Keeneland Analysis and Selections: Blue Grass Day (4/6/19)

Best Bet: Vekoma, Race 10
Longshot: Uno Mas Modelo, Race 6


Topper T

#5 TOPPER T: Drops back into the allowance ranks after six straight starts against stakes foes. He ran well twice against much better at Gulfstream, and anything close to those efforts would make him formidable; #6 PREAMBLE: Won two in a row as a 2-year-old, including a swiftly-run heat here in October, but hasn’t been seen since that race. He’s talented, but runs for a cold barn and may need his seasonal bow; #4 WALLACE: Almost certainly needed his 2019 debut, which came last month on a synthetic track. His lone race on dirt wasn’t terrible, and the class relief could help.


Honest Mischief
Camp Randall
Island Song

#11 HONEST MISCHIEF: Settled for second in his debut after running pretty quickly early on. He’s worked well since then, and the Juddmonte homebred figures to be very tough to beat in this spot; #12 CAMP RANDALL: Fetched $240,000 as a yearling and has a series of strong five-furlong workouts under his belt. Luis Saez signs on, and while the runner to his inside could be a serious horse, there are signs this one is ready to fire right away; #5 ISLAND SONG: Ran OK in a pair of starts at Gulfstream and has shown an ability to rate. The extra furlong shouldn’t be an issue, and he could hit the board at a bit of a price.


Take Charge Angel
Free Cover

#1 COVFEFE: Was 3/5 in the Grade 1 Frizette, where she tired to finish fourth behind eventual champion Jaywalk. Maybe she bounced, or maybe it was too long for her, but she’s worked really well and looks ready; #6 TAKE CHARGE ANGEL: Is another who bounced in stakes company last time out, and in this case, she makes her first start for Ben Colebrook. She’s worked well at Tampa and merits respect; #3 FREE COVER: Returned to form on the cutback in distance last time out, when she did everything but win at Fair Grounds. Toss her dud going long in December, and her form looks considerably better.


Midnight Pleasure

#6 ALMITHMAAR: Hasn’t won in a while, but doesn’t come up against the strongest field for the level and has been chasing stakes-quality horses. It helps that he’s won here before, and he could sit an ideal stalking trip; #5 SPARTICLE: Has shown he may not like Gulfstream, so I have no problem tossing the last-out effort. Jose Ortiz rides for a consistent barn, and he’ll likely be prominent early; #8 MIDNIGHT PLEASURE: Has finished out of the money just once in his last nine starts, a stretch that includes four wins and several solid runs in stakes company. He’d benefit from a pace meltdown and should be going well late.


Amazing Audrey
Cured by Kitten

#5 AMAZING AUDREY: Could hold a pace advantage as one of only a few frontrunners in the field. Her last-out win at Gulfstream was very good, and she may not have to go much faster to make the lead out of the gate here; #3 DYNABEE: Closed well to be third in her 2019 debut after spending 2018 overseas. She ran well in stakes company as a 2-year-old, and a move forward off of her seasonal bow gives this one a big shot; #1 CURED BY KITTEN: Hasn’t had a lot of racing luck in her last two starts, when she’s rated behind slow paces at Gulfstream. She does sport a win over this turf course, though, and her recent running lines are dotted by several next-out winners.


Limousine Liberal
Uno Mas Modelo
Recruiting Ready

#6 LIMOUSINE LIBERAL: Makes his 2019 debut and is an easy horse to root for. His non-threatening fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint is one of only a few misfires on his ledger, and this seven-furlong distance fits him like a glove; #8 UNO MAS MODELO: Has always had the look of a very strong sprinter. Toss his run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (which he never had a chance in given the distance), and you have a horse that has won seven of his last eight starts; #2 RECRUITING READY: Has won two of three since coming off a long layoff and looked great when winning the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint. If there’s hesitation here, it’s because of the seven-furlong distance and the fact that he’ll almost certainly be pushed early on.


Disco Partner
Bound for Nowhere

#11 IMPRIMIS: Will almost certainly be less than his 6-1 morning line price, and for good reason. His two losses both came with subpar trips, and he’ll be very tough if Paco Lopez can keep him out of trouble; #3 DISCO PARTNER: Has been one of the best turf sprinters in the country for several years and makes his 2019 debut in a tough spot. He should be rolling late, but does he need a race off the bench?; #9 BOUND FOR NOWHERE: Hasn’t been seen since misfiring in the Shadwell Turf Mile, but that was far too long for him. He’s a sprinter who loves this route, and he’s got a real chance to win this event for the second year in a row.


