Each Friday during the Keeneland spring meet I will preview some of the most noteworthy races of the weekend, offering handicapping insight and hopefully pointing out a few winners along the way. Follow me on Twitter @chadlashbrook for more racing thoughts and analysis.
Hopefully everyone was able to profit last weekend as we lit up the tote board with $29 winner Pour Girl and $23 winner American Patriot on Friday. The super talented Lady Aurelia followed suit on Saturday, besting her elders in stylish fashion and making the $4 win payout look like a gift. She’ll now head back across the pond to contest the Group 1 Kings’ Stand against the best sprinters in Europe at the prestigious Royal Ascot meet. The stakes action at Keeneland dies down for this last full weekend of the spring meet, but there are still plenty of interesting wagering opportunities to be dissected.
Friday, April 21st, 2017 – 1st post 1:05pm
The 4th race on Friday features a very intriguing cast of seven 3yo fillies. Most interesting is Runway Doll (# 4), a Majestic Warrior filly trained by Steve Asmussen, who aired by 13+ lengths in her Saratoga unveiling last July. Following that victory, the Heiligbrodts (owners) sold an interest in the filly to celebrity chef Bobby Flay and connections thought well enough of her to point to the Grade 1 Spinaway at the end of the Saratoga meet. She ran 6th that day behind recent Keeneland Beaumont Stakes winner Sweet Loretta, but exited the race with an injury that forced her to the sidelines for the remainder of 2016. Her work tab shows a consistent pattern since early March, including a splendid gate drill over the local surface on April 9th in which she went 1:12 and 3 for 3/4 of a mile – a very strong drill for an Asmussen trainee. Runway Doll could be any kind of filly and is definitely one to keep an eye on going forward, but this looks to be a difficult spot for her comeback attempt. On paper the race appears to be chock full of speed, with morning-line favorite Our Majesty (# 5), Unchained Melody (# 6), White Gold (# 1), and Runway Doll all having shown front running tendencies in the past. A hot pace would certainly set things up for Champagne Problems (# 2) who has been facing some pretty elite company in south Florida for Ian Wilkes. She adds blinkers and cuts back in distance in addition to returning to the track where she recorded her maiden win back in October. I simply can’t resist pairing up Champagne Problems with Never Hungover (# 3). The Wayne Lukas charge needed 8 trips to the post to get her first win, but she has improved with each start this year and her off-the-pace running style seems well suited for this particular contest.
The 6th race offers a full field of 12 3yo maidens going 8 1/2 furlongs on the grass. The race looks completely wide open with Sakonnet (# 1), Knight’s Dream (# 3) and Sentry (# 5) likely to vie for favoritism. While they all offer decent credentials in this spot, the winner could come from anywhere, and I’ll focus on two interesting long shots. Royal Ruse (# 9) makes his debut for turf aficionado Jonathan Sheppard who owns an 18% strike rate with 1st timers. The Hat Trick gelding out of a Royal Academy mare was certainly bred with the grass in mind and has a very unique pattern of morning drills in preparation for his initial foray into afternoon competition. Sheppard sent him out to a spritely mile and a quarter breeze in 2:08 and change just three weeks ago in Camden, SC. He returned last week with another solid 3/4 mile work in 1:13, so he should be plenty fit for this first outing. He looks well meant in this spot and is worth a stab at the 15/1 morning line price. Super Buddy (# 11) makes his first start on the lawn for trainer Jimmy Toner and top rider Paco Lopez. He ran well in his first start to be 3rd, beaten 5 lengths, behind two horses that went on to spend time on the Derby trail this spring, Impressive Edge and Patch (2nd in the Louisiana Derby). Super Buddy lost all chance when bumped at the break in his last start and may well improve with the surface switch and addition of blinkers.
