The major graded stakes race season for up and coming two-year old thoroughbreds is starting to heat up and this Saturday’s race card at both Santa Anita and Belmont Park.
This year’s FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita features a pair of promising Kentucky Derby hopefuls and Belmont’s Pilgram Stakes has a full field of two-year olds eying-up a spot in the Juvenile Turf for this year’s Breeders’ Cup. The following is a look at a few of my top sport picks for each of these races.
FrontRunner Stakes- Santa Anita Parksa
The FrontRunner is a Grade 1 stakes race for two-year old thoroughbreds that is contested on dirt over a distance of 1 1/16 miles. The total prize purse for this race is set at $300,000. Last year, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah began his run to sports most elusive title with a commanding victory in this race.
This year’s FrontRunner is shaping-up to be a two horse race between a pair of juveniles that have already gone head-to-head against one another in two major graded stakes races. The winner in both battles was Nyquist, who recently crossed the finish line first in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity earlier this month at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club as a heavy 1/2 favorite at Pinnacle.
This two-year old colt is trained by Doug O’Neill and he brings a perfect 3-0 record into Saturday’s race. The first victory of his young career came in a Maiden Special Weight race at Santa Anita in early June. Nyquist followed that win up with a strong first-place run in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 8. This is definitely the horse to watch over the next few months starting with expected run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in late October at Keeneland following this race.
The other two-year old colt to watch in this year’s FrontRunner is Swipe. He went off at 8/1 on the betting odds, and battled his way to second in the Del Mar Futurity with a strong push down the stretch. Trained by J. Keith Desormeaux, Swipe has been busy as a juvenile with five races under his belt since late May. He has finished in the money in all five races including a victory in the Summer Juvenile Championship at Los Alamitos in mid-July. In early August he finished second again to Nyquist in the Best Pal Stakes.
Pilgrim Stakes- Belmont Park
The Pilgrim is a Grade 3 stakes race with a total prize purse of $200,000. It is open to two-year old thoroughbreds and it is run on turf over a distance of 1 1/16 miles.
The field for this year’s Pilgram Stakes has eight horses listed as probable including trainer Todd Pletcher’s Azar. This two-year colt has the highest rating in Saturday’s field at 6.27 according to Horse Racing Nation and he is coming off a big victory in the Grade 2 With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 2. After posting a disappointing seventh-place finish in a Maiden Special Weight race at Belmont in his two-year old debut on July 19th, he bounce back with a second-place run in a Maiden Special Weight race at Saratoga in mid-August.
Another top contender for this year’s Pilgrim is Highland Sky. This Kentucky bred two-year old colt is trained by Barclay Tagg. While this will be his first run in a major graded stakes race, he did look sharp in a Maiden Special Weight victory at Saratoga on Sept. 5 in his racing debut.
If I had to add a third horse to the mix for this Saturday it would be Eidmilaad. This two-year old is also Kentucky bred and trained by Chad Brown. This will be his first stakes race after winning his debut in a Maiden Special Weight race at Saratoga on Aug. 30. The interesting thing about this thoroughbred is that you can trace his progeny all the way back to Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.