Another year, another summer, another exciting race meet at Saratoga Race Course in the books.
As usual, “the Spa” was a steady source of high-class juvenile racing from July through early September. Over the course of eight weeks, we saw a seemingly countless number of promising 2-year-olds take center stage, both in graded stakes and ordinary maiden races.
Don’t be surprised if several of the talented youngsters we saw wind up factoring in the 2021 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and/or the 2022 Triple Crown. Three of the last five Belmont Stakes winners raced at Saratoga during their juvenile seasons, as did 2017 Kentucky Derby hero Always Dreaming.
With this in mind, we’ve gone through the Saratoga results and identified five of the most exciting 2-year-olds worth following. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll see the 2022 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner emerge from this group:
Let’s see … Classic Causeway is a son of three-time leading sire Giant’s Causeway out of a mare by Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Thunder Gulch. Any way you slice it, that’s a pedigree geared toward success at classic distances.
But despite his stout breeding, Classic Causeway had no difficulty winning his debut sprinting seven-eighths of a mile. To the contrary, Classic Causeway flashed excellent speed while setting quarter-mile fractions of :22.59 and :45.48, then put his stamina to good use through strong finishing fractions (final three-eighths of a mile in :37.19) to pull away and dominate by 6 1/2 lengths in 1:22.67.
This was an excellent performance, and one Classic Causeway can build on as distances get longer. Trained by Brian Lynch, Classic Causeway looks like a Road to the Kentucky Derby contender in the making.
Gunite has been a work in progress since debuting in April. Conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, the son of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner has already run five times. Gunite lost his first two starts at Churchill Downs before breaking his maiden on his third attempt; then he shipped to Saratoga and came up short again in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special Stakes Presented by Miller Lite, finishing second behind runaway winner High Oak.
Gunite put everything together in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes on closing day at Saratoga. After dueling for command through testing fractions of :22.23 and :44.49, the Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred bid farewell to his pursuers and drew off through a quick :12.72 final furlong to defeat Grade 3 Sanford Stakes winner Wit by 5 3/4 lengths. High Oak finished even farther behind in fourth place.
Gunite completed seven-eighths of a mile in 1:23.08, in the process stamping his credentials as a key contender for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and – perhaps eventually – the Kentucky Derby.
An impressive margin of victory isn’t the only sign of a promising juvenile but it’s certainly a good start. Jack Christopher couldn’t have been much more dominant when sprinting three-quarters of a mile in his Aug. 28 debut.
Trained by Chad Brown, the son of talented sprinter-miler Munnings flashed pace-pressing speed through quick quarter-mile splits of :21.83 and :44.61, then turned on the afterburners down the homestretch. In front by 3 1/2 lengths with an eighth of a mile remaining, Jack Christopher kept extending his advantage to reach the finish line 8 3/4 lengths clear in the sharp time of 1:09.85.
Produced by a daughter of the Grade 2-winning sprinter Half Ours, Jack Christopher is bred top and bottom for speed and might not relish running classic distances. But then again, we’ve seen several speedily bred sophomores visit the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle in recent years, and at least we know Jack Christopher has a good deal of raw talent.
If you thought Jack Christopher’s margin of victory was impressive, you had better check out the performance turned in by My Prankster in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden sprint on Aug. 21!
Conditioned by two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, My Prankster was tons the best while making his career debut. The son of Into Mischief rated patiently in third place through an opening quarter-mile in :21.77, advanced to second place through a rapid half-mile in :44.60, and then stormed home down the straight to dominate by 10 lengths in 1:16.27.
Into Mischief has already sired 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner Authentic, and My Prankster’s dam's sire, Flower Alley, is responsible for 2012 Kentucky Derby hero I’ll Have Another. It seems reasonable to conclude My Prankster’s pedigree features the right blend of speed and stamina to excel on the first Saturday in May, stamping the bay colt as a highly exciting prospect.
On Aug. 7, Steve Asmussen officially became the winningest trainer in North American racing history. The horse who gave Asmussen his record-breaking 9,446th triumph was Stellar Tap, a gray colt who definitely ranks among the most exciting juveniles seen in action during the Saratoga meet.
Facing eight rivals in a maiden sprint at seven-eighths of a mile, Stellar Tap dueled for the lead through fractions of :22.46 and :45.35, then kicked on impressively to trounce his pursuers by 5 1/4 lengths in 1:23.82.
As a stoutly bred son of three-time leading sire Tapit out of a mare by stamina influence Medaglia d’Oro, Stellar Tap is bred top and bottom to improve with maturity and thrive over classic distances. This makes his debut at Saratoga all the more impressive – if Stellar Tap can run this well sprinting as a juvenile, who knows what he might accomplish over longer distances next year?