It feels like turf sprint weekend at Keeneland, as there are two such races on today's card after a similar race yesterday. Friday's turf sprint, the sixth race on the card, went to Flamin' Hot, a horse that had displayed the best form of his career while running under those conditions. Flamin' Hot paid $8.20 for the win.
The biggest price of the day was reserved for the final race of the day as Beach Commander, at 13/1 on the board, took a field of $10K claimers gate-to-wire over a mile and a sixteenth proving once again that speed can win and does over the Polytrack, even at two turns. Beach Commander had run his last race at Turfway Park in late March.
I was alive for a nice Daily Double score to No Use Denying in races eight and nine, but any dreams of a 25-to-1 payout were dashed when my upset pick completely stopped while on the far turn and finished well back of the field at the wire. I don't know how many lengths back he was at the wire...but it was a lot.
On to day eleven and the Grade 2 Coolmore Lexington Stakes...
Race 1: $40K Claimer, 7 furlongs, 4 & up
The 3-Trying Brian (3/1) has everything that I'm looking for in a horse running at Keeneland. He's performed well over synthetic surfaces (5-3-1-0); he's run well at today's distance (5-3-2-0); he's been successful previously at Keeneland (3-2-1-0); and he's dropping into softer company after running competitively against higher priced competition.
I don't know if there's much of a chance that he'll stay at those 3/1 morning line odds, but if he does I'm going to be playing this horse hard right out of the box.
Race 2: N2X Allowance, 1 1/16 Miles (Turf), 3 yo, Fillies
It's a turf race at Keeenelad...where's Julien Leparoux?
Making a selection in turf races has become almost that easy over the past few Keeneland meets as rider Julien Leparoux is a force to be reckoned with in any even over the lawn. In this second race we find the rider aboard 1-Lisa's Kitten (3/1), a filly that has been toiling in graded and listed stakes company over the past six months. I don't know that the pace is really going to flatter this stone cold closer as it appears she's going to need to sit a little closer to the front if she's to have the best chance at a score.
6-Lucky Lass (5/2) is a lightly raced filly that won back-to-back turf efforts at Calder prior to flopping against listed company at Gulfstream. Like Lisa's Kitten, she will enjoy a little bit of a class break in this spot and her tactical speed should give Garrett Gomez every opportunity to guide her to the top prize.
An early Daily Double of Trying Brian to both Lisa's Kitten and Lucky Lass might be in the cards if there is enough value in the will pays.
Race 4: N2X Allowance, 1 1/16 Miles, 4 & up
It's easy to find a lot of flaws with many of the horses in this field, starting with the ML favorite, 7-Headache (2/1). A couple of flashy Beyer figures dot the past performance line but they can't hide the fact that his horses is 0-for-3 when going off as the post time favorite and he's never so much as touched a synthetic surface in competition. I just can't get behind a horse at low odds with those question marks.
At first glance 1-Gridiron (6/1) looked like the potential value of the race after a big performance on the inner track at Aqueduct back on February 20th. There's a risk that this horse just loved the inner and that he'll come back down to earth once he tries the Polytrack for the first time. On the plus side, the addition of blinkers looks to have woken this horse up on the front end.
With a decent amount of pace in the race the 4-Conservative (3/1) might find everything setting up perfect for him in the stretch drive. This colt showed a bit of promise as a three year old until he was thrown into grade stakes company where he was short on success. He ran well in the Lexington over this track one year ago; hoping for a repeat performance against softer company today.
Race 6: N2X Allowance, 5 ½ furlongs (Turf), 4 & up, Fillies & Mares
The first of two turf sprints on the card, this one featuring older fillies and mares. Just like yesterday, I'm going to go with a horse that has shown previous ability to win races of this type as opposed to picking pure speed.
4-Formal Danni (5/1) is the clear speed horse in this race and she's also the most successful grass sprinter in the field. She's making a big step up in class from those $5K starter allowance races at Turfway, Ellis, and Indiana Downs, but at the right price she could be a nice play.
7-Excelente (IRE) (3/1) attempted a turf dash for the first time in her last start and responded with her first win since coming to North America from Europe. She got a bit of soft ground in that Gulfstream score, something she won't have today but her wide post position should allow Castellano to track the early leaders into the far turn.
Race 8: The Giant's Causeway, 5 ½ furlongs (Turf), 3 & up, Fillies & Mares
Another turf sprint for the ladies, this one a listed stakes for a purse of $100,000. 3-Libor Lady (9/2) clearly loves to run in these sprints on the lawn as she sports an 11-7-3-1 lifetime record. Her last race in the Sunshine Millions F&M Spring was an absolute disaster but perhaps that performance was due to running on the Santa Anita ProRide surface instead of her preferred surface of grass. She's drawn inside a bunch of speed, which given me some concern that she could feel a bit too much pressure early on.
With the abundance of speed in this race, Todd Pletcher's 7-West Ocean (5/2) could get the perfect set-up to notch her third win at the turf sprint distance. Her last effort at the Fair Grounds saw her set a new course record over a going labeled "GOOD". She might not offer too much value, but she appears to be the logical winner in this spot.
Race 9: Grade 2 Lexington Stakes, 1 1/16 Miles, 3 yo
Let's start the discussion of this race by indicating which horse appears to be a bad play in this spot. 2-Uptowncharlybrown (4/1) is my Odysseus of this race, meaning he's a horse that I'm not willing to put a lot of faith into given lack of experience over a synthetic surface. I like the fact that Garrett Gomez is getting on board, but not enough to back this colt as the winner of this race.
If we learned anything from the Blue Grass it should be this: we can't discount any horses in these stakes races over the Polytrack and any contender that has displayed an ability to run over synthetic or turf has a shot to win. Since we might be looking at a crap-shoot result I'm going to go with the price play in this race and take the 5-Call Shot (10/1). This horse hasn't accomplished much when you compare him to his rivals but he has shown the ability to run good races over synthetic surfaces. His third place finish in the Dania Beach over the turf at Gulfstream was a very nice performance against a field that has seen the winner and runner-up come back to score in stakes races at next asking. Trainer Wayne Catalano has been picking his spots very effectively during the spring meet and the jockey/trainer combo with Alvarado over the past five years is off the charts (37%, $2.44 ROI).