This Saturday’s featured race at Keeneland is the Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes. The race has been run since 1999, and has always been a seven-furlong sprint for three-year-old fillies over the Keeneland main track. It earned Grade 3 status in 2002, and gained its current Grade 2 designation in 2006. The race takes its name from Raven Run, a nature sanctuary about half an hour’s drive from Keeneland. To date, the most accomplished winner of the Raven Run has been Informed Decision (2008). This race was the last of her three-year-old career, but she returned the next year to win six of her seven starts, including the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1), and capture the 2009 Eclipse Award for Champion Female Sprinter. Of local interest, Informed Decision also won the Chicago Handicap (G3) in both 2009 and 2010. The 2015 winner, Ingrid Mason trainee Sarah Sis, also won the Chicago Handicap the following year.
This year’s edition of the Raven Run offers a $250,000 purse once again, and eleven sophomore fillies passed the entry box. The Raven Run is the second to last chance for three-year-old filly sprinters to compete in graded company against their own age group. The only such race remaining is the La Brea Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita, typically run late in December.
Opening weekend at Keeneland, with its stakes-laden Fall Stars cards, takes place this weekend.
We will have picks for all nine graded races at Keeneland Friday through Sunday, and detailed analysis of the Woodford Stakes (G2). The Woodford is as classy a turf sprint as you’ll see in the United States outside the Breeders’ Cup. Particularly since the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint will be a more traditional turf dash and not a gallop down the Santa Anita hill, it should be a key prep.
Last year’s edition of the Woodford featured an exacta of Chicago mainstays: 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner MONGOLIAN SATURDAY held off the late run of old warrior HOGY. Both of them are part of this year’s nine-horse field. Also among the Chicago locals in this year’s edition is the 2014 Woodford runner-up MONGOL BULL, still with owner/trainer Bradlee Rainwater, and trying to do three years ago one better.
In an event atypical of this spring’s racing season, a three-year-old finally brought some clarity. I have complete confidence in putting a three-year-old at the top of my list — for the first time since Classic Empire bombed in the Holy Bull (G2).
Still, the top slot does not return to last year’s champion two-year-old male. His Arkansas Derby (G1) was solid, a testament to Mark Casse’s training acumen and a suggestion that Classic Empire can once again find top-flight form. Despite the roadblocks between the Holy Bull and the Arkansas Derby, he has once again marked himself a contender. But, a clear standout? That’s going too far after his issues, after his getting only two Derby preps spaced so far apart. No, Classic Empire is not the source of my clarity.
The three-year-old prep season heats up even more this weekend, with the Blue Grass (G2) and the Ashland (G1) at Keeneland!
The Blue Grass drew a field of just seven, but four of those seven are top names on many Kentucky Derby lists: undefeated McCraken, classy Practical Joke, pricey Tapwrit, and New York invader J Boys Echo. The Ashland, which drew eight, will be Daddys Lil Darling’s return to the main track, and Grade 1 winner Pretty City Dancer’s last shot to guarantee a gate in the Oaks.
Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Saturday’s Derby and Oaks prep action at Keeneland, and let me know what you think in the comments!
This weekend, Blinkers Off will be breaking its Keeneland maiden. So, it was not hard to decide what race to preview over at Picks and Ponderings: Saturday’s feature, the Grade II Fayette!
The nine-furlong Fayette Stakes drew an intriguing field of eight: a few older horses trying to find their mojo again, some more lightly-raced horses trying to find their place in the handicap division, and one very classy turf horse trying to prove that his excellent recent form on the grass can translate to the main track as well.
Three-year-old filly sprinters anchor Saturday’s Keeneland card, with the Grade II Raven Run Stakes.
The race drew a competitive field of twelve: all of whom have stakes-level experience, and many of whom have solid records over extended sprint trips.
Keeneland’s opening weekend concludes Sunday with a card that features the Spinster Stakes (GI) and the Bourbon Stakes (GIII). I have analysis of both over at Picks and Ponderings.
Both races are Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In events. The Spinster drew a small but solid field to contend for a Distaff spot. The Bourbon drew an overflow field of two-year-olds to vie for a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, and should be an excellent betting race.
A loaded opening weekend at Keeneland continues Saturday with five graded stakes.
Over at Picks and Ponderings, I have a full preview of the Woodford Stakes (GIII): a contentious turf sprint with an overflow field. That field features four Chicago-connected horses, including defending Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (GI) champion Mongolian Saturday. I will also have selections for the other four graded stakes on the card, and would be happy to talk about them in the comments or on Twitter!
Keeneland gets underway on Friday, and over at Picks and Ponderings I preview the pair of graded stakes on the day’s card.
Friday features a pair of graded stakes, both Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In races. The Phoenix (GII) drew a solid field of seven speedsters trying to punch their ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. The next race, the Alcibiades (GI), features a full field of fourteen aspirants to a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
This Friday, Keeneland draws to a close — but not before the long-winded turf mares get a chance to strut their stuff.
The Grade III Bewitch Stakes, a mile and a half turf race for fillies and mares four and up, anchors the card. Though the race does not feature a Curlin baby (unlike last year, when longshot Maria Maria checked in third), it does feature a well-matched field of twelve fillies and mares.