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The third weekend of October marks the last full weekend of racing for Keeneland’s fall meet. The weather forecast looks perfect, and you can take off after the feature on Saturday and still get home in time to catch the second half of Kentucky’s game at Mississippi State. Here is a preview of some of the most interesting races of the weekend:
Friday’s 6th race is a maiden special weight for three-year olds and up going a mile and an eighth on the main track. This looks like a good spot to play against the two likely favorites and hope for a decent price in the first leg of the pick 5. Commandeering and Fireball Shot are 2/1 and 5/2 on the morning line respectively. They are a combined 0 for 18 to begin their careers. I always prefer horses in these experienced maiden races that do not have such a proven record of failure. Total Cooperation cost Midwest Thoroughbreds over half a million dollars at the 2015 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. A colt by two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow out of a stakes winning daughter of Belmont and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, A.P. Indy, he was bred with stamina in mind. He stretches out around two turns for the first time, and trainer Tom Amoss wins 30% of the time under such circumstances. With enough speed to secure good position from the outset, Total Cooperation looks like decent value at that 5/1 morning line or better.
The 7th on Friday drew an overflow field of turf sprinters. Each of the ladies in the main body of the field has earned over $100,000 in her career thus far. It is a very deep field, and the winner could come from anywhere. There is a rather provocative jockey move worth noting. Fair Point is a deserved 3/1 morning line favorite. She has earned nearly $470,000 in her career and is a Grade 3 winner. She was the runner-up, beaten just a neck, in the Grade 3 Franklin Country here last fall and exits a troubled 4th place effort in the Kentucky Downs Ladies’ Sprint where she finished just a neck behind Morticia, who won this year’s Franklin County just one week ago. The Smart Strike mare has been ridden by Jose Ortiz in each of her 19 career starts. Yet Ortiz (who rode Browse to victory in Wednesday’s feature for Fair Point’s trainer Shug McGaughey) takes off the 3/1 favorite to ride 20/1 shot Dreamin for Mike Maker in this spot. Dreamin is a stake winner on the dirt and exits a middle of the pack 5th place effort in a starter allowance at Kentucky Downs. She is 0 for 3 lifetime on the grass. Ortiz has been one of the best young riders in the country over the last several years and you have to believe he knows something about this filly that we cannot see on paper.
Race 8 features a solid field of 10 first level allowance runners going 8 1/2 furlongs on the main track. If Total Cooperation does win race 6, that bodes well for Battle Colors, who beat him by nearly 4 lengths in his debut at Churchill last month. Battle Colors has the look of a horse that could turn into something quite nice. He was purchased at the OBS March 2yo Sale last year for $240,000, a large sum of money for any horse, but particularly for one by the stallion Biondetti, as his 2yos averaged only $29,000 this year and his yearlings average less than his advertised $4,000 stud fee. Tom McGreevey, bloodstock agent for owner Fox Hill Farms, has one of the keenest eyes in the business, and this horse broke his maiden first time out in a very professional manner. He has a solid local breeze in preparation for this start and appears capable of taking another step forward. If Fireball Shot wins the 6th, that speaks well for Tarpon Bay Road, who beat that rival several weeks ago at Churchill. It took him 8 starts to break through with his maiden victory, but he made a big step forward that day and deserves a shot in here. Uncle Mojo looks like he might have the speed to wire this field, though he may be less keen than in his previous starts as Todd Pletcher removes the blinkers for this start. Gain Ground is another interesting prospect. The Tapit colt is making his first start on dirt and adding blinkers – both are high percentage plays for trainer Eoin Harty. Cedartown is another that merits strong consideration. He has never been worse than 2nd in 4 prior starts and has improved markedly in his last two starts once stretched out to two turns.
The Grade 3 Valley View for 3yo fillies on the turf is Friday’s featured event. Fault gets the top nod in here as she beat many of these when winning the Pucker Up at Arlington. She followed that up with a very good 3rd in the Grade 2 Sands Point where she was just over a length behind La Coronel who captured the Grade 1 QEII over this track last weekend. I’m Betty G has ample speed and could be very dangerous if left alone in front under Julien Leparoux. Chastise returned from an extended layoff with much improved form when taking a first level allowance field at Saratoga in August. She faces stakes company for the first time coming in off the preferred 8 week break for Pletcher. Lovely Bernadette must be respected on the basis of her last two stakes efforts which include a win at Indiana Grand. She has shown significant improvement since making the switch to grass over the summer. Dolce Lili is the dark horse in here for turf czar Chad Brown. It’s difficult to put too much into her wins at Monmouth as the competition was undoubtedly lighter than what she will face today, but disregard Brown in a turf stake for 3yo fillies at your own peril.
