When Just Exhale crossed the finish line four lengths clear of his rivals to win the 2021 Guineas, it marked the first classic winner for 2011 Stewards Cup winner, Signal Alert (owned by the Errol stables of whom I am connected ).
Standing at Paradise Farms, under the extremely professional and caring management of Robert Bernard, like many other unheralded stallions in Trinidad and Tobago, the son of Omega Code has had very limited runners grace the Santa Rosa Racetrack in Arima.
The son of Omega Code was first or second in 19 of his 27 starts, winning at least one race in each season of racing and only failed to take home a cheque in two of those starts. As a racehorse, he was at his best over 1,200 metres as evidenced by his 2011 Stewards Cup win over the likes of Bruceontheloose and Readbetweenthelines.
Since becoming a sire, Signal Alert has had just three crops of racing age grace the sand track starting in 2018/2019. In total, less than 12 offspring of Signal Alert have graced the track since that time with the best horse from his first crop being Signal Note, a son of another speedy runner owned by the Errol Stables - Savoy Special.
Signal Note, who is now a five-year-old, has won five of his 16 starts and has been successful each year since his debut as a three-year-old in 2019. The main contender in his second crop (2017 foals) was another son of a former Errol Stables’ runner, Priceless Fame, named Price Alert. Price Alert was a minor winner of one race but has shown versatility by being competitive on both surfaces. His 2018 crop may yet prove to be his best yet.
The obvious headliner is the Guineas winner, Just Exhale, a son of Mighty Splash, whose previous runners on the track have not been anything special. Just Exhale is now a winner of two of his five starts and took three starts to turn in his maiden certificate. Signal Alert had a second runner in the Guineas on Saturday in a son of the unraced Sweet Aura, named Marvel Vigor. This colt was having just his second start having made his debut three weeks previously. His full potential has not yet been determined.
Another runner from the third crop of Signal Alert, who only made her debut on the day of the Guineas was Country Sign. This filly is a daughter of the Errol Stables’ top-class home-bred mare, Glorious Country, who was third in the 2014 Trinidad Derby. Like her dam, Country Sign was third in her debut run after showing greenness at various stages throughout the race. It is difficult to determine how much improvement there is, though with the abridged 2021 racing season time may be against the filly but anything remains possible in this most unpredictable of years.
Whatever progress occurs with Marvel Vigor or Country Sign there is little doubting that Just Exhale’s own progress has been a revelation and, importantly, based on his fourth-place finish in the Chief Commander has shown some affinity for a turf surface as well.
Just Exhale made his debut on February 20, 2021, in a 1,200m maiden event and it was an inauspicious one with the colt finishing 10th of 12 at odds of 15/1.
Ambitiously campaigned, as most Lance Warner Jr runners tend to be, he was then pitched into the Chief Commander and, at odds of 40/1, showed his first signs of real ability with a staying-on fourth-place finish, albeit among six runners. His form really moved to another level thereafter with a win in a maiden handicap over 1,200m at 7/1, in which, interestingly, Guineas runner-up, Stroke of Luck (8/5 fav), was also the runner-up.
Following the COVID break, both colts returned in the same 45-30 handicap over 1,350m finishing third and fifth, respectively. The Guineas represented their coming-out party and with the Derby, essentially one race day away, it is difficult to envisage how any of the horses beaten in the Guineas can reverse form with this duo.
While the Guineas win was very pleasing for connections, it is hard to get away from the conclusion that the handicappers may have over-reacted to the win by promoting the colt by 15 points to a rating of 59, this looks totally unfair. Time will tell but it seems a bit ridiculous if not peculiar at this stage.
With the Derby looming, unless there is a significant improvement from any of the lightly raced three-year-olds, the only conceivable danger to Just Exhale would be Lester Moore’s home-bred filly, Soca Symphony. A daughter of his top-class filly, Soca Rhapsody who, coincidentally, was a contemporary and main rival of the Errol Stables’ Glorious Country during their three-year-old careers.
Soca Symphony is unbeaten in four starts but missed the Guineas due to a minor setback during the COVID break. She returned on Guineas day and won her prep race. As with most of the 2021 classic crop, her stamina for the distance would be the main question mark but nothing ventured, nothing gained must be on the minds of most owners this year.