This weekend, Danonymous Racing has a contest going on this weekend, covering eight stakes races: five at Keeneland, and three at Oaklawn. Public Handicapper has four races this week; they all overlap with races in the other contest, however, so my weekend stakes preview this weekend will cover a total of eight races. This, of course, includes both of the big Derby preps.
Enough with the intro, though. Let’s talk about the races!
Commonwealth Stakes (GIII, four-year-olds and up, seven furlongs on the synthetic)
There is a lot of early speed in this race, and no one in particular is a lock to get it. There isn’t a great closer in this field. However, there are several horses who consistently bring enough speed to the table, can rate from a bit off the pace if necessary, and have shown some ability not only at the seven-furlong distance but also on the synthetic. Laugh Track (1), the 2-1 morning line favourite, returns to his favoured synthetic surface after three tries on the dirt. He finished second beaten just a neck in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint last fall, though his subsequent two starts on the dirt haven’t matched that success. All four of his career wins come on the polytrack, and he looms large here.
Among the rest of the field, Undrafted (5) has a good chance to come home at a nice price. It has been since his three-year-old year since he has raced on the synthetic, but has seen some good success on it in the past. He broke his maiden at Keeneland in April of his two year old year, in a Wesley Ward special: four and a half furlongs on the poly. Since then, he also has a third place finish in a stakes at Hollywood Park last year. This is his second race of his four-year-old season, off the winter layoff, and his sharp works on the Keeneland poly suggest he’s ready to go, and happy to be back on the polytrack.
Shakertown Stakes (GIII, four-year-olds and up, five and a half furlongs on the turf)
The pace scenario is rather interesting here for a short turf dash: normally many of the horses in such a field are take-the-lead-and-run types, but here nobody absolutely needs it. Marchman likes it, Go Blue Or Go Home likes it, but they can both rate. I’m curious to see how the pace shakes out here — my guess is that it’ll be those two at the front and others chasing.
As for who’s going to win? I want to see local favourite Hogy (9) win, but there are a few more likely. Top on my list is Havelock (6), who probably likes five and a half furlongs over the Keeneland turf more than he likes peppermints. He’s coming in off his winter layoff, but won this race by a nose off the winter lay last year, as well. He went across the pond to race at Ascot and Newmarket and didn’t have much success, but shipped back here — and won the Grade III Woodford — at five and a half furlongs on the Keeneland turf — right off the ship. He’s working well going into this, his speeds hang with this field decently, and he’ll love being back home. I’m also interested in Gantry (13) here. A couple factors weigh against him: he is moving up in class from his last few starts, and he drew the 13 post in at 13-horse field. However, he is very consistent: he has been first or second in every race since late November of 2012, including a try in graded company. If he can overcome the post, he’s a great shot to hit the board here.
Madison Stakes (GI, four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, seven furlongs on the synthetic)
Judy the Beauty is the chalk here, and not a bad choice. She is second in off the winter lay, and won the Las Flores (GIII) at Santa Anita in her first race back from the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint last year. She has never missed the board on the synthetic, and is a perfect 3-3-0-0 on the Keeneland main. She has two nice works at Keeneland since her last race, and is coming into this one ready to go.
That said, I’m looking for some value here, and I’m going to try and beat Judy the Beauty with Eden Prairie (9). I love Eden Prairie in this spot. After three really nice runs in stakes-level turf routes at Fair Grounds over the Winter, she returns to seven furlongs on the synthetic – a distance and surface she loved at Arlington and Keeneland last fall. There is a decent amount of early speed in this race, but she has enough early zip to get close to it early, even from the 9 gate. Her last workout at Keeneland was a bullet four furlongs in 45.60, over the poly. Finally, she has had a couple of good runs from double-digit gates recently, including finishing second by just a neck in the Raven Run (GII) at Keeneland last year, at this distance. If someone’s going to bust the chalk here, it’s going to be Eden Prairie.