The late pick 4 on Saturday kicks off with a full field of 12 (plus 2 also-eligible) signed on to contest a 7 furlong maiden race for two-year old fillies in the 7th. Elusive Truth put forth a solid 3rd place effort in her debut at Churchill last month. Expect improvement in her second outing for the Asmussen barn. She appears to have the speed necessary to gain a nice tracking position just behind the expected pace setter Princessof the Nyl. America’s Tale ran 2nd to next-out Grade 1 Alcibiades winner Heavenly Love two starts back over the undulating turf course at Kentucky Downs. She moves back to the dirt here, but given her pedigree you have to wonder whether she prefers the grass. Palmilla Moon is eligible to improve with the addition of Lasix for her second start. She has two good morning works over the Keeneland surface as well.
Twelve fillies will take to the post in Saturday’s 8th race, a 5 1/2 furlong turf sprint. Smiling Causeway is a logical morning line favorite. She was runner-up to Grade 3 Franklin County winner Morticia three starts back in a stake at Laurel, and she’s never been worse than second in her 5 lifetime starts. She faces a tough task in this spot as there are several others signed on that will look to apply pressure up front from the outset. Cherry Lodge, Touch of Bling, and Delphinia all possess an early turn of foot, and the pace scenario may prove more favorable for a horse that can move from the middle of the pack. Excessivespending scored a facile victory in her turf debut at this distance two starts back at Ellis. She followed that up with a credible 4th in the Indiana Grand, and you can trust Julien Leparoux to work out a nice stalking trip.
The Grade 2 Raven Run is Saturday’s featured 9th race for 3yo fillies going 7 furlongs on the main track. Tequilita may go favored, and deservedly so. She broke her maiden here at this distance last October, and she’s 3 for 4 lifetime going 7/8ths – with the only loss being a 3rd place finish in the Grade 1 Test. However, the daughter of Union Rags is far from a lock in this spot as there are a number of these at longer odds that are quite enticing. Chalon owns arguably the best last race in the field. She ran second against older fillies in the Grade 2 TCA on opening weekend. The winner of that race, Finleysluckycharm, will be amongst the favorites in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Classy Tune and Miss Sunset have been holding their own in southern California and both will likely contribute to a contested pace. Nonna Mela has tactical speed and should work out a nice stalking trip under Chris Decarlo for Todd Pletcher. Pinch Hit has been in good form of late, winning 3 of her last 4 including the Dogwood Stakes at Churchill in her last start. She came from near the back of the pack to mow them all down in the latter stages of that one and may well see a similar pace scenario develop on Saturday. Overture won the Grade 3 Indiana Oaks for Bill Mott in July going wire-to-wire. She cut back to 7 furlongs and found herself 13 lengths behind the leader at the first call in the bullring at Charles Town. The daughter of Congrats made up more than 11 of those 13 lengths to finish 3rd, just over a length behind Tequilita. She picks up Jose Ortiz for this engagement and rates as the top selection in this field.
The 7th race on Sunday features what looks like a very well intentioned debut runner for the Andrew McKeever barn. Antarctic is a royally-bred son of Tapit being sent out for the Niarchos family’s international Flaxman Holdings operation. His work tab includes several bullets, including a best of 50 gate drill in a blazing :59 flat. McKeever only wins with 6% of his first-time starters, but this one certainly looks like he could fire fresh.
Sunday’s featured 8th race is the Grade 3 Dowager, a turf marathon for fillies and mares. Grateful is the top choice. She won 2 of her last 3 and most recently filled the place position, beaten just a neck in a Grade 3 at Saratoga. The daughter of Hard Spun is lightly raced and therefore still eligible to improve against this more veteran group. She has hit the board in all 8 of her starts and looks poised to take another step forward in her second start against graded stakes company.
Best of luck to all who find their way to the windows this weekend. Check back next week as we close out the fall meet and spend some time with one of the best young trainers in the game, Brad Cox.