The spring meet at Keeneland opened a day earlier than usual this year with an 8 race card on Thursday which featured a wire-to-wire performance from Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint winner Bulletin in the inaugural Palisades Turf Sprint. Opening weekend features a bevy of stakes action starting with the Transylvania on Friday and continuing with 5 graded stakes on Saturday and two more on Sunday. The forecast actually looks somewhat promising, and it is starting to actually feel like spring outside so get over the wildcat blues and make your way out to 4201 Versailles Road for some fantastic thoroughbred racing.
Here is an overview of Saturday’s 5 graded events:
RACE 6 – The Grade 3 Commonwealth
A tepid pace is certain to set the stage for a late runner as Richiesinthehouse, Bobby’s Wicked One, Uncontested, and Recruiting Ready all prefer to lead. Javier Castellano’s hand will likely be forced aboard Copper Town drawn along the rail as well. Limousine Liberal is easily the most proven of the closers in this group. A multiple graded stakes winner and earner of nearly $1.8 million, he knows his way around this race track as well, having hit the board in 6 of 7 prior appearances. His best is certainly good enough to win this, but don’t hurry to accept a short price as the old gelding is making his 7-year old debut and it might be worth giving him a race to see if he’s lost a step. New York Central and Runaway Ghost are both very enticing long shots. New York Central has yet to miss the board in races at a mile or less and has been training exceptionally well for Steve Asmussen at Oaklawn Park. Runaway Ghost earned a spot in the Derby last year only to be derailed by injury. He was flawless in two comeback races in February and now faces his toughest test to date for the very capable Todd Fincher. Both colts are very well bred and have running styles that should suit the race composition.
RACE 7 – The Grade 2 Shakertown
Turf sprints are generally loaded with gate speed, and this edition of the Shakertown is no exception. Richard’s Boy, Bay Muzik, Conquest Tsunami, and Latent Revenge will all be aggressive from the spring of the latch. Several very capable closers will look to take advantage. Bound for Nowhere owns 2 wins over the Keeneland lawn, including a victory in this race last year, and his works indicate his readiness for this appointment. Jazzy Times exited the claiming ranks to take honors in a turf sprint stake at Kentucky Downs last August and may be capable of another move forward at long odds. Will Call has performed quite well against top level competition, including a win in the Grade 3 Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs last year. The past performances of Imprimis include some lofty Beyer speed figures, including a 109 in his 2019 debut at Gulfstream Park. Paco Lopez has the return call aboard the Broken Vow gelding. Look for him to negotiate a trip that could land them in the winner’s circle.
RACE 8 – The Grade 1 Madison
Shamrock Rose will be the second Breeders’ Cup winner from the fall to visit the central Kentucky oval this opening week. She burst onto the scene with a late running triumph over this track and trip last fall in the Grade 2 Raven Run and followed that score up by coming from the clouds to nail three others on the wire at Churchill in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. The Mark Casse trainee did not care for an off track at Gulfstream in her 2019 debut, but rebounded with a strong third going two turns against the likes of Midnight Bisou and Elate in the Grade 2 Azeri at Oaklawn three weeks ago. Seven panels is clearly her game, and the outside draw suits her late running style. She will be a deserving favorite to expand upon her unblemished Keeneland record. Late Night Pow Wow beat Spiced Perfection to the punch in the Barbara Fritchie at Laurel and just held that rival at bay through the wire. Those two will likely be chasing Amy’s Challenge from the outset. The daughter of Artie Schiller was a cut below the best sophomore sprinters last year, but two runaway stakes victories in Hot Springs this winter have earned her this top level opportunity. They’ll all have her to catch in the stretch.
