11 to keep, 3 to drop, and 1 in the entries

Photo: Chelsea Durand / NYRA

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

Morello

Three starts, three unchallenged victories. Moreello kept his unbeaten record intact with a flashy performance in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct, pressing splits of 23.47, 47.77 and 1:13.04 before kicking on to win by 4 1/2 lengths.

Morello stopped the clock in a solid 1:39.28 over a slow track, but the manner in which he achieved his victory was more impressive than the final time. Morello always moved strongly and took command with authority, pulling away under a hand ride down the homestretch. There’s something special about this Steve Asmussen trainee, and I’m excited to see what he can accomplish this year.

Taiba

The $1.7 million auction acquisition Taiba lived up to expectations in his debut sprinting six furlongs at Santa Anita on Saturday. After vying for the lead through fractions of 22.26 and 45.69 seconds, the Bob Baffert trainee threw down strong closing fractions (final two furlongs in 12.28 and 12.00 seconds) to crush his rivals by 7 1/2 lengths in 1:09.97.

This performance produced a strong 103 Beyer speed figure, suggesting the future is bright for Taiba. The son of Gun Runner is nominated to the Triple Crown and seems destined to tackle a graded stakes in the near future.

Recent Watch List winners

Bubble Rock

Last year’s Matron (G3) winner took a sharp forward step while stretching out in distance for the Cincinnati Trophy at Turfway Park, tracking the tempo set by three-time stake winner Marissa’s Lady before edging clear to win by 2 1/2 lengths in 1 :37.19. Bubble Rock finished up nicely (running the final quarter mile in about 24.8 seconds) and is now a stakes winner on both turf and Tapeta, giving her plenty of racing options for the remainder of 2022.

Ed

Last year’s Starlet (G1) winner shrugged off a three-month layoff to post a determined victory in the Santa Ysabel (G3) at Santa Anita. After carving out fractions of 23.62, 48.05 and 1:12.48 sections, Eda fought on with determination down the homestretch to win the 1 1/16-mile event by half a length in 1:44.31 seconds.

With four straight stakes victories to her credit, Eda has developed into a winning machine. The daughter of Munnings is capable of winning both sprints and routes, so in the long term she can develop into a viable contender for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff or Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

Forbidden Kingdom

Brilliant frontrunner put his speed to good use in the San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita. Making his first start over 1 1/16 miles, Forbidden Kingdom opened a daylight lead through fast fractions of 22.66, 45.90 and 1:10.46 seconds, then kept going under a hand ride to score by 5 3/4 lengths in 1:43.98. This was a powerful performance from an exciting Kentucky Derby contender, though I’ll hope to see him relax a bit better in the future.

Speaker’s Corner

The Godolphin homebred Speaker’s Corner has always shown flashes of talent, but he elevated his game to a new level in the Gulfstream Park Mile (G2) at Gulfstream Park. After pressing (and then setting) stiff fractions of 22.87, 45.10 and 1:09.02 seconds, Speaker’s Corner kicked away impressively to beat multiple graded-stakes winner Fearless by 5 1/2 lengths in a rapid 1:33.84.

Speaker’s Corner is 2-for-2 this year and 3-for-3 in one-turn route races, suggesting the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) over one mile at Belmont Park is a viable goal for the 4-year-old son of Street Sense.

Tiz the Bomb

Remarkably versatile colt picked up his third stakes win when battling to victory in the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park. Reserved in seventh place early on, Tiz the Bomb produced a sharp rally when called upon to win by a neck in 1:44.12. Now a winner on dirt, turf and Tapeta, Tiz the Bomb looms as a logical threat to win the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway next month.

Worth another try

Emmanuel

Ran below expectations when fourth in the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park, but Emmanuel didn’t get a good trip by any means. He was shuffled back early then wound up racing very wide every step of the way and lost a ton of ground in the process. According to data from Trakus, Emmanuel ran 38 feet (4 3/4 lengths) farther than the victorious Simplification, 61 feet (about 6 1/2 lengths) farther than runner-up In Due Time, and 35 feet (about 4 1/ 2 lengths) farther than third-place finisher O Captain. All things considered, this was a deceptively good performance from Emmanuel.

Dean’s List

Ran a game when stretching out over one mile in the Gotham, carving out the pace before weakening racing late to finish second. Dean’s List is 2-for-2 sprinting six furlongs, and his pedigree is geared toward speed, so we’ll see if cutting back in distance triggers a turnaround down the road.

Marissa’s Lady

Three-time stakes-winning sprinter arguably failed to see out one mile when finishing second in the Cincinnati Trophy at Turfway Park, but she was proven beaten only 2 1/2 lengths by Grade 3 winner Bubble Rock and pulled 4 1/2 lengths clear of the rest. Cutting back in trip should send Marissa’s Lady back to the winner’s circle.

Rattle N Roll

Failed to fire his strongest shot when finishing sixth in the Fountain of Youth, but the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) winner was returning from a five-month layoff and probably wasn’t cranked for a peak performance. We’ll look for Rattle N Roll to take a significant step forward next time.

Off the Watch List

Gift List

Radio Days

Stage Raider

Upcoming entries

Sayyaaf

Sayyaaf has been on fire over the Gulfstream Park Tapeta track since returning from a long layoff earlier this winter. The Mike Maker trainee wired a $35,000 claimer on Jan. 16, then employed the same tactics to nab a $25,000 allowance optional claimer.

Sayyaaf is also an accomplished turf horse, and he’ll return to grass in Wednesday’s seventh race at Gulfstream Park, a $25,000 allowance optional claimer (post time 4:09 pm EST). He looms as the clearest of the speed horses in this five-furlong dash, and since pacesetters win 42 percent of five-furlong turf sprints at Gulfstream, Sayyaaf should be difficult to catch.

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

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