Another year, another summer race meet at Del Mar in the history books. Dozens of memorable races took place on both dirt and turf over the course of 36 days, including a handful of Grade 1 prep races for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
But just as significant as the Grade 1 events were the numerous maiden races and smaller stakes races for 2-year-olds. These young Thoroughbreds represent the future of racing, and during the course of the Del Mar meet we saw plenty of promising juveniles in action.
With an eye toward the 2019 Grade 1 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, here are five up-and-coming 2-year-olds to keep an eye on from the Del Mar meet:
Trainer George Papaprodromou might not be a household name, but he’s conditioned a couple of graded stakes winners in recent years, and you’re advised to keep an eye on his exciting young juvenile American Theorem.
From a pedigree perspective, American Theorem has always been cut out to be a good horse. His sire is 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and his dam, Mighty Renee, is a daughter of champion 2-year-old Maria’s Mon, best known as the sire of Kentucky Derby winners Monarchos and Super Saver. Mighty Renee’s previous foals include the stakes winners Cyclogenisis, Mighty Caroline, and Renee’s Queen.
American Theorem flashed serious speed in workouts leading up to his Aug. 31 debut at Del Mar but when the starting gates opened, he was content to rate in seventh early as the leaders raced through a fast opening quarter-mile in :21.82 seconds. However, when steered into the clear and given his cue to advance, American Theorem decisively rallied to score by 1 ½ lengths over an exciting field of well-bred youngsters, earning an 83 Beyer Speed Figure. The takeaway? American Theorem can flat-out run.
Collusion Illusion was busy during the Del Mar meet, packing in two starts and securing two victories. After rallying to a tenacious debut victory sprinting five-eighths of a mile on July 21, the Florida-bred son of Twirling Candy produced another determined charge to spring a 7-1 upset in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes, clocking three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.34 to earn an 83 Beyer. Notably, runner-up Wrecking Crew came right back to finish second in the Grade 1 Runhappy Del Mar Futurity.
Collusion Illusion doesn’t have the most high-profile pedigree, but his sire was a high-class route runner who has sired a few similarly long-winded performers (Concrete Rose, Gift Box, etc.). Collusion Illusion’s broodmare sire, First Dude, finished second in the 2010 Preakness Stakes and was a Grade 1 winner running 1 ¼ miles. Collusion Illusion is bred to succeed at longer distances, which is why it’s exciting to see him demonstrate such potential while sprinting. Trainer Mark Glatt appears to have a promising colt on his hands.
You can usually count on Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert to unveil an exciting young runner at Del Mar and Eight Rings delivered on those expectations with a powerful debut victory on Aug. 4. Favored at 3-5, the son of Empire Maker pressed a fast pace and powered clear in the stretch to win by 6 ¼ lengths over the next-out maiden winner Express Train, earning a sharp 94 Beyer Speed Figure.
Unfortunately, nothing went right for Eight Rings in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity on Labor Day. Once again sent off as the clear favorite, Eight Rings ducked in sharply after the start and collided with a rival, in the process unseating jockey Drayden Van Dyke. The good news? Eight Rings emerged unscathed from the incident and proceeded to run around the track like a seasoned pro. Despite falling 15 or 20 lengths behind his rivals, Eight Rings stayed focused on his job, catching and passing most of his opponents before the race was over.
Granted, Eight Rings wasn’t carrying the weight of a jockey. But he showed maturity beyond his years and a great competitive spirit to race on his own and catch up with the field. It’s exciting to see a promising young runner with the mindset of an elite racehorse, and these traits should serve Eight Rings well in the future.
Express Train showed a lot of potential in his debut for John Shirreffs (of Zenyatta fame), rallying to finish second behind Eight Rings in a maiden sprint on Aug. 4. Considering Express Train is a son of Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags out of a mare by the stoutly-bred Horse of the Year Mineshaft, this was a noteworthy performance from a colt who figured to improve while stretching out in distance.
Express Train certainly lived up to his pedigree when tackling a one-mile maiden race on Aug. 28. After casually vying for the lead through the first half-mile, Express Train took command and pulled away strongly under jockey Mike Smith to score by 14 ¼ lengths, earning an 83 Beyer.
Purchased for $500,000 as a yearling, Express Train has long been held in high regard. Judging from his performances so far, major stakes races — and a trip down the Road to the Kentucky Derby — could be in his future.
Honor A. P.
Although Honor A. P. was beaten in his debut on Aug. 17, he demonstrated significant potential under challenging circumstances. A slow start caused him to fall more than a dozen lengths off the early pace, a major disadvantage in a sprint of just three-quarters of a mile. But after essentially losing contact with the rest of the field, Honor A. P. unleashed a powerful finish under jockey Mike Smith, rallying past eight rivals to finish second by just 2 ½ lengths behind future Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity participant Ginobili.
Honor A. P. was absolutely gobbling up ground in the stretch, gaining 4 ½ lengths in the final eighth of a mile alone, which he sprinted in the excellent time of :12 flat. This was a huge debut from a colt who is bred to relish longer distances. Honor A. P.’s sire is the champion Honor Code, winner of the Metropolitan Handicap and Whitney Handicap, while his dam is two-time Grade 1 winner Hollywood Story. With the benefit of a race under his belt, Honor A. P. should dominate next time out, especially if he stretches out over a mile or farther. Look for this exciting colt to join his Shirreffs-trained stablemate Express Train on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.