RACE 9 – The Grade 1 Ashland
With two grade 1 wins to her credit and an eclipse award on her mantle, Jaywalk has done little wrong in her six race career. However, her sophomore debut was a disheartening one as she tracked the early pace but then showed no punch in the stretch while finishing more than five lengths adrift of winner Jeltrin in the Davona Dale at Gulfstream. Derby and Oaks winning trainer John Servis took the blame for that effort, claiming he did not have the racy, roan daughter of Cross Traffic fit enough for that effort. He has since tightened the screws on his charge and expects a return to her championship form in this prep for next month’s Kentucky Oaks. Kenny McPeek has taken a patient and confident approach with his grade 1 winning daughter of Distorted Humor. Restless Rider makes her three-year old bow over the same track and trip where she earned that grade 1 accolade last fall. She faces a stern test in her only Oaks trial as this field includes several notable up and comers in addition to the aforementioned champion. Chocolate Kisses had a rough trip in the Alcibiades here last fall and then lost her rider in the Rags to Riches at Churchill. She’s now perfect in two starts this year though, after rallying into a contentious pace to score in the Honeybee at Oaklawn last month. She seems to be improving at the right time and should have some pace to chase. Lady Kate showed early speed and faded late when placing in the Suncoast at Tampa. The Bernardini filly has shown great promise in the mornings since that effort, including a bullet 5 furlong breeze at Keeneland last weekend in :59 and 3. She is definitely eligible to improve in her second go around two turns in just her 3rd lifetime start. Feedback will look to take another step forward for Chad Brown as she too will be entering the gate for just the third time. The daughter of Violence aired by eight lengths in her unveiling at Saratoga last summer. She backed that impressive showing up with a hard earned victory in the Forward Gal at Gulfstream where she defeated none other than Champagne Anyone, who punched her ticket to Louisville by finding the wire first in the Gulfstream Park Oaks last weekend. While she has already proven her class, the big question with Feedback is whether she can handle a route of ground. We’ll see if she has the answer in the 82nd running of the Grade 1 Ashland.
RACE 10 – The Grade 2 Blue Grass
Vekoma was tabbed as a relatively short priced favorite on the morning line of this million dollar Kentucky Derby rehearsal. I’m not sure the betting will play out that way, but it’s a good enough place to start this handicap. While he is an interesting prospect with a ton of upside, there exists honest suspicion about Vekoma’s desire for two turn racing. His dam was a one turn speed demon by champion sprinter Speightstown, and while he held on well enough in the mile and a sixteenth Fountain of Youth, he was not exactly mowing them down late despite an ideal pace scenario.
Signalman was a major disappointment in the same race as he never really ran a step following a worthy freshman campaign that saw him hit the board in both the Breeders’ Futurity here and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile just 70 miles west prior to a victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club. The horse just a neck shy of him at the wire that day punched his ticket to the Run for the Roses last week with a determined win in the UAE Derby at Meydan. Trainer Kenny McPeek admitted to being over confident in his charge prior to the Fountain of Youth debacle and got to work shortly thereafter with a series of lung scorching morning drills that will no doubt have the General Quarters colt ready to deliver a much better effort in this crucial Derby prep.
Dream Maker drilled a blistering half mile from the gate in :46 flat last Saturday, indicating he may like this surface more than his non-effort in the Breeders’ Futurity last fall might suggest. He had legitimate excuses in his two poor showings and may be capable of putting himself into contention with a better trip in this spot. The selection here though is Somelikeithotbrown. He parlayed a pair of runner-up finishes in grade 3 contests over the lawn with a tenacious showing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He nearly took the field from pillar to post that day as he just lost the lead in the shadow of the wire over a yielding course. Finishing just behind him that day was War of Will who ranked near the top of many Derby pundit lists after annexing the Lecomte and Risen Star at Fair Grounds this winter in his transition to the main track. Somelikeithotbrown has yet to see a fast dirt track as Mike Maker took the path of least resistance with easy scores over the Turfway Park polytrack in the listed John Battiglia and Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks. By Derby winner Big Brown out of a Tapit mare, pedigree suggests the surface switch should not present a problem. Drawn on the rail, expect Tyler Gaffalione to use this colt’s early lick to take the race to this field from the get go and add some serious intrigue to a Kentucky Derby starting gate that could use a much needed shot in the arm.
Check back here each week through the Derby for coverage of the Keeneland meet and Derby week at Churchill. You can also follow me on Twitter @chadlashbrook for additional racing commentary and selections.