Due to the timing of the Oaks and Derby (and the plethora of graded stakes races on the undercards) four weeks out from opening weekend, the Keeneland spring meet has a bit of an “in like a lion, out like a lamb” feel. The first two weekends are loaded with prep races for the aforementioned events at Churchill while the final weekend is light on stakes action. There are still plenty of high quality maiden and allowance races filled with nice horses climbing through their conditions that provide excellent wagering opportunities. Take advantage of what looks like the best weekend weather of the meet and catch some racing before the action moves to Louisville next Saturday.
Friday, April 20th, Race 9 – the Grade 3 Doubledogdare
There is a good deal of speed signed on for this mile and a sixteenth contest for older fillies and mares on the main track. Apologynotaccepted, Jenda’s Agenda, Julerette, Not Now Carolyn, and Tapa Tapa Tapa all generally prefer to dictate the pace. That should set things up for a horse more comfortable coming from off the pace. Valadorna has the right style. She broke her maiden by six lengths over this track and trip and went on to run 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in 2016. Since then, she has not quite lived up to that early promise. She did put together two nice victories at the Fairgrounds in December, but then finished a lackluster 6th of 8 in the Houston Ladies Classic at the end of January. Though she’s been training well for her return, I prefer Well Humored. Her only loss in 4 starts was a stakes race on the grass. She should be well positioned just behind the first flight and picks up the brightest young star in the saddle, Jose Ortiz. Trainer Arnaud Delacour strikes at a devastating 39% clip with horses off a 61 to 180 day layoff. Start the weekend off with a winner just in time for Friday happy hour.
An intriguing group of 3yo fillies closes out the Friday card going a mile and a sixteenth on the grass. City Day had the misfortune of running in the toughest maiden race in this division last year when she finished 3rd behind Rushing Fall and Daddy Is A Legend at Belmont. While that effort certainly makes her dangerous, her works in preparation for this return do not exactly leap off the page, and she may be vulnerable against several with a recent fitness edge. Maybe Wicked put forth a nice runner-up effort in her debut for Brad Cox. The daughter of Mizzen Mast had a nice breeze at Churchill last week and should negotiate a favorable stalking trip just behind the cheap speed. She looks like the one to beat. Cloak of Secrecy and Luna Rosa are both certainly capable in this spot as well.
Saturday, April 21st, Race 8
Last year’s Grade 3 Southwest Stakes winner One Liner will be a very formidable favorite in this spot. He ran 3rd, albeit in a 5 horse field, in a tough optional claiming race at Gulfstream in which Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Mind Your Biscuits filled the runner-up slot. Laddie Boy is one of several upset contenders. He reeled off four in a row to close out 2017, and his work tab indicates he should be ready for a sharp effort in his 2018 debut. Senior Investment has disappointed in his most recent two outings for Kenny McPeek, but those came over polytrack at Turfway and a sloppy main track at Aqueduct. The last time he ran on a fast dirt track he finished 2nd in the Grade 3 Discovery. Last year’s Grade 3 Lexington winner over this track and trip appears to be the most logical alternative to the heavy favorite. Closing Bell makes his first dirt start in over 2 years for Bill Mott. The son of Tapit was bred for the main track and is an interesting outsider amongst this group.
Race 9, the Grade 2 Elkhorn
French-bred gelding Itsinthepost has won 3 straight and 4 of his last 5. He is 3 for 4 at this mile and a half distance on the grass and won this race last year over what was probably a deeper field. Consider him a bargain if the post-time odds resemble the 5/2 morning-line. Hayabusa One also ships in from California where he has been chasing home Itsinthepost. The son of Siyouni will look to make this a French-bred exacta. Hunter O’Riley, Call Provision, and Oscar Nominated are all capable of upsets with their very best efforts. Dot Matrix is an interesting long shot (30/1 morning line). He’s been a different horse since moving to the barn of Brad Cox in December. The Freud gelding has won 2 of 3, with the lone loss coming by just a nose to graded stakes winner Arklow. He has more of a sprinter’s pedigree, and it is very unlike his conditioner to run a horse in what appears to be an aggressive spot. He could bolster the verticals significantly if Cox’s faith proves worthy.
Best of luck this weekend. Check back here for Oaks and Derby coverage the first week of May. You can follow me on Twitter @chadlashbrook for more racing information and Oaks and Derby news over the next two weeks.