Who’re we watching? Let’s see what’s on tap in the mid-Atlantic (and elsewhere) this weekend:
- Ghost Bay, Laurel Park, Saturday, Race 7 (3:31), Allowance/optional claiming N1X, 1 mile
- Maryland-bred Ghostzapper colt benefited from a swift early pace in flashy maiden-breaking score, in December’s Maryland Juvenile Futurity. But make no mistake: that was a stellar effort, and he was tons the best pulling away to win by four after a troubled trip. Seemed to appreciate the added ground from six furlongs to seven, and the one-turn mile figures to be even more to his liking… Trainer Larry Murray had hoped for a run in the Private Terms a week ago, but, with lost training and weather issues, that didn’t happen. A good effort here could put this guy in the Tesio at Pimlico or, more ambitiously, the G3 Illinois Derby, both on April 18. This field includes three other Triple Crown nominees, including favored Top of Mind, the Rodney Jenkins trainee who registered a flashy debut score last month and figures to improve with added ground today.
- Defondo, Fair Grounds, Saturday, Race 11 (6:24 EDT), G2 Louisiana Derby
- Virginia-bred takes a swing at the big boys after emptying out late to be second in first try against winners and around two turns. Notably, the horse that beat him in that allowance test was a 60-1 bomber on the rise from maiden claiming company. This isn’t the best of the day’s Derby preps, but it’s still attracted enough solid runners — including International Star, who’s won both of the track’s preps for this, and Mr. Z, who has near-misses against division stars Dortmund and Far Right — that a runner with this resume figures to be long odds. The good news? With only four starts on the ledger, this Dallas Stewart trainee retains the right to improve. Our advice: watch, don’t wager.
- Materiality, Gulfstream Park, Saturday, Race 14 (6:48), G1 Florida Derby
- How good is this Pletcher trainee? We may get an immediate answer today as he faces favorite Upstart, winner of both the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth, in his first major test. This pricey Afleet Alex colts has obliterated rivals in both of his starts, winning by a combined 10 lengths, impressively enough that it’s chased stablemate Stanford off to Louisiana for his next effort. Owns a win at today’s 9-furlong trip, and that shouldn’t hurt either. Lack of experience might be the only chink in his armor; this’ll be just his third start.
- Around the horn…
- Race 2 at Penn National Saturday (6:27 post) is a maiden special for PA-bred maiden sophomore fillies with a couple of interesting firsters. Graham Motion sends out favored Valued Strike (2-1), a daughter of Smart Strike out a Deputy Minister mare that was bred by George Strawbridge. The horse has worked well enough at Fair Hill, but, boy, that’s a lot of breeding for a race with a $33,000 purse; is there a message there? Another firster worth a look is Tim Hooper’s Wise Girl (10-1), a daughter of the late Wiseman’s Ferry. She has a good enough work tab, and Hooper’s a positive ROI trainer with firsters… Speaking of PA-breds, the red-hot Kobel (5-2) has won six of seven and tackles open allowance foes in Race 8 from Parx Racing Saturday (4:04 post). Keith LeBarron trainee has won his last three, all with JD Acosta in the irons, and keeps acing his tests; he’s only been favored in two of the six wins… Curious to see if Rose Essence (6-1) can get on track in Race 6 from Laurel Park Saturday (2:52 post). The Rodney Jenkins trainee has failed twice as the favorite in maiden special weight company and likely won’t be the chalk today. What tells us more: her $425,000 price tag, or her two disappointing efforts?