It’s opening weekend at Keeneland, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited. Saturday’s card boasts five consecutive stakes races, as well as some compelling undercard events, and I’ll have three different multi-race tickets to go through.
One quick note before we get started. As you may know, I’ve put together a survey asking for feedback on AndrewChampagne.com, as well as thoughts on a few ideas I’ve got going forward to continue to make this site a resource for handicappers. If you haven’t taken it yet, it only takes a few minutes, and it’s located here.
Anyway, on with the show, starting with the early Pick Four!
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$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2
50 Bets, $25
Our first horizontal wager begins with a race where, to be honest, I did not have a clue. I think any of the five fillies and mares signed on could win, and analyzing races on the Beard course is not one of my strengths. I’m using them all, and hopefully we get a bit of a price home.
My convictions are much stronger in the third race, which features the debut of a highly-touted 2-year-old. That’s #1 CONQUISTADOR, who fetched $2.45 million at auction earlier this year and has been working lights-out for trainer Mark Casse. Casse and jockey Julien Leparoux are riding high after three wins on Friday, and I don’t think the rest of this field is any great shakes. I’ll single this son of Tiznow, and I’ll be very surprised if we get close to his 3-1 morning line odds (6/5 or 7/5 is probably more likely).
Things get tougher again in the fourth, another 2-year-old race and one that boasts a full field going two turns. I’m five-deep, and while #8 TIZ MISCHIEF merits respect, that was a pretty sizable leap forward from start one to start two, and there could be a bounce coming. I want coverage, and that includes 15-1 shot #4 MEISTERMIND, a half to Mine That Bird and Dullahan who dumped the jockey in his debut. I’m not holding that against him, and if this son of Bodemeister runs to his pedigree, that price is a major overlay.
This sequence ends with the first stakes race of the day. It’s the Grade 2 Woodford going 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf, and I’m two-deep. #8 HOGY may be better than ever, but it’s tough to back one-run closers in these events, and my top pick is #1 CONQUEST PANTHERA. He was seventh in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile last time out, but finished just two lengths back of runner-up Lancaster Bomber. His best races have come going sprint distances, and I think he could sit an ideal trip just off the early speed.
$0.50 Pick Five: Race #5
81 Bets, $40.50
There’s a $250,000 guaranteed pool for this wager, so I’ve put a ticket together. It’s built around a horse that will likely be the shortest price of the day, but if we get some prices home around that one, we could score for some serious money.
I added #3 COMMEND in the first leg, which doubles as the payoff leg of the early Pick Four. I’m not sold by either of his wins this year, but he did make Hogy work at Kentucky Downs last time out, so I threw him in here for the sake of coverage. I can afford to do that because I think #4 FINLEY’SLUCKYCHARM will be exceptionally tough to beat in the sixth, the Grade 2 TCA. She’s done very little wrong around one turn, and if she doesn’t win, many tickets will go up in smoke (mine included).
The seventh is the Grade 1 First Lady, and I’m using the three logical horses. #3 DONA BRUJA has been very good since coming to the U.S., and she ran a strong second in the Grade 1 Beverly D. going longer. I think she’ll relish the cutback in distance, but in case she doesn’t, I’ve also got #4 ROCA ROJO and #6 DICKINSON on my ticket. Of those two, I prefer the latter, as the former seems to find trouble more often than I’d like.
The eighth is the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity, and this is a tough race. I’m taking the stance that the Grade 1 Hopeful is a legitimate race, so I’m using the 2-3 finishers from that event. However, my top pick is #2 EZMOSH, who’s gotten better with each start and graduated with a pretty fast win at Churchill Downs. The inside draw should help him going into the first turn, and the presence of Javier Castellano doesn’t hurt, either.
We’ll look to finish things off in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile. I’m going deeper on my Pick Four, but I’m using my three top horses here. #10 HEART TO HEART is my top pick and will be tough if he gets loose on the lead. Having said that, I’m also using a few longshots on this ticket. #3 SUEDOIS has spent most of the last two years running against high-level European competition and gets Lasix for the first time, all of which makes him very appealing at 15-1. Add in that his jockey probably had his choice between this one and #7 MONDIALISTE, and you’ve got a genuinely live horse. Another live one is #14 AMERICAN PATRIOT, who won the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile here earlier this year. His trip to Ascot didn’t go well, and his last-out effort was a clunker, but I think both races are throw-outs. Some Americans just don’t like Ascot, and the turf course at Saratoga was a bog the day of the Grade 1 Fourstardave. Despite the horrible post, I’ll give him another shot at a juicy price.
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6
75 Bets, $37.50
The first two legs of my late Pick Four are the same as the second and third legs of the Pick Four. I opted to go deeper in the last two legs, throwing in two additional horses in the Breeders’ Futurity and Shadwell Turf Mile.
I have some reservations about #3 LONE SAILOR and #4 TEN CITY, but both figure to be prices in the third leg. Even though the race was rained off the turf, Lone Sailor ran a smashing race to graduate at Saratoga, and Ten City ran two very good races earlier in the year. His longer races have been just so-so, but there’s a chance he recaptures that form in this spot, and I need to have him on this ticket because of it.
I’ll also add in #6 BALLAGH ROCKS and #8 MISS TEMPLE CITY in the Shadwell. The former was beaten just a half-length at this route in the Maker’s 46 Mile and ran well in each of his last two starts, while the latter won this race last year and certainly has an affinity for this track (even though she may not be the same horse she was a year or two ago).