Just how deep is Steve Asmussen’s roster of talented young two-year-olds?
No one can say for certain, because seemingly every week—or at times, every day—Asmussen unleashes another promising young runner. Last week at Saratoga, Asmussen won three juvenile races in the span of two days, and he would have won four over three days if not for a disqualification on Thursday.
The disqualified runner was Super Simple, a filly coming off a runner-up effort at Churchill Downs. Overlooked at 7-1 in a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight that was rained off the turf course, Super Simple worked out a perfect trip stalking a fast pace before rallying to prevail by a nose, but she and the runner-up—favored Guacamole from the barn of Todd Pletcher—“traded leans” down the homestretch per the footnotes of the Equibase result chart, and Guacamole was ultimately awarded the victory by the stewards.
There was no such drama on Friday when Asmussen’s Bankit crushed six rivals in a 5 ½-furlong maiden sprint for New York-breds. Coming off of a runner-up effort in an open maiden race at Belmont, Bankit was favored at 3-10 and ran to his odds, dueling for the lead through fractions of :22.62 and :46.06 before powering clear to win by 6 ¾ lengths, seemingly with something left in the tank. He cruised the final three-sixteenths of a mile in a quick :18.29 seconds and was clearly much the best.
Asmussen’s streak of success continued on Saturday with two more winners. First up was Carter Cat, the favorite at just under 2-1 in a 5 ½-furlong off-the-turf maiden race. With two second-place finishes at Churchill Downs under his belt, Carter Cat boasted plenty of experience in a field comprised primarily of first-time starters, and perhaps that gave him an edge in the final furlong as he rallied from just off a fast pace to score by 2 ½ lengths. Bucktail Spinner, a second-time starter from the barn of D. Wayne Lukas, dueled for the lead through fractions of :21.98 and :45.69 before hanging on gamely to win a four-way battle for second place.
But Asmussen’s most impressive winner of the weekend—and also the fastest in terms of Beyer speed figures—was Absolutely Aiden. The son of Stay Thirsty made his debut in a six-furlong maiden race and showed plenty of potential, breaking like a rocket from the starting gate to establish command through fractions of :22.18 and :45.81. Thereafter, he never gave any of his rivals a chance to get close, powering to a four-length lead at the eighth pole before shying from the whip and weaving around down the homestretch. That cost him a bit of his lead (and he nearly hit the rail), but he nevertheless stayed on strongly to win by 2 ¾ lengths in the time of 1:11.08, earning a 78 Beyer.
Others to keep an eye on out of this deep race include Mark Casse’s Wild Medagliad’oro, who unleashed a big finish from off the pace to secure the runner-up spot; and Chad Brown’s Aurelius Maximus, a stoutly-bred colt who made a mid-race move before flattening out to finish third. Aurelius Maximus is bred to excel going longer and could be one to watch down the road.
Naturally, Asmussen will be in action again this weekend in the seventh race on Saturday, a six-furlong open maiden race on the main track. The horse to watch this time is #1 Justice of War, who sold for $550,000 as a 2yo-in-training earlier this year. The unraced son of Strong Mandate drew the rail, which is less than ideal, but his work tab includes some solid breezes and he’ll be ridden by Asmussen’s go-to jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr.
Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, and Mark Casse will see action with the first-time starters #3 Cousin Pete, #2 Fullness of Time, and #7 Moon Colony, respectively, three more well-bred youngsters who brought solid prices at auction. Fullness of Time is a half-brother to the graded stakes-winning sprinter Bobby Abu Dhabi, while Moon Colony counts the three-time Grade 1 winner Cavorting as his half-sister. Notably, Cavorting went unbeaten in four starts at Saratoga (all in graded stakes races), so perhaps her love for Saratoga will turn up in Moon Colony as well.
Among the entrants with previous racing experience, #6 Mucho looms as one to watch based off his respectable runner-up effort behind Whiskey Echo (subsequently third in the Grade 3 Sanford Stakes) in a maiden race at Belmont Park in June. Trained by Bill Mott, Mucho is bred to improve with maturity and longer distances, so don’t be surprised if he steps up his game on Saturday.
Earlier on the Saratoga card, grass horses will get a chance to shine in an 8.5-furlong maiden race on the inner turf course, the second race of the day. Mark Casse’s #6 All American Hero, a son of Hard Spun and a half-brother to the stakes winners Annual Report and Giant Payday, sold for $400,000 earlier this year and could start as the favorite as a result.
Meanwhile, Pletcher will send out the experienced #10 Social Paranoia, who will switch to turf after finishing second and third in his first two starts sprinting on dirt. #1 Brittas Bay, a son of Scat Daddy, will make the same dirt-to-turf move for trainer Wesley Ward, while it could also pay to keep an eye on #5 Medina Ridge, a son of War Front making his debut for Shug McGaughey. McGaughey isn’t really known for winning with first-time starters, but if Medina Ridge shows promise, he’ll be one to watch down the road.
A similar grass race, restricted to fillies, is scheduled as the sixth race on the Sunday card. Chad Brown will naturally send out two starters—#6 Seek and Destroy and #7 Dogtag—but I’m just as curious to watch #2 Madding Crowd, who makes her debut for Bill Mott and represents a betting angle that I like to look for at Saratoga each summer.
Lastly, if you want to stay aboard the Steve Asmussen bandwagon, be sure to check out #6 What a Fox in Sunday’s second race, a 5 ½-furlong maiden race for fillies. This daughter of Bernardini posted some sharp workouts at Keeneland earlier this year and will have Santana in the saddle. Pletcher’s #5 Into Mystic and Brad Cox’s #3 Tweedia are others to watch.
Enjoy the races!