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Game Winner Dominates Tale of 2YO Tape

by Jeremy Plonk

December 10, 2018

Saturday’s Los Alamitos Futurity put a lid on 23 graded stakes this season for the 2-year-old males. To no one’s surprise, Bob Baffert ran 1-2 with Improbable and Mucho Gusto. The season’s last major juvenile stakes will be Sunday’s listed $400,000 Springboard Mile at Remington Park, which carries 10 official Kentucky Derby qualifying points to its winner (10-4-2-1 scale).

Here’s the tale of the tape from the 23 graded juvenile stakes of 2018:

  • Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, American Pharoah and Del Mar Futurity winner Game Winner is the only multiple graded stakes winner in the crop, and he scored all three in Grade 1 company.
  • 14 of the 23 winners were 5-to-2 or less, including 7 at even-money or less.
  • Only 3 of the 23 winners were 10-to-1 or more.
  • Favorites went 12-for-23 in the juvenile graded stakes for males.
  • Knicks Go at 70-1 in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland was the only winner above 17-1.
  • Instagrand at 1-10 in the Grade 2 Best Pal at Del Mar was the shortest-priced winner.
  • 10 of the 23 races featured fields of 10 or more, but 9 offered fields of just 6 or fewer.
  • Bob Baffert led the way among trainers with 5 wins, followed by Todd Pletcher with 3 (2 on the turf). Other trainers with multiple graded wins were Chad Brown, Jerry Hollendorfer and Kenny McPeek with 2 each.
  • Javier Castellano paced the jockeys with 3 wins – but Fog of War, Opry and Sombeyay don’t exactly give him the strongest hand toward the Triple Crown trail. Riders with 2 wins were Manny Franco, Brian Hernandez Jr., Jose Ortiz, Joel Rosario and Drayden Van Dyke.
  • 16 of the 23 graded stakes in the division were at a mile or longer.
  • 16 of the 23 races were on the dirt with 6 on turf and 1 on Tapeta (Woodbine’s Grade 3 Grey).
  • Candy Ride topped the sires with 4 wins – 3 by Game Winner as well as Vekoma’s Grade 3 Nashua score. Into Mischief was the only other sire with multiples, responsible for Grade 2 Remsen winner Maximus Mischief, Grade 2 Best Pal winner Instagrand and Grade 3 Sanford victor Sombeyay.
  • Damsire AP Indy accounted for 4 wins, a trio via Game Winner as well as Improbable in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity. The only other damsire with multiple wins on this list is Speightstown, represented by sons Vekoma (Grade 3 Nashua) and Opry (Grade 3 With Anticipation on turf).

Given Justify’s rise from inactively to immortality last year, there will be a natural tendency for followers of the trail this year to be more lenient of those inexperienced at this stage. And lest we forget that Always Dreaming was a 2-race maiden heading into his sophomore campaign 2 years ago. Whether or not that makes for a change in the trends remains to be seen.

When you look at the last 10 Derby winners, 6 of them were stakes performers at age 2. But Animal Kingdom and Orb parlayed success with only their maiden-breaking victories in tow, while the aforementioned Always Dreaming and Justify came into their breakout seasons still seeking graduation from the maiden ranks.