Shamrock Rose
Amy’s Challenge
America’s Tale

#9 SHAMROCK ROSE: Ran a very good third behind Midnight Bisou and Elate at Oaklawn and cuts back to her preferred route of ground here. They should go fast early, which would set up perfectly for this one’s late kick; #4 AMY’S CHALLENGE: Has emerged as a monster following two runaway wins over weaker at Oaklawn Park. She’ll certainly be contending for the lead, but is this seven-furlong distance further than she wants to run?; #8 AMERICA’S TALE: Showed a lot by winning the Inside Information after rating a few lengths off the pace. This barn is off to a scorching start in 2019, and we may get a bit of a price on a horse that likes this distance.


Restless Rider

#5 FEEDBACK: Came back running in the Grade 3 Forward Gal and has every right to continue her forward progression here. Two turns shouldn’t be a problem, and we may get a fair price given the presence of my two underneath horses; #4 JAYWALK: Laid an egg when fourth in the Grade 2 Davona Dale, but she may have needed that race off a long layoff. She’s worked well since that dud, and a repeat of her Breeders’ Cup score would make her the horse to beat; #6 RESTLESS RIDER: Did not finish worse than second in six starts as a 2-year-old, but comes in off of a long layoff for a trainer whose horses sometimes need a race to get going. She could win, but I feel she may be a slight underlay.


Market King

#2 VEKOMA: Came back running when a decent third in the Fountain of Youth, and has been working steadily ahead of his second start of the year. This field is heavy on quantity, but a bit suspect in quantity, and his best race almost certainly beats these; #4 MARKET KING: Was third behind Omaha Beach and Game Winner at a big price in a division of the Grade 2 Rebel. He’s shown plenty of early speed, which this field is actually pretty light on. If the track favors early zip leading up to the Blue Grass, he could have a say in the outcome at a nice price; #3 SIGNALMAN: Was one-paced in the Fountain of Youth but may have needed the race. McPeek’s horses tend to improve second off the layoff, and the recent bullet at Gulfstream inspires some confidence in an improved performance.


Choate Bridge
Delta’s Kingdom
Hungry Kitten

#2 CHOATE BRIDGE: Ran very well in her debut last summer and almost certainly needed the last-out effort. She should take a step forward here, and the improved post position draw is a big plus; #5 DELTA’S KINGDOM: Was a beaten favorite last time out at Gulfstream, but didn’t have much pace to run at that day. She’s an obvious contender with better racing luck, although it’s tough to take 5/2 in a 12-horse maiden race; #9 HUNGRY KITTEN: Closed well in her debut back in November and has some flashy works on the tab ahead of her return to the races. Javier Castellano signing on is another positive.

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Kentucky Derby Preps and Pick Four Sequences, PLUS: A STRANGE Week

We’ll get to my analysis of the three Kentucky Derby prep races, and the Pick Four sequences that contain them, shortly. However, I first need to start out by saying…well, by saying that it’s been a REALLY weird week.

It started with a small right-wing blog picking up a letter that I wrote to WRGB, the Sinclair-owned TV station in my former hometown of Albany, N.Y., criticizing their airing of the company-wide message they were roundly panned for last week. This was not a political stance, but one coming from the point of view of a journalist with a conscience (yes, we exist). Naturally, this got contorted to their desired degree of spin, and that made for a number of interesting conversations with people.

As strange as that was, the truly bizarre stuff happened Thursday. Those of you who truly know me know the kind of person I am. However, over the past 13 months, I’ve had some fun on Twitter occasionally morphing into a character that took several forms depending on what was being discussed. Most of the time, I was puffing my ample chest out over a successful season at Saratoga, begging for Beemie Award consideration (hi, Jason), or otherwise doing my best to troll people I liked.

Some people picked up on what I was doing right away (oddly, most of them are fellow diehard professional wrestling fans who appreciate someone cutting a good promo!). However, thanks to several people I like and respect a great deal (likely much more than they want me to, in all honesty), I caught wind that my perception among certain horse racing people was that of a pompous buffoon who actually believed his own hype. That necessitated the below tweet, which you’ve likely seen by now.

If you think, for one solitary second, that I truly believe my own hype, you’re misguided. What you’ve seen over the past 13 months was a gimmick constructed thanks to a fateful conversation that I’ve mentioned before on this website. I came to the conclusion that, if certain people were going to believe I was an unbelievably strong personality (to the point of that being anything but a compliment), I was going to have as much fun with it as I could.

