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Meet the class of 2011: Part 2

Am I glad I didn’t finish my list of most interesting 3-year-olds last week! In case you missed it, the Grade III Holy Bull turned out to not only produce a colt with a new chunk of Derby change in his bank, but a new star that has handicappers buzzing and fans hopping on his bandwagon like they’ve lucked onto a gold rush. So to kick off Part 2 of 2 in a series on 3-year-olds to keep an eye on in these final months leading up to the Kentucky Derby, we’ll begin with that spectacular performance at Gulfstream last Saturday.

Dialed In 

Only five days after the dust had settled on a thrilling edition of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, track announcer Mark Johnson called a prediction at Churchill Downs: “Dialed In could be a star.” But Johnson wasn’t merely latching onto the next horse to fill the shoes of newly retired champions Zenyatta, Blame, Lookin at Lucky, et. all; as he narrated the action of this maiden special weight for 2-year-olds, his voice betrayed his surprise as a colt named Dialed In missed the break and came from last “out of the clouds” to swoop in and catch the leader in the last few strides. It was the colt’s debut at the races, and his win was more than impressive—it was a flash of something special. In his next race, trainer Nick Zito decided to enter Dialed In in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream after scratching him from an allowance race that had turned up sloppy a few days before. Apparently, the Racing Gods smiled upon this decision. Breaking even worse this time around, Dialed In started out running some 15 lengths behind the next-to-last horse in the field. But after this slow start, the Mineshaft colt was brilliantly maneuvered by jockey Julien Leparoux up the rail and rallied like a freight train to capture his first graded stakes win and the imaginations of race fans. Not only had Dialed In won the race against the odds of his terrible start, he had overcome a speed-biased track in a race peppered with seasoned stakes winners in only his second lifetime start. Clearly, Dialed In was a horse worth buzzing about. Zito plans to keep the colt at Gulfstream on the road to the Kentucky Derby, so watch for him to turn up again in the Grade II Fountain of Youth and aim for the Grade I Florida Derby.


Soldat (whose name means “soldier” in German), racing under the guidance of trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, has never been worse than first or second in six career starts, and he has won both on the dirt and the turf. Finishing a determined second place in the Grade II Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs after being shut out on the rail for a good part of the stretch, Soldat came back to win impressively in an allowance in the slop at Gulfstream last month. Before that, his only previous win was in the Grade III With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga on the turf, which he dominated by three lengths. Though Soldat can certainly rate and has proven he can come from behind horses, he also likes to run on the lead, and might be peaking at the right time to take the next big step toward a graded stakes on the dirt. Though the With Anticipation is hardly a traditional prep race toward the road to Kentucky, there have been several recent Kentucky Derby winners who started out their careers with brilliant performances on the turf, including Big Brown and Barbaro. Look for his next start to come in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream.


Though Santiva has only won once, he broke his maiden by winning the Grade III Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs last November; considering the field included stakes winners Astrology and Major Gain, his performance was nothing to sneeze at. In this race, Santiva proved he had some guts; once Santiva took the lead at the top of the final turn in the KYJC, these two challengers hounded Santiva all the way to the finish, desperately trying to claw the lead away from him, but the colt shook free in the last jumps before the wire to win by ½ a length. Never having finished out of the money in four starts, Santiva is an honest horse to watch in the coming weeks. His next race may also come in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream.


Fair Grounds has become less and less of a buzz-worthy track as of late, but the performance of Machen in an allowance last Saturday has jump-started the talk about this son of Distorted Humor. The late-blooming chestnut is 2-for-2 at this point, with both of those starts coming on the dirt at Fair Grounds. Both times, Machen broke slowly, but flew from his rivals like Pegasus in the stretch. In his first start, which was a 6-furlong maiden special on January 2nd, Machen drew away clear by 5 ½ lengths. It was his next start, which was run at 2-turns at 1 mile and 70 yards, that put him on the map. After catching up to the pack, Machen drew up close behind the leader on the rail, only to fall back behind to stalk in fourth position. The cool-headed Jamie Theriot kept Machen under wraps until the field turned for home, and waited to split rivals when the seam finally opened and the colt was able to burst through. Once Machen saw daylight, it was all over. The colt won by five in-hand, striding away like he could take another lap around the oval. His next start will put him back on his home track in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes, with the ultimate goal being the $1-million dollar Grade II Louisiana Derby.

The Factor

The Factor may have only one win to his credit, but what a show-stopper that was. Thanks to a cranked-up dirt track that was handing out new speed records throughout its opening weekend, The Factor now holds the record for 6 furlongs at Santa Anita. The Bob Baffert-trainee burst clear from the field to win by 8 ¼ lengths and stopped the clock at a blazing 1:06.98. Baffert says The Factor is a head-strong colt and he is attempting to train him to relax a bit; the effort in his record-breaking performance may have cost him some time at the track, as his feet are apparently a little sore. If The Factor recuperates in a timely manner, plans are for him to run next in the Grade II San Vicente at Santa Anita.



Kathmanblu is quickly becoming one of the marquee 3-year-old fillies to watch on the road to the Kentucky Oaks. If you throw out her debut race, she’s never been worse than 3rd, and her lone 3rd place performance came in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, where she was behind horses and put in a late run to almost catch the 2nd-place filly, Winter Memories. Since then, she has scored back-to-back wins on two different surfaces, causing eyebrows to raise each time. Last November, Kathmanblu romped under Julien Leparoux in the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs, cementing herself as one of the favorites for the Kentucky Oaks. In her most recent start, the bay filly charged over the turf once more to cinch the Sweetest Chant Stakes at Gulfstream. The talent this daughter of Bluegrass Cat possesses is almost scary, and if she stays in a similar form by the time the first Friday in May rolls around, Kathmanblu could be our next big star filly. Though her options are wide open with her flexibility, her next start could be in the Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes on dirt at Fair Grounds.

Turbulent Descent

Unbeaten in three starts, including the Moccasin Stakes and the Grade I Hollywood Starlet, Turbulent Descent has won each of her races with condescending ease. Piloted by David Flores since the word “go,” this bay filly has never won by much, but each of her triumphs have come with only a hand-ride. As no challenger has ever been able to keep up with her, this filly definitely has the marks of the real deal. Turbulent Descent has dominated the California contingent for 3-year-old fillies, and looks to do it again this Saturday in the Grade I Las Virgenes. Now it’s only a question as how she will take to the dirt; however, her sheer dominance against battle-tested rivals is a sign that she should be able to step up to the challenge.

Awesome Feather

Saving the best for last? If we should be so lucky, Awesome Feather will return to race as a 3-year-old. Last seen sprinting away to cap off a perfect season in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, the Eclipse-winning filly has not returned to the track since suffering a tendon injury after that thrilling performance. Unbeaten in six starts, Awesome Feather swept the filly division of the Florida Stallion Series, racking up those three stakes victories at Calder before taking her road show to Churchill Downs, where she made believers of us all by upsetting a talented field of competitors. Before her stylish victory under the twin spires, Awesome Feather had never run outside of Calder Racecourse before, and never won a graded stakes victory. You can’t argue with a spotless record and pure talent, so here’s hoping she will resume training soon and return to the track to keep her win-streak rolling.


Don’t miss Turbulent Descent’s dirt debut in the Grade I Las Virgenes at Santa Anita this Saturday, as well as top older male Twirling Candy in the Grade I Strub Stakes. A spectacular field has assembled for the Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park; Fly Down, Morning Line, Square Eddie, and others will knock heads to decipher the new leaders of the older horse division. Check the stakes schedule at for post times and TV information. 

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