Below is a quick at the first day of the 2011 Keeneland Spring Meet, celebrating the Keeneland Association's 75th anniversary. The feature race on today's opening day card is the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes for three-year-olds on the turf course. First post is at 1:15 Eastern.
-Keeneland's spring meet kicks off with a traditional 4 ½ furlong baby race, a condition that is typically dominated by trainers Wesley Ward and Steve Asmussen. Ward has a coupled entry in the first race: 1-Gentlemans Code and 1a-Everyday Dave (Even).
Over the last five years, Wars is 11-for-36 (29%, $1,79 $2 ROI) with two-year-olds in Maiden Special Weights at Keeneland. Of those 11 winners, all but one was a first-time starter.
-The fourth race is a two-turn, mile and sixteenth Maiden Special Weight for horses four-year-old and up and features some of the lightest raced four-year-olds you have ever seen.
This is a two-turn race on the Poly, which is a race that the numbers indicate is won overwhelmingly by horses that have turf or synthetic experience. The 9/5 morning line favorite in this race, 2-Shotgun Shine, has tried dirt three times but has never touched a turf or a synthetic track. If you're looking to stand against a 9/5 favorite, this might be the spot to do it.
Once I tossed the favorite aside, I whittled this field down to a single contender that I really liked: 4-Annawon (6/1).
Annawon, a Bill Mott trainee, didn't show a whole lot of promise in her first four races but responded well when dropped down from Maiden Specials to $35k Maiden Claiming in her last start. Looking through this field, I'd say these horses resemble more of a high-level maiden claiming event so I'm not convinced this is a huge jump back up in class. Her last race was the best of the bunch and it's possible that she's finally putting it all together.
5-Tetelestai (3/1) and 8-Dr. Hudson (4/1) also make some sense in this race. Tetelestai's odds are a bit short for me given his question marks (very sporadic race spacing; Pletcher low hit rate over five years when going turf-to-synthetic in Maiden Special Weights), and Dr. Hudson put in a so-so performance when he debuted at Keeneland way back in the Fall 2009 meet. If the odds on either horses were to drift up a bit I could be enticed, especially on Tetelestai.
-In the fifth race the Ken McPeek trainee, 4-Henny's Hurricane (4/1), is taking a big class drop from open company $50k claimers to $30k N2Ls. It's not quite a 50% price cut, but McPeek generally does well with big cuts, sporting a 10-for-28 (36%, $2.49 ROI) over the last five years.
The other horse to keep an eye on in this spot is the Turfway shipper, 7-Quite Explosive (8/1), as she's coming off a nice race against a field of OC $30k/N1X-ers last time out. She's 5-1-2-0 lifetime over the synthetics, so handling the track shouldn't be any problem. She's also displayed tactical speed over synthetics in the past, an asset that should help her in this spot.
-In race six I like the looks of the 3-Lady Jadana (6/1), a Wayne Catalano filly that performed quite nicely in her first attempt against this class level down in Gulfstream in late February. She's never had a problem finishing races in a flurry but she'll get blinkers today in the hopes that she can stay focused a bit more during the race. She gets Julien Leparoux in the irons today and I'll always look to play a nice looking Leparoux horse at a price on the turf.
-Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Pluck will make his second start of 2011 in the feature race G3-Transylvania, in the hopes of putting up a performance that warrants a shot in either the Irish or French 2,000 Guineas this spring. His comeback effort against allowance horses at Tampa back on March 12th was extremely disappointing for a colt with such lofty aspirations. He didn't get a whole lot to run at that day, but he's not going to see furious fractions on the frontend in Europe and he needs to show some versatility if he wants to be a serious contender overseas.
I like the tactical speed that 9-Lil Bit O'Fun (5/1) displayed when defeating Pluck in their last race and this race appears to set-up well for a horse to sit right off the early speed of 3-Powhatan Country and 7-Great Mills. Tampa shippers have done well at Keeneland the last couple of meets and I'm hoping Lil Bit O'Fun can continue that trend and score another upset over Pluck.