestnut boosted his profile with a resounding win in Turfway Park’s Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3). Two Phil’s followed up with an outstanding second-place performance in the Kentucky Derby, faring best of anyone in proximity to the torrid pace. He was freshened in hopes of pursuing an Eclipse Award in the second half of the season, a project that began well as he outclassed the opposition in the Ohio Derby (G3). Unfortunately, Two Phil’s exited with a career-ending injury.

But it’s worth remembering where Two Phil’s first hinted of his talent, and he’s not the only one to go on to bigger and better things from Colonial maiden wins.

Millionaire Princess Grace and half-brother Catnip, both late bloomers, broke their maidens as three-year-olds here for Mike Stidham. The older Princess Grace swept to a 5 1/2-length debut tally going a mile on turf Aug. 2, 2020. The ultra-consistent filly has gone on to win or place in 13 stakes.

That total that can climb as Princess Grace continues her career in Australia, where she was last seen landing the April 22 Hawkesbury Crown (G3). Her stateside resume features scores in the Yellow Ribbon H. (G2), Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (G3), off-the-turf Mrs. Revere (G3), and back-to-back trophies in the Dr. James Penny Memorial (G3). Princess Grace’s placings include the Beverly D. (G1), Matriarch (G1), and First Lady (G1).

Catnip captured a 1 1/8-mile turf maiden in his second start on Aug. 9, 2022. Pitched right into the Virginia Derby (G3), he found it all happening too quickly for him at that stage of his development, and wound up sixth. A maturing Catnip has made the grade in 2023, landing the June 17 Monmouth (G3) and just placing second in the July 22 United Nations (G1).

Here’s a sampling of future stakes performers who advertised themselves in Colonial maidens as juveniles.

Hidden Connection aired in her 5 1/2-furlong debut on Aug. 17, 2021, and the Bret Calhoun filly promptly crushed the Pocahontas (G3) in her very next start at Churchill. Nearly upsetting champion Echo Zulu in the 2022 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), Hidden Connection has added graded placings in this year’s Houston Ladies Classic (G3) and Doubledogdare (G3).

Also for Calhoun, Tejano Twist broke his maiden in a five-furlong dash on Aug. 3, 2021, in his fourth attempt. After placing second in the Rosie’s S. on the Colonial turf and the Kip Deville S. back on dirt at Remington Park, Tejano Twist dominated a Keeneland allowance and won the Lively Shively S. at Churchill. He concluded his juvenile season by finishing best of the rest behind Epicenter in the Gun Runner S. Subsequently claimed by Chris Hartman, Tejano Twist continues to be a stakes competitor in the sprint division. His 2023 highlights include a victory in the Whitmore (G3) and a sequence of stakes placings, notably in the Churchill Downs (G1).

Graham Motion has debuted such smart turf fillies as Sparkle Blue and G Laurie here. Sparkle Blue’s Aug. 17, 2021 maiden was transferred to the main track over a mile, but she won handsomely. Eventually the winner of the 2022 Valley View (G3) and third in the American Oaks (G1), Sparkle Blue recently annexed the July 15 Big Dreyfus S. at Laurel.

G Laurie created a big impression in her six-length rout of a 1 1/16-mile turf maiden on Aug. 23, 2022. If not for bad luck, she would have had more opportunities to build a resume. Her tough-trip third in the Natalma (G1) suggested that she could play a role in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), but she was scratched with a fever.

Danse Macabre, second in her Churchill unveiling, switched to the Colonial turf for her second start on July 13, 2022, and rolled in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden. The Kelsey Danner pupil has been a rock-solid stakes performer at marquee tracks ever since. Runner-up to Love Reigns in last summer’s Bolton Landing S. at Saratoga, Danse Macabre won the Untapable S. at Kentucky Downs and placed third as the Matron (G3) favorite. She’s 2-for-2 this season with scores in the Herecomesthebride (G3) and Mamzelle S.

The Gerald Bennett-trained Dreaming of Snow won at first asking in a six-furlong maiden on Sept. 6, 2022, and resurfaced over the winter at Tampa Bay Downs. Although inconsistent, she was on her game to spring a 38-1 upset of Wonder Wheel and Julia Shining in the Feb. 11 Suncoast S. Dreaming of Snow was last seen finishing a remote second to track record-setter Munnys Gold in a Florida-bred stakes.

Lady Radler, runner-up at Churchill in her premiere, won her next two sprinting six furlongs at Colonial. Wiring an Aug. 10, 2022 maiden, the Michael Campbell trainee cleared her entry-level allowance condition in similar style on Sept. 7. Lady Radler held her own in stakes when second in Keeneland’s Myrtlewood S. and third in Tampa’s Sandpiper S. (where Dreaming of Snow was fourth), then broke through in the May 13 Goldfinch S. at Prairie Meadows. She made it two straight in a turf sprint at Hawthorne, and fired a bullet move back at Colonial on July 22.

Steve Asmussen started Gigante out in a turf sprint maiden for Virginia-breds, but he only thrived once stretching out to a route. Handily beating open company on both surfaces, Gigante captured a one-mile dirt maiden on Aug. 10, 2022, and crushed the Kitten’s Joy S. on turf by 6 3/4 lengths. This season, he pulled a 33-1 surprise in the May 17 Caesars H. at Horseshoe Indianapolis, and in his latest return to Colonial, he finished third in the restricted Edward P. Evans S. July 15.

Luna Belle, who lost her first two starts on the Colonial turf, was a different animal on the main track as she drew off by six lengths in a six-furlong maiden on Aug. 24, 2021. The Hamilton Smith filly later compiled a five-race winning streak at Laurel, all in stakes, culminating in the 2022 Weber City Miss S.

Conagher scored in a five-furlong turf maiden July 26, 2021, but prospered when reverting to dirt for Michael Tomlinson. His signature win came in the 2022 Housebuster H. on the Colonial main track, and he also placed in last year’s Iowa Derby and Harrods Creek S. at Churchill. Wow Whata Summer was awarded his maiden win via disqualification in a five-furlong turf dash on July 20, 2021. If not the most memorable graduate, the Chuck Lawrence runner warrants a mention for going on to shock the 2022 Penn Mile (G2) at 83-1.

Colonial grads have also garnered noteworthy stakes placings. Sequist, who rallied to prevail in her five-furlong unveiling July 20, 2021, was fourth in the Spinaway (G1) and third in the Alcibiades (G1) for Dallas Stewart. Chris Block’s Knockyoursocksoff, a debut winner over a grassy mile on Aug. 3, 2022, went on to take runner-up honors in both the Jessamine (G2) on turf and Golden Rod (G2) on dirt.

The 2023 meet ought to unleash more talented youngsters to follow, so keep an eye out for maiden winners on both dirt and turf at Colonial.