February 5, 2023

In this biweekly series, racing analyst Keeler Johnson shares promising horses from his handicapping watch list, reviewing runners who have recently caught his eye and previewing horses scheduled to run back in the near future.


New to the Watch List


Banishing

It appears Godolphin has yet another talented horse running in their colors. Banishing improved off a fourth-place finish in his Churchill Downs debut to obliterate a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on Monday at Fair Grounds.

The Brendan Walsh trainee dashed to the front through fractions of 23.64, 47.73 and 1:13.96, then accelerated the final five-sixteenths of a mile in a rapid 30.84 seconds to draw off and score by 8 1/2 lengths. His final time of 1:44.80 was quicker than the 1:44.85 seconds by Jace’s Road to win the Gun Runner later in the afternoon, suggesting Banishing has Road to the Kentucky Derby potential.


Corona Bolt

How good is Corona Bolt? The Florida-bred son of Bolt d’Oro looked like a star in the making when dominating the six-furlong Sugar Bowl at Fair Grounds, his second victory from as many starts. Corona Bolt was tons the best, setting quick fractions of 22.24 and 45.92 seconds before finishing up strongly (final two furlongs in 11.86 and 12.18 seconds) to dominate by 6 3/4 lengths. Corona Bolt reached the finish line in 1:09.96 and might be something special for trainer Brad Cox.

Faustin

Faustin sold for $800,000 as a 2-year-old in training, turned in a long series of fast workouts and left no doubt about his superiority when debuting in a six-furlong maiden special weight on Monday at Santa Anita.

A son of two-time horse of the year Curlin out of three-time Grade 1 winner Hard Not to Like, Faustin didn’t get off to the best start and wound up four lengths off the pace through an opening quarter-mile in 21.68 seconds. He was still two lengths behind after a half-mile in 44.47 seconds, but once Faustin shifted outside for racing room down the lane, he finished up strongly (final furlong in about 12.42 seconds) to draw off and beat stablemate Sonoran by 2 3/4 lengths.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Faustin reached the finish line in 1:10.08. He’s bred top and bottom to thrive running long, so look for Faustin to improve when stretching out in distance this winter.


Recent Watch List winners


Dazzling Blue

Brad Cox-trained 2-year-old filly brought her record to 2-for-2 with a flashy victory in the Letellier Memorial at Fair Grounds. Breaking on top, Dazzling Blue carved out fractions of 22.18 and 46.45 seconds before staying on strongly down the homestretch to win the six-furlong sprint by three lengths in 1:11.59.

A daughter of leading North American sire Into Mischief, Dazzling Blue was produced by the Curlin mare Blue Violet, winner of the Lady’s Secret at 1 1/16 miles. Dazzling Blue has the pedigree to stretch out around two turns, so the Kentucky Oaks (G1) might be a viable spring goal.


Taiba

Taiba has carved out his reputation with top-three finishes in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Pennsylvania Derby (G1), Breeders’ Cup Classic and Haskell (G1) running 1 1/8 miles or farther. But cutting back to seven furlongs proved to be no obstacle for the son of Gun Runner, who dominated the Malibu (G1) on opening day at Santa Anita.

Taiba showed enough positional speed to track splits of 22.18 and 44.38 seconds from second place, and down the homestretch he put his stamina to good use, pulling clear to win by 4 1/4 lengths in a snappy 1:21.75. Now a three-time Grade 1 winner, Taiba appears poised for a powerful 4-year-old campaign.

Worth another try


Salimah

The Winter Memories winner showed surprising early speed in the American Oaks (G1) at Santa Anita, setting fractions of 23.88, 48.31, 1:12.45 and 1:36.97 before weakening down the homestretch to finish seventh in the 1 1/4-mile turf test. Salimah was beaten only four lengths while stepping into graded stakes competition for the first time, so I’ll give her a chance to rebound with a return to rallying tactics next time.


Off the Watch List


Apprehend

Failed to fire his strongest shot in the Malibu, finishing seven lengths behind Taiba in sixth place. Apprehend has run twice since his runaway allowance optional claiming win at Santa Anita on Oct. 8, but he’s failed to replicate that flashy form on either occasion. I’ll drop him from my Watch List for now.


Expressman

Finished second as an odds-on favorite for the second straight time, coming home 4 1/4 lengths behind Black Belt in an allowance optional claimer on Friday at Gulfstream Park. Expressman is having trouble recapturing the form of his flashy debut win at Saratoga, so I’ll drop him from my watch list until he shows a bit more spark.


Forbidden Kingdom

Carved out the pace in the Malibu and showed tenacity to hold second place over a couple of late runners, but after four consecutive defeats, Forbidden Kingdom seems to have reached a plateau. I’ll want to see him take a step forward before playing him again.

Here is my complete, updated list of Horses to Watch.