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Saturday’s card at Keeneland is highlighted by five graded stakes races, four of which are ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifiers for the Breeders’ Cup which runs November 3rd and 4th at Del Mar. Here’s a breakdown of the stakes action from Fall Stars Saturday at Keeneland:
The 21st running of the Grade 2 Woodford kicks off the day’s stakes action in the 5th race. For a turf sprint, there isn’t a ton of early lick in here. Bucchero and Latent Revenge seem most likely to vie for the early lead, and while either one could be dangerous if left alone, their past performances do not provide much evidence suggesting either could wind up in the winner’s circle. After a dismal performance going a mile here in the spring, Bill Mott turned Commend back to sprint distances. The strategy paid off with two allowance victories and a close runner-up finish in a Grade 3 at Kentucky Downs. He will be making a strong run through the lane and should contend for top honors if he gets a clean trip from Jose Lezcano. Conquest Panthera is undefeated at distances less than a mile. He ran a game 3rd in the Grade 1 Makers 46 Mile here in the spring, and his class puts him amongst the top contenders, but this is the shortest distance he has ever raced. You have to wonder if he will leave himself too much to do in a race that is not guaranteed to have a blistering pace. Mongolian Saturday is 2 for 3 over the Keeneland lawn, including a win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in 2015. He seemed to have fallen off form for most of this year, but he comes into this on the heels of a nice runner-up effort behind top sprinter Pure Sensation in the Grade 3 Turf Monster at Parx. He retains the services of Javier Castellano, and if rounding back into top form, could certainly challenge for top honors. The grizzled veteran and newly minted millionaire Hogy, for Mike (Hui, owner) and Mike (Maker, trainer), gets the nod from the morning line-maker on the back of perhaps the best performance of his career – a half length victory over Commend in the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint. He deserves plenty of respect despite being winless in four prior starts at Keeneland.
Race 6 is the Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America, a ‘Win and You’re In’ race for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Finley’sluckycharm is an absolute standout in this field. She possesses ample speed that will allow her to dictate the pace. She is 8 for 11 lifetime and is only a neck away from being undefeated in 6 starts at this 3/4 mile distance. The Twirling Candy filly has trained very well since that lone 6 furlong defeat to dual Grade 1 winner Paulassilverlining. All that said, Finley’sluckcharm is not an absolute lock. She will face some early pace pressure from both Chalon, under the aggressive Paco Lopez, and True Romance – both drawn to her outside. If the favorite does get leg weary late, Bendable appears to be the most likely benefactor of a pace meltdown. She ships cross country – likely to avoid the monster that is Unique Bella in the L.A. Woman at Santa Anita – for Hall of Famer Richard Mandella and Claiborne Farm.
The Grade 1 First Lady goes as race 7, and the winner will earn a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, which will be run at 9 furlongs for the first time. That change in distance makes this one mile prep a bit more meaningful than it has been in the past when the Filly and Mare Turf was run at either 1 1/4 or 1 3/8 miles. This 7 horse field is largely devoid of early speed. Dickinson and Zipessa will likely challenge each other at the head of affairs with Hawksmoor sitting in the garden spot just behind the leaders. Julien Leparoux should get the jump on closers Roca Rojo and Dona Bruja. That expected pace scenario makes the Irish-bred daughter of Azamour the top selection in here. The others mentioned are all quite capable on their best day, but the feeling is that the two closers will be left with just a bit too much to do because of the moderate pace set-up. Dickinson has shown a prior affinity for this turf course having won the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley here in the spring, and she would be a tempting play as well if her odds drift up a few clicks from that 5/2 morning line.
Two-year old colts take the stage in race 8, the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity. Free Drop Billy and Givemeaminit merit strong consideration as they finished just a head apart when filling the place and show spots in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Hopeful. Both are certified closers already proven against grade 1 caliber competition, and their running styles suggest further improvement is quite likely in their first two-turn test. Ezmosh looks dangerous for Zayat Stables and trainer Brad Cox. He’s drawn near the rail in post 2 and has an early turn of foot that should allow Javier Castellano to control the pace. He has steadily improved in each of his 3 starts as the distances have increased and owns the field’s highest Beyer speed figure from his one mile victory at Churchill just three weeks ago. Lone Sailor broke his maiden by 11 lengths over a sloppy track at Saratoga for Tom Amoss after an unimpressive debut over a fast strip. Amoss strikes at a 30% clip with horses stretching out from a sprint to a route, and the big margin victory at Saratoga must be respected regardless of the track condition. Bourbon Resolution deserves a shot exiting a gate-to-wire maiden breaker at Saratoga. Perhaps the most interesting horse, at the most attractive price, is drawn to the far outside. Enticed broke his maiden at first asking over a muddy track at Saratoga. That win was very impressive in that he broke from the rail – a very difficult task for first time starters – endured some traffic troubles and took a good deal of kickback from the off-track, then pulled clear in the stretch and was eased up at the wire. He has a tough draw again here today, but he is certainly one to watch going forward as he is bred to be a very special horse.
Race 9 is the Shadwell Turf Mile, which last year produced the Breeders’ Cup Mile winner, Tourist. The race is a ‘Win and You’re In’ event again this year and deservingly drew a competitive field of 14. Heart to Heart will be all alone, like a Florida receiver against a confused Mark Stoops defense, in front early. He owns a win over the Keeneland lawn along with 2 close runner-up finishes in the last two spring editions of this race, the Makers 46 Mile. The 6yo son of English Channel is easily the top selection given the lack of any other legitimate speed to press him early. Miss Temple City seems most likely to take up chasing duties, and she merits considerable respect based on her sweep of the Makers 46 and Shadwell last year. She has not been quite the same filly this season as she endured some training setbacks earlier in the year, but she did win last out at Kentucky Downs and may well be rounding back into top form at the right time. Divisidero will take considerable action as well with fan favorite Julien Leparoux in the irons, but the more he runs the more he looks like a Churchill Downs specialist. Three of his 5 lifetime wins have come over the Louisville lawn on the last 3 Derby days. Suedois has the look of a 2nd string Euro, and those horses have not been very successful in North America this year. He is eligible to improve with the addition of Lasix. American Patriot won the Makers 46 in April, but has been horrific, beaten a combined 27 1/2 lengths in two starts since. Ballagh Rocks and Mondialiste are both capable on their best days.
Best of luck to everyone on this opening weekend of the fall meet. We’ll be back on Sunday to handicap the Spinster card.