The “128 winners at Saratoga” stuff? That was inspired by “Married With Children” protagonist/American hero Al Bundy’s rants centering around “four touchdowns in a single game.” Since I’ve mentioned that, I feel the need to include this.

You’re welcome. Anyway, the “best to never win a Beemie Award” stuff, and all the posturing that happened there? That was entirely the result of much too much time spent watching professional wrestling with arrogant bad guys who always seemed to have the best lines at their disposal. With said “strong personality” at my disposal (and by the way, can you tell that was a REALLY bad choice of words by an unnamed person yet?), it was natural to portray this character as a rebel.

If you fell for that and thought that was a 100% accurate representation of me in real-life, that means I probably did a heck of a job with the gimmick, but it also means that I need to pull the curtain back. As I’ve told a few people over the past few days, I’m a slightly introverted nerd who has no problem with self-deprecating humor. I’m incredibly fortunate to have my job and the professional respect that I have for doing what I do, and not a day goes by where I don’t consider myself genuinely blessed to be in that position.

As the tweet above says, if what you’re reading is analysis, or my thoughts on a race, that’s me, as I am. If you think that the person pandering for Beemie consideration or doing a Santino Marella victory celebration is actually who I am, know that it isn’t. Many of you out there got the gist of what I was doing (including a few people that have done a lot for me simply by existing), but enough of you didn’t, so I needed to expound on that before we went further.

Now that we’re 700 words into this article, let’s dive into some Saturday analysis! We’ve got three Kentucky Derby prep races scheduled, and they all come within fun late Pick Four sequences at their respective tracks. I’ll take a look at all three, and we’ll go in alphabetical order of tracks, so we’ll start in New York.


$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

R8: 2,3,4,5,6,9,11
R9: 3,4,5
R10: 5,9
R11: 2

42 Bets, $21

As a heads-up, this ticket assumes that the 11th race stays on the turf. If it doesn’t, this ticket is rendered obsolete, as I don’t have a clue who wins if it’s run on the main track. However, for now, it’s a fun sequence that I think you can play for cheap.

The Grade 1 Carter Handicap kicks things off, and I thought this was the toughest race of the sequence. If you want to buy the race, I understand, but I only went seven-deep so as to keep the cost of the ticket down (if it chalks out, it won’t pay much). #2 ARMY MULE and #11 AWESOME SLEW figure to take most of the action, but I needed to use several others as well. That includes many logical contenders, as well as 20-1 shot #6 PETROV, whose recent slate looks much better if you can bring yourself to draw a line through that clunker two back. This is a flexible runner campaigned by savvy connections, and I needed him on my ticket.

The ninth is the Grade 3 Bay Shore for 3-year-olds going seven furlongs. #4 NATIONAL FLAG and #5 ENGAGE will take much of the money, but I thought #3 JUSTAHOLIC was intriguing at his 8-1 morning line price. He’s stepped forward in every start to date and topped a decent Todd Pletcher trainee last time out at Tampa. This barn has done terrific work with a limited number of runners, and it’s interesting to see them show up in this spot far from home.

The 10th is the Grade 2 Wood Memorial (and seriously, can we begrudgingly admit that the graded stakes committee got it right with the downgrade?). #5 ENTICED will be a popular single off of his win in the Grade 3 Gotham, and he could easily make it two in a row. However, I also needed to use #9 VINO ROSSO, who wants every bit of this distance and may have bounced last time out off of a career-best effort two back. We may get a bit of a price on him today, and it’s not inconceivable to think he’s sitting on a big effort.

The 11th is the aforementioned turf race, and if it stays on the grass, I think #2 ASTOUNDING will be tough to beat. He’s been running against much better horses since going to Jason Servis’s barn in 2016, and this spot represents significant class relief. His most recent effort wasn’t good, but that came on dirt off of a layoff. This is the route he wants, and if he gets a good trip, I think he’s going to be formidable (even at a short price). If he doesn’t win, I don’t know who does.


$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

R7: 2,5,7,10,12,13
R8: 2,8,10,11,12
R9: 1
R10: 4,10,11

90 Bets, $45

A few notes before we start: First of all, this ticket is obviously contingent on Keeneland running this card in the first place. I have no insider knowledge, nor have I ever claimed to, but if the winter storm barreling towards Kentucky is as bad as some forecasts are claiming, this could get dicey. Additionally, if the first leg comes off the turf, my ticket is irrelevant.

