Nick’s Turf 10: Cugino leading

We’re just jumping in at the half mile pole with the Turf Ten, the quest for the best three-year-old turf horses with at least one start in North American at seven furlongs or further.

Major upcoming turf races for the sophomores this summer include the $750,000 Belmont Derby Invitational (G1), the $500,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2), and $600,000 Saratoga Derby Invitational (G1), along with the $2.5 million Nashville Derby Invitational (G3T) at Kentucky Downs.

Colonial Downs has now added a one-mile prep to its three-year-old turf stakes calendar, traditionally the featured niche of the Virginia racing season. The $125,000 Boston Stakes is for three-year-olds and run four weeks ahead of the one-mile $500,000 Secretariat Stakes (G2) on August 10. Four weeks after the Secretariat Stakes is the $500,000 Virginia Derby (G3) on September 7 at a 1 ⅛ miles. 

The last two weekends have produced three-way close finishes making separation in the Turf Ten difficult. Below are Nick’s thoughts on the best three-year-old turf horses in North America with the trainer, jockey of last start, and owner listed. Here’s hoping to see some of them at Colonial Downs this summer.


C. McGaughey, III; F. Prat; West Point Thoroughbreds and Jimmy Kahig LLC.

       McCaughey hinted about this horse when he was on Off to the Races Radio on Kentucky Derby day that Cugino would be an up and comer that he wants to bring to Colonial Downs this summer.. Cugino grabbed the early lead and set modest fractions, so it was no surprise he would widen his lead in the Audubon June 1 to win by over four lengths. Cugino is by Twirling Candy out of  Adorable Miss, by Kitten’s Joy.


C. Appleby; Rosario, J.; Godolphin, LLC

This one’s quick-footed action in the G2 Pennine Ridge may be one of the more impressive wins of the three-year-old turf season so far. This English-bred won four races overseas, largely in Dubai, before finishing fifth in his first North American start as the favorite in the G2 American turf. His recent win, by a head, showed his ability to split horses in tight quarters and find the wire. Legend of Time is sired by Irish-bred Sea the Stars out of the Irish mare Kissable, by Danehill Dancer.


B. Walsh; Dettori L.; Qatar Racing LLC

After a bit of rest after finishing ninth in the Transylvania, albeit just three lengths behind Neat on softer ground at Keeneland, Brendan Walsh’s sophomore returned to his winning ways with a wide swinging run to win the $400,000 Penn Mile  under Frankie Dettori. Previously First World War won the Kitten’s Joy (G3T) at Gulfstream Park. Sired by War Front out of Sundaysathebeach, by Medaglia d’Oro, First World War has earned over $500,000 for Hunter Valley Farm and Qatar Racing, LLC. 


G. Motion, U. Rispoli, Amerman Racing, LLC.

His third-place finish in the Penn Mile looks worse on paper than it does on video for the G2 American Turf winner, though he lead late before getting outkicked. His American Turf win goes alongside his Rushaway win on the Turfway Park synthetic – and his near-miss effort in the Penn Mile – to show this is a formidable contender. Trikari is by Oscar Performance out of the mare Dynamic Holiday, by Harlan’s Holiday. 

Fulmineo won the James Murphy Stakes at Pimlico. Photo by Allison Janezic.


J. Thomas; Dettori, L.; Augustin Stables

Could fans at Colonial Downs be next to see the flying dismount while Dettori checks another box on his punchlist?  Maybe so, with this descendent Kitten’s Joy on the damside. The Jersey Derby winner at Monmouth on June 1, Twirling Point is by Twirling Candy out of Kitten’s Point, by Kitten’s Joy, a homebred for George Strawbridge who won two editions of the Virginia Derby with the late Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard, including the first one with Crowd Pleaser. Twirling Point was best of the Jersey Derby trio late in the race, winning by a nose between horses, and previously finished third, behind Trikari, in the Rushaway. Trainer Jonathan Thomas has some inside knowledge of the Colonial Downs ground as his father, J. D. Thomas, was Colonial’s turf maestro. 


C. Brown; Prat F.; James J. Bakke and Isbister Gerald

If not for that quick-footed Legend of Time, White Palomino would have won the Pennine Ridge in just his third career start. Even at the sixteenth pole he looked like the winner. Failing by just a head to Legend of Time makes White Palomino difficult to keep off the Turf Ten, and that’s before factoring in turf ace Chad Brown as the trainer. This one is by Kitten’s Joy out of the mare Wolf Gourmet, by Flatter. 


S. Asmussen; C. Torres; Winchell Thoroughbreds, LLC

Moving back to a route in the Penn Mile after four turf sprints, Aspenite showed patience on the rail as the group went quick early and battled on the inside late after finding an opening. He outfinished favored Trikari but couldn’t hold off First World War. This Constitution colt is out of Aspening, by Candy Ride, and has two wins from nine starts. Now it looks like his forte has been figured out.


W. Mott; J. Alvarado; Besilu Stables

Somehow Royal Majesty (GB) was wide and still had to work through traffic in a small field to have a say in the finish of the Pennine Ridge (G2T), ending up third. A little more turf course seems to be a good thing for the English-bred son of Frankel out of Crown Queen, by Smart Strike. The Pennine Ridge effort was a big advancement and longer distances appear to be in his future. 


S. Asmussen; F. Prat; HRH Princes Sultan

Best of the rest in the Audubon, yet seems to go back and forth with Cugino, who is among the tough foes this colt has faced. Catching Freedom, Timberlake, Neat, Trikari go along with Cugino as tough adversaries Lagynos ran well among on turf and dirt. The Kantharos colt out of Steamy, by Speightstown seems to be improving on the transition back to turf with each start. Might finally get one on the firm going.


A.Delacour; F. Prat; Starlight Racing

Very visible win on Preakness weekend in the $100,000 James Murphy at Pimlico over a slow-playing course rated soft. Yet he came off the pace to win over eight others in a wide, driving manner. Bred in Maryland by Country Life Farm and Starr of Quality LLC, the Bolt d’Oro colt got blinkers for the first time. The Murphy was the second win for the colt, who is  out of the mare Starr of Quality, by First Dude. He is owned by Starlight Racing.