You know it is summertime when the juveniles are popping up with big performances left and right. Saratoga and Del Mar often lead the way in featuring talented babies, but talent can come from anywhere, as Sweet Loretta, Bode’s Dream and Nonna Mela have shown us.
This week, babies made their debuts and broke their maidens at tracks all around the country, but the question is: Who looked the best?
Saratoga, like always, showcased several impressive-looking 2-year-olds, such as Mirai on Aug. 18, Blame Will and Favorable Outcome on Aug. 20 and Vertical Oak on Aug. 21. Of the performances, the most impressive to me were Favorable Outcome and Vertical Oak.
Favorable Outcome chased the pace on the inside early on, remaining calm while in the thick of things. Then, around the turn, he was swung to the outside and let loose by jockey Javier Castellano. At that point, he increased his advantage quite easily, hitting the wire six lengths in front in a dazzling time of 1:09.87. His final furlong was a sterling 12 seconds flat.
Blame Will recorded an identical time, on the same card as Favorable Outcome, but was much harder ridden to achieve it. It should be noted that he showed a ton of grit though, fending off the first challenge by Driven to Compete, then re-rallied after being headed by Always Dreaming.
The filly, Vertical Oak, who was making her second start, figured everything out this time around. She pressed a lively pace early on, before dispatching of her rival turning into the stretch. She then drew away to an impressive 6 ¾-length score.
Being by Giant Oak and out of a Pollard’s Vision mare, her breeding would indicate that she should only get better with maturity and distance.
At Del Mar, none were more impressive than the Ghostzapper filly, Zapperkat. The Richard Baltas trainee relaxed off sizzling early fractions before making a decisive move on the turn to reach contention. She then split her rivals turning into the stretch, before powering away to an emphatic 5 ¼-length score. Her final eighth of a mile was recorded in a mediocre 13 seconds flat, but she was far from fully extended by that point.
Another couple that impressed were Royal Mo and Irish Freedom. Royal Mo finished a game second, but impressed the most. He dueled through good opening splits, while running three wide, gained the lead turning for home only to get caught late by the rallying Irish Freedom. Both horses ran well, but the one to keep an eye on moving forward is Royal Mo.
While these youngsters are more high profile due to the tracks that they ran at, plenty of others looked just as good over the past week.
The most impressive had to have been No Dozing, a colt by Union Rags, who made a splash at Delaware Park. The colt sat three lengths off pacesetter Hold Me Black before he made a big middle move to put himself in contention. After such a premature move, you would have expected No Dozing to flatten out, but, instead, he sustained the move. He went by a stubborn Hold Me Black and then continued to edge away to win by two lengths.
While he may not have ranked first on my list of impressive juveniles away from the dynamic duo of Del Mar and Saratoga, O Dionysus ran a very close second in his debut at Laurel Park.
O Dionysus was nearly eight lengths behind at the first call of the race, made such a huge move that he was only two lengths behind by the time they hit the stretch. After being swung six wide, the Bodemeister colt continued his methodical run. When all was said and done, O Dionysus hit the wire nearly three in front, completing his final furlong in a powerful 12.24 seconds.
A little fact that makes this effort even more remarkable is that O Dionysus ran off with his rider during the post parade. Despite those antics, he was still able to take the race in dominant fashion.
Finally, there came a debut at Gulfstream Park that simply shouldn’t be ignored. In a maiden special weight affair on Aug. 20, Sweet Tooth Haven seized control at the start of the race, reeling off quick opening fractions. For a moment it looked like she might get caught on the turn, but as soon as rider Edgard Zayas gave her the cue, she was gone — the Vineyard Haven filly won by 4 ¾ lengths at the wire. The final furlong wasn’t overly impressive, though it should be noted that she was under minimal urging during the late stages.
Overall, the top three maiden performances this week came from Favorable Outcome, No Dozing, and O Dionysus, with Zapperkat getting the honorable mention. Be sure to watch out for these ever-improving youngsters.
Something tells me that we will be seeing quite a lot of these guys as the year moves on.