Friday is closing day of the spring meet at Keeneland, and the weather forecast looks markedly improved from what was predicted earlier in the week (go figure), so get out and enjoy the final day of thoroughbred racing in central Kentucky until October. First post is 1:05pm EST.
The 5th race provides a full field of 3yo maiden fillies going a mile on the grass. Julien Leparoux takes off Mercy Ann (# 5) to ride Game Factor (# 7) who will likely go favored for Christophe Clement. She ran two very solid races in south Florida over the winter but was out-finished in both going half a furlong shorter. Auntie’s the One (# 1) ran strongly going an extra furlong here 15 days ago. She should appreciate the cut back in distance to a mile and will benefit from the previous trip over the course. Jaunt (# 6) is the only horse in the field to have actually crossed the wire first, having beaten 9 others home at this mile distance back in November at Aqueduct. She was disqualified from that winning effort and placed 3rd for interference. She subsequently produced two subpar efforts in south Florida and returns here after a brief freshening for Shug McGaughey.
The featured 9th race is the 56th running of the Grade 3 Bewitch Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile and a half on the turf. It’s difficult to get past morning line favorite Arles (# 6) for Team Valor, Green Lantern Stables and trainer Graham Motion. The French import has three straight runner-up finishes against tougher company than this since shipping across the Atlantic late last summer. She will be forwardly placed, if not at the head of affairs, turning for home and should prove too tough to catch.
Churchill Downs, Saturday, 1st post @ 6pm EST:
The spring/summer meet at Churchill Downs begins with night racing on Saturday, sort of the unofficial kick-off to Derby week. The 4th race is the Roxelana, a 3/4 mile sprint for fillies and mares on the main track. Finley’sluckycharm (# 1) is a mortal lock. She won three straight races at Churchill last fall by open lengths and in very fast time. Trainer Bret Calhoun then shipped her to California for the Grade 1 La Brea at the end of December where she was just edged in the shadow of the wire by Constellation. A solid work tab indicates her readiness for this initial effort of 2017.
The 9th race is the 3rd running of the William Walker, a 6 furlong sprint for 3yos. The race features the return of Syndergaard (# 1), one of the most highly touted 2yos of 2016. After two complete demolitions of New York-bred company at Saratoga last summer, the son of Majesticperfection put forth by far and away the most impressive losing effort of the year by a 2yo when 2nd by a nose to Derby contender Practical Joke in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont. He finished just inside the top half of the field, beaten 13+ lengths by Classic Empire in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The Pletcher barn knows how to get horses ready off the bench, and Syndergaard is absolutely the one to beat returning to a sprint distance in this spot. Two interesting outsiders are The Money Monster (# 4) and Classic Cotton (# 5). While the other contenders have raced enough to prove they aren’t good enough to beat Syndergaard, both The Money Monster and Classic Cotton are lightly raced with each making just their 4th lifetime start. Classic Cotton returned in short order from his maiden victory at Gulfstream to contest a Florida-bred stakes race, finishing 4th of 7 in the Sophomore Stakes at Tampa. He comes into this eligible to improve with a bullet :46 and 3 half mile breeze in tow. The Money Monster makes his 2nd start for hall of famer Bill Mott after being pulled up in the Tampa Bay Derby. One of only two stakes winners in the field (he won the 7 furlong Pasco at Tampa in just his 2nd start), he enters this off a blazing half mile drill of his own at Gulfstream Park. He’s eligible to improve markedly, having spent the last six weeks in the Mott barn.
Apologies are due for the amount of chalk served up in this edition, but there’s something to be said for taking a free space when it’s offered. Next week we will tackle the Oaks and Derby cards from Churchill Downs, where there will certainly be more opportunities to unearth some value.