Good? Good. We’ll kick it off with the Grade 2 Shakertown, which has drawn a field of 14 turf sprinters. #13 DISCO PARTNER is the 5/2 morning line favorite, and I think he can win, but he’ll need to negotiate a trip from a tough post in his first start since the Breeders’ Cup to do so. I’m using many others as well, including #12 BOUND FOR NOWHERE, who’s 3-for-3 in America and was a credible fourth in last year’s Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot. If you toss the effort two back at Deauville, he more than fits with this group, and I’ve got a tough time believing this Wesley Ward trainee will be 20-1 when the gates are sprung.

The eighth is the Grade 1 Madison, which is shaping up to be a tremendous race. It’s drawn Grade 1-quality fillies and mares and a field of 13, which makes things very tricky. I went five-deep and used most of the main contenders. My top pick is #11 AMERICAN GAL, who I think may have been the best 3-year-old filly in the country last year when healthy. She’s been off since a dominant performance in the Grade 1 Test, but she’s been working well for Simon Callaghan and has handled shipping east with aplomb in the past. If she’s right, I think she’ll be tough.

The ninth race is the Grade 1 Ashland, and it features one of the top 3-year-old fillies in the country. That’s #1 MONOMOY GIRL, who figures to be one of the favorites for next month’s Kentucky Oaks. There isn’t much other early speed in the race, and I think she’ll be able to dictate the terms all the way around. I respect #2 ESKIMO KISSES, but Monomoy Girl seems like a different kind of filly, and she’s an easy single for me.

We’ll finish with the main event, as the 10th is the Blue Grass, which doubles as the race that I analyzed for this week’s DRF Derby Countdown Weekly Guide. You can find my thoughts there (as well as my preferred single-race wagering strategy), but to summarize, I think #4 KANTHAKA is very appealing at a price. I’ll also use likely favorite #11 GOOD MAGIC, and I’ll defensively use #10 FREE DROP BILLY, just in case he returns to the form he showed last year at Keeneland when he won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity.


$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

R9: 3,6
R10: 3,5,6,7,9
R11: 3
R12: 1,2,4,6,7,10

60 Bets, $30

I’ve got a gripe to address before we start. Santa Anita has three stakes races being run outside of this Pick Four sequence (not counting the Arabian race that ends the day), which ends with an optional claiming event. It’s still a juicy sequence that could pay more than it should given the possibility of several short-priced winners, but why the lack of an all-stakes Pick Four on a big day? I’m sure there’s a logical business reason for this, but from a fan’s perspective, this doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Anyway, onward and upward. The ninth is the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, and I’m not getting cute. I’m using #3 BOLT D’ORO and #6 JUSTIFY, like pretty much every other ticket on the planet. Simply put, I think these are two of the top four 3-year-olds on the road to the Kentucky Derby right now, and I can’t rationalize throwing anyone else in.

I’m spreading in the 10th, the Grade 2 Royal Heroine. I would really like #6 ENOLA GRAY and #9 SASSY LITTLE LILA if it was solely one of them running, but while I think either could win, the scenario of them speeding away early and getting run down is certainly possible. As such, I’m using a number of closers, including #3 BEAU RECALL, who was the very last horse I threw onto the ticket. I don’t like that she seems to enjoy running second or third, but this race sets up for her, as it does for fellow closers #5 THUNDERING SKY and #7 MADAME STRIPES.

I wish I could give you an interesting alternative to #3 MIDNIGHT BISOU in the 11th, the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks. However, I can’t do that. I think she may be the best 3-year-old filly in training right now, and the way she’s moving forward with every start leads me to believe she’s sitting on a big effort. The ample early speed in here is a plus, and I will be stunned if we get 6/5 on her at post time. If we do, I think that’s a considerable overlay.

As mentioned, an optional claimer ends this sequence, and it’s a tough betting race. If you’ve got the budget to buy the race, by all means do that. I settled on going six-deep, and while I used likely favorites #1 LASEEN and #2 PANTSONFIRE, I’m not in love with either. If I had to make a top pick, it’d be #7 THE TULIP, who lost her action two back and should be rolling late at a bit of a price following her win last time out. I also have to use 15-1 shot #4 MS WAKAYA, who’s run into some sharp horses in her prior tries going long on turf. She’s got some tactical speed, which isn’t abundant in this field, and I wouldn’t be shocked if apprentice jockey Franklin Ceballos boots her to the front early and sees how long she can stay there.