Race 9 is the Friday feature, the Grade 3 Doubledogdare. Unbridled Mo (# 5) is a very deserving favorite in this spot for Todd Pletcher and Johnny Velazquez. She is a multiple graded stakes winner with superior speed figures over this group and her versatility will serve her well against these inferior foes. Look to create some value by using Power of Snunner (# 1) underneath as opposed to 2nd and 3rd morning line choices Lady Fog Horn (# 2) and Dear Elaine (# 3) who both failed to impress when running 2nd and 3rd in a local warm-up for this on opening weekend. Power of Snunner has been running well against graded competition in Arkansas this winter for trainer Joe Sharp and picks up Hall of Famer Mike Smith for her Keeneland debut.
Saturday, April 22nd, 2017 – 1st post 1:05pm
The weather forecast for Saturday looks terribly atrocious, and all the Saturday selections have been made with that in mind. The 3rd race is a contentious 6 horse affair led by Limousine Liberal (# 4) who returns quickly after running 3rd in the Grade 3 Commonwealth on opening weekend. While Limousine Liberal is a deserving favorite and certainly the most likely winner, I find enough reasons to play against him at even money. He has never seen an off-track and is also running back much quicker than ever before after a taxing effort against stiff competition. Both No Hiding Place (# 1) and Wyeth (# 3) offer logical options against the top choice. No Hiding Place relished the sloppy going here a year ago when drawing away by 3 lengths in an allowance event over this same 6 furlong distance. He has been away since a troubled trip against stakes company in Saratoga, but trainer Wesley Ward does very well getting horses fit off the bench. Wyeth has been running some decent races on the Fairgrounds lawn over the winter, and turf horses often run well over wet tracks. By Candy Ride out of a Smoke Glacken mare, he is bred to appreciate the off going, and trainer Tom Amoss wins at a rate of 39% moving horses off the lawn and onto the main track.
In the 6th race, Meantime (# 7) must be respected exiting two salty maiden races at Gulfstream Park, but he was backing up at the finish of both of those shorter contests and may lack the necessary stamina for a two-turn romp in the mud. Professor Snape is bred both for the distance and the off going and should be respected from a barn that fires 31% with 2nd time starters. Tapsolute (# 4) has been improving with each start, but regular rider Ricardo Santana Jr. lands on Vandelay (# 5) who finished a neck in front of that foe two starts back at Oaklawn Park.
Race 8 is a 6 furlong allowance event that drew seven 3yos. Aquamarine (# 6), aptly named for the expected conditions, broke his maiden over a sloppy track in impressive fashion, besting recent San Pedro Stakes winner Aristocratic in the process. While those credentials may well land him the favorite’s role, there is significant reason to look elsewhere. Aquamarine left the barn of Bob Baffert and is making his first start for hall of famer Wayne Lukas. Baffert excels at developing top notch 3yos and older handicap horses, and he asks a lot of his horses in the process. The animals that leave his barn are usually not cut out for the rigors of such a demanding training regimen and in most cases never reproduce the early promise they may have flashed while under his care. Jersey Street (# 7) earned his diploma over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs and ran 2nd to subsequent stakes winner One Liner in his most recent dirt effort. The outside post will allow Corey Lanarie to take a patient approach and astutely assess the pace scenario before committing to tactics with his mount.
The 9th race Saturday feature event is the Grade 3 Elkhorn Stakes, a three-turn mile and a half route for older horses on the grass. A well matched field of 11 is signed up, though the course condition may well force a few scratches. Assuming Keeneland officials elect to keep the race on the grass, there are several key contenders. Interpol (# 1) has tactical speed and carries a 2 for 4 record at the distance, including a Grade 1 win over a yielding course in Woodbine’s Northern Dancer back in 2015. He makes his second start off the extended layoff for Jimmy Toner under able grass rider Jose Lezcano. Bigger Picture (# 5), one of several entered from the Mike Maker barn, rates as the top selection with Jose Ortiz aboard. He is 1 for 2 at the distance with his second place finish being just a nose short over the Keeneland green in the fall edition of this race, the Sycamore, over ground labeled “good”. The race looks to have ample speed signed on to insure an honest pace, and expect Bigger Picture to be rolling late as usual.
Best of luck to all and try to stay dry this weekend.