Jenny Wiley Stakes (GI, four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, 1 1/16 miles on the turf)
This race was tough to handicap, though it’s going to be a joy to watch. This is an honest, big, quality Grade I field of turf fillies and mares, and I cannot wait to see them run! I may be more excited about this race than I am about any of the others today.
Pacewise, much of the field likes to stalk off the lead. There is really only one horse who has a consistent desire to get right up on that early lead, and that’s Discreet Marq (8). If she gets on the lead and sets the early fractions, she’s going to be tough to catch. Even if, somehow, she doesn’t get right on it, she has shown the ability to rate, giving her a backup possibility for doing well here. This is her four-year-old debut, and her first race back since that short nose defeat by Egg Drop in the Matriarch (GI) past December; that Matriarch was her first attempt against older horses. She won a Grade II last year off her winter lay, so expect her to come in fresh and ready to go. She’s my top pick here.
Other horses I’m interested in here are Centre Court (10) and Fitful Skies (6). Centre Court, last year’s winner by two lengths, is coming off a nose win over Kitten’s Point in the Honey Fox last month. Julian Leparoux, who rode her in that last win as well as her streak of three graded wins over last winter and spring, rides her here. If the early fractions are fast, she could very well get her head up there from mid-pack late to take the race. Fitful Skies races here in only her second North American start, and her first start at all since finishing second by a head in the GI E. P. Taylor Stakes at 1 1/4 miles over the Woodbine turf. She is working really nicely over the Palm Meadows turf coming into this, and she is a consistent 10-4-5-0 lifetime over the turf — the only off-board finish being a fourth place finish, beaten just 1 3/4 lengths, at 1 15/16 miles against males. This distance is shorter than she normally runs, but it’s a good spot for her to come in off the lay, and she is game.
Blue Grass Stakes (GI, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the synthetic)
A ragtag bunch of fourteen last-ditch Derby hopefuls will head postward today in the Blue Grass, trying one last time to get into the starting gate at Churchill in May. The field is a mix of turf horse, synthetic horses, and the occasional dirt horses who just haven’t been able to get it together for points, but for whom this looked a more favourable spot than Arkansas (I’m looking at you guys, Extrasexyhippzster and Casiguapo). Bobby’s Kitten (5) is the morning line favourite, but the fact remains that he has never run a race on the synthetic, and never raced past a mile. His speed figures are good, his breeding suggests he can stretch out, and if I were to bet exotics, I’d probably use him. However, I’m not going to get the price on Bobby’s Kitten that I want for this contest as just a single horse, and there are some quality chances to beat him.
Dance With Fate (8) is my top selection. He has shown versatility in style, having run very nice races from early speed, stalking, or closing positions. There will be a lot of early speed in this race, so I’m expecting to see him rate from somewhere off of it here. His last out, in the El Camino Real Derby (GIII), he stalked the pace, pulled ahead going into the stretch, and just got nipped by Cal-bred synthetic monster Tamarando late. That El Camino Real was at 1 1/8 miles — the same distance as this race. That may have been Tapeta, but he also broke his maiden over the Del Mar polytrack, so has had experience with this as well. The biggest question I have with Dance With Fate is the ship from California, but if he handles that well, he’ll be tough. Harry’s Holiday (4) also interests me a lot here. He’s a local horse, who saw success through the winter on the Turfway polytrack. He won the 96ROCK Stakes by a widening eight lengths in February, regressed a bit in the Battaglia, and then last out finished a hard-fighting second in the Spiral (GIII), where We Miss Artie just nosed him out. The Spiral, just like the Blue Grass, was at 1 1/8 miles on the poly. He is going to try to get near the front early, and the Spiral suggests that he has the zip to get near there, and the stamina to stay.
Finally, if my picks fail miserably, I’m hoping it is because Coltimus Prime (6) freaks and wins this race. He’s a long shot for a reason, but he will relish the return to the synthetic, and nothing would make me happier than to see him channel a repeat of his hard-fighting effort in the Display Stakes. I doubt this is likely, especially since he was reportedly very nervous while schooling earlier this week, but I am still a fan of this horse.
