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2014 Blue Grass Day Preview (Keeneland)

Figure out who to bet or avoid on Blue Grass Day at Keeneland tomorrow. Just three more weeks until the Kentucky Derby! Not that I'm counting or anything...

I'll recap my top 4 horses in races 1-10 and the top 5 for race 12; for the Blue Grass, I'll break down each horse one-by-one and then give my top 5. Hopefully, we pick the right horses that run around in circles to win money and stuff. Best of luