Making the Grade, which will run through the 2021 Triple Crown races, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.
A $5,000 purchase as a 2-year-old at auction, New York-bred Brooklyn Strong has emerged as an unlikely contender for the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve after he won for the third time in four starts with a victory in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes Dec. 5 at Aqueduct. Let’s take a closer look at his chances to become a major player on next year’s Triple Crown trail.
Ability: Brooklyn Strong finished third in the Bertram F. Bongard Stakes Oct. 2 at Belmont Park, his lone start in a sprint and his lone defeat to date. In three tries in races at one mile or longer, the Wicked Strong gelding in unbeaten.
There are several very promising signs through four races. His most recent race, the 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes, was an eighth of a mile farther than he had previously raced and his second try around two turns. It also was, by far, his best performance to date as he earned a career-best 101 Equibase Speed Figure and 93 Beyer Speed Figure.
His other start around two turns, his one-mile career debut Sept. 12 at Delaware Park was a convincing three-length win, so it looks like the added distance is a big positive for Brooklyn Strong.
Watching the replays of his races from his debut through his Remsen win, it’s clear that he is learning his craft. While he rallied from off the pace in his career debut, he was very eager early. Brooklyn Strong was similarly keen early in the seven-furlong Bongard, his lone defeat.
In winning the one-mile Sleepy Hollow Stakes Oct. 24, Brooklyn Strong was much more relaxed despite being wide throughout and showed great patience and responsiveness under Jose Ortiz. When called upon, he accelerated willingly and then put away runner-up Eagle Orb for a 2 ¼-length victory in the stakes race restricted to 2-year-olds bred in New York.
The Remsen marked a significant test for Brooklyn Strong. He faced open stakes competition while trying a graded stakes for the first time and also was asked to race an extra eighth of a mile while running on an “off” track — the main track was rated sloppy for the Remsen — for the first time.
Brooklyn Strong proved up to the challenge and adversity, again rating nicely for Joel Rosario (his fourth new rider in as many starts) before rallying on cue and wearing down pacesetter Ten for Ten in deep stretch to win by a neck.
The steady improvement is clear from his rising Equibase Speed Figures (75-86-92-101) and simply from watching his races. This is exactly what you like to see from a contender on the Triple Crown trail as he is adding to his toolbox with every race. Brooklyn Strong also consistently demonstrates tenacity when he draws alongside competition in the stretch.
The Remsen has not been an especially productive Kentucky Derby prep race in recent years and I’m a bit skeptical of the quality of the five-horse field for this year’s edition, but I do really like how Brooklyn Strong is maturing as a racehorse and believe he has a bright future.
Running style: As mentioned in the previous section, Brooklyn Strong has evolved through four races into a stalker who willingly rates off the pace for his rider and accelerates on cue. He has enough natural speed to stay within striking distance and the maturity to wait for his cue to shift gears and challenge for the lead.
Connections: Mark Schwartz paid $5,000 to purchase Brooklyn Strong at the OBS spring sale of 2-year-olds in training. According to Equibase data, the gelding is just the third racehorse he has owned alone or in partnership and is Schwartz’s first stakes winner.
Brooklyn Strong gave trainer Daniel Velazquez his first career win in a graded stakes. Training racehorses runs in his family as Velazquez learned his craft from his father, Alfredo, who trained multiple Grade 1 winner Private Zone. Since taking out his trainer’s license in 2009, Daniel Velazquez has won 173 races (through Dec. 6). He trains another promising 2-year-old in Laobononaprayer, eight-length winner of the New York Stallion Series Stakes Dec. 6 at Aqueduct.
Brooklyn Strong has had four different jockeys in four starts to date, including most recently Joel Rosario in the Remsen. Rosario won the 2013 Kentucky Derby aboard Orb and has two wins in the Belmont Stakes on Tonalist (2014) and Sir Winston (2019).
Pedigree: Brooklyn Strong is from the second crop of runners for Pennsylvania-based stallion Wicked Strong, winner of the Grade 1 Twinspires.com Wood Memorial Stakes in 2014. He also won the Jim Dandy Stakes that year and finished second in the 2014 Travers Stakes and 2015 Jockey Club Gold Cup. Brooklyn Strong is one of three stakes winners to date for Wicked Strong.
Wicked Strong is a source of stamina for Brooklyn Strong and so, too, is his dam (mother) Riviera Chic, by 2002 Travers Stakes winner Medaglia d’Oro. Riviera Chic was a winner at 1 3/8 miles on the grass and stakes placed at one-mile on turf in the U.S. She also won a race on an all-weather surface in England at about 1 3/16 miles.
Brooklyn Strong’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Hurricane Warning, by 1995 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Thunder Gulch, was unraced.
There is not an abundance of stakes winners in this pedigree, but you can see from the first couple of generations there are multiple sources of stamina that would explain why Brooklyn Strong has improved with added distance.
It’s fun to root for a good story, like this $5,000 New York-bred, but in this case I believe there is a significant chance he becomes much more than that on the racetrack.