The field for the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance typically does not come into focus until races — particularly stakes races — get a bit longer in distance.
The traits required of a 2-year-old capable of winning a 5 ½-furlong on three-quarter-mile stakes sprint in their second or third career start during the summer frequently do not mesh with the characteristics needed to win a two-turn, 1 1/16-mile race in November. In fact, there is a very high likelihood that a significant percentage of the field for the $2 million Juvenile Nov. 5 at Del Mar has not yet even competed in a race.
But in Thoroughbred racing, talent trumps all. Athletes with speed, the stamina to carry that speed a route of ground, and the will to win often show those characteristics from the moment they set foot on a racetrack. The best of them continue to improve into the fall and winter and many go on to be elite 3-year-olds. Recent Sanford Stakes winner Wit looks like he could be one of those elite racehorses, so let’s take a closer look at this promising 2-year-old colt.
Wit is a dark bay or brown colt from the first crop of multiple Grade 1 winner Practical Joke, by two-time leading sire Into Mischief. He was purchased for $575,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September yearling sale by two of his three current owners, Repole Stables and St. Elias Stable. Gainesway Stable also purchased an interest in Wit prior to his career debut.
Wit made a dazzling first impression on the racetrack with a rallying, six-length runaway victory June 5 at Belmont Park in a 5 ½-furlong race on a main track rated as good. The 0.45-1 favorite in his debut, Wit was last of eight early and seven lengths behind the leader after the opening quarter-mile thanks to a slow start.
He split horses entering the turn and then launched his winning bid with a sweeping move entering the stretch. He leveled off powerfully in the stretch to take command and then powered clear for a dominant win. Wit earned a 91 Equibase Speed Figure, 70 Beyer Speed Figure, and 87 BrisNet speed rating for the victory. On paper, it was a terrific start.
The starting gate troubles cropped up again for Wit’s second start in the $150,000 Sanford Stakes, a three-quarter-mile Grade 3 race on July 17 at Saratoga Race Course, but they were caused by the runner to his outside immediately crowding him. Starting from the inside post, Wit recovered quickly and moved up to stalk the pace from fifth, 5 ½ lengths behind pacesetter Trust Our Journey.
Wit again launched an eye-catching rally on the turn and looked even more push-button in the race — when jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. gave him his cue to accelerate the response was immediate. He took charge near the top of the stretch and powered away to an eight-length score as the 11-10 favorite.
While there remain some issues to be ironed out with the starting gate, the improvement from race one to his second start was abundantly clear and the speed figures backed that up: 100 Equibase Speed Figure, 90 Beyer Speed Figure, a 96 Brisnet rating.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with his performance, and I thought he broke a little better this time,” winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He’s just one that, for whatever reason, is not super quick the first jump or two. It’s not a behavioral issue. We did our normal standing at the gate in between races. I thought he would improve just by having the start and he definitely broke more alertly and got bumped by the 2 [Candy Landing] a little bit, but was still able to get into the position we were hoping he could and went smoothly from there.”
Wit is not the typical speedy, headstrong 2-year-old who barrels to the front and races as fast as he can as long as he can and then just tries to hang on late; he understands what he’s doing on the racetrack, identifies his target, and doesn’t lose interest once he takes command.
True tests of class and stamina will come soon for Wit, who is expected to target the seven-furlong, Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes Sept. 6 at Saratoga, but after two races he looks like a rising star.
Wit is from the first crop of Practical Joke, who won the Grade 1 Hopeful and Grade 1 Champagne Stakes as a 2-year-old in 2016 and the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at 3. He also finished second in the 1 1/8-mile Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and third in both the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes. While Practical Joke probably was at his best in one-turn races, he proved he could stretch out to a mile and longer against top competition and hold his own.
Practical Joke is off to a fantastic start with his first crop of runners with five winners from 12 starters through July 25, which bodes quite well for a son of leading sire Into Mischief.
Wit is the second stakes winner produced by his dam (mother), Numero d’Oro, by 2002 Travers Stakes winner Medaglia d’Oro. Numero d’Oro also produced 2018 Longacres Mile Handicap winner Barkley.
Wit’s second dam (maternal grandmother), Numero Uno, by Afleet, was a three-time stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles and produced a pair of stakes-placed winners.
Based upon pedigree, I would guess Wit should be able to excel at the 1 1/16-mile distance of the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Nov. 5 at Del Mar.