Northern Spur Stakes (three-year-olds, 1 mile on the dirt)
Bourbonize (2) is the class of this field, but there’s just not enough early speed to suggest that the pace is going to set up for a horse who has been coming from as far back as Bourbonize has been in his last few starts. He has won at this distance before, and may not drop quite so far back, but I’m interested in a horse who’s going to be at least somewhat closer to the pace.
I like Sheltowee’s Boy (6) quite a bit here. He drops back in class after a fifth-place finish in the Rebel, where he was no match for the top four (Hoppertunity, Tapiture, Ride On Curlin, and Strong Mandate), but got in ahead of the rest. He has run multiple race shapes — he dropped far back early in his allowance win, though made up ground relatively early, whereas in his maiden win he was up near the lead early to pull away. He is coming off a sharp five-furlong work, and cutting back to the one-mile distance of his allowance win. This is a suitable race for Sheltowee’s Boy, and he has a good chance here. This race also has a few wild cards who are coming in off their maiden wins, and among them there is none more interesting than Fabulous Kid (8). He broke his maiden in a six-furlong MSW March 29 at Oaklawn, at first asking. He got on the lead fast and held on wire-to-wire, and then has posted a bullet five-furlong work at Oaklawn since that race. He stretches from six furlongs to a mile here, but being by Congrats out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare suggests that two more furlongs shouldn’t be an issue.
Oaklawn Handicap (GII, four-year-olds and up, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)
Here Will Take Charge (2) returns for the third race of his four-year-old year, though it feels more like it’s another race in one very long campaign, as his winter lay was only about two months (between the Clark and the Donn). He faces a softer field here than he did in his last few times out, which suggests he may be able to break through for his first win of the year. He also cuts back in distance here compared to the Big Cap, back to the 1 1/8 miles of the Clark and the Donn.
The drawback to Will Take Charge here is, of course, the price — he’s 1-1 on the morning line, and likely to be bet down even further than that come post time. A horse with a great chance to beat him at a good price is Golden Lad (6), who won the Razorback Handicap (GIII) in huge fashion last month. He should be stalking just off the early lead (likely to be set by Moreno and Right To Vote), and has shown enough improvement coming into his four-year-old season that suggests he can stay up with them. He has never won at 1 1/8 miles before, though he attempted the distance in an AOC at Saratoga last summer, and only got beaten a neck. He is one consistent horse: he has never finished worse than second since last July, and the most he was beaten by for second has been a length. He goes up in class here, but he shows up every time he runs, and is my top choice here.
Arkansas Derby (GI, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)
Here we have a relatively small field for a late Derby prep, but it’s a good field. Eight horses will run, as Knock Em Flat is scratching out to run in the Northern Spur instead. There should be plenty of early pace, with Thundergram (5) and Bayern (8) shooting out to the early lead, and Tapiture (3), Strong Mandate (9), and potentially Ride On Curlin (4) stalking behind. Those are a lot of quality horses, and I’m interested to see what Bayern does in his first crack at stakes company, but I’m looking off the pace to some horses who have a bit of stakes experience under their bridles.
I say potentially Ride On Curlin, as I am still hoping to see him make one big run, like he did in the Champagne. I have said this every time, and am beginning to sound like a broken record. However, I think that’s his better style. That said, after his run in the Rebel, I’m a little less nervous about seeing him on or near the early speed. He pressed hard down the stretch there, and fought gamely to hold third after being right near the lead throughout. He showed stamina and grit. He has also come back with some good, long works over the track since the Rebel. He is my top choice here, given his familiarity with the track, and his consistent ability to contend with the Arkansas Derby Prep crowd all spring.
Conquest Titan (7) is another good choice here, because of all the early pace. It’s clear what we’re going to get from him: a closing run. Casse even has a rabbit in the field, Thundergram, to help ensure this is the case. The outside post will help him a lot here, and assuming he handles the Oaklawn track well and fires sharply, there’s no reason Conquest Titan shouldn’t at least be able to punch his ticket to Kentucky here, if not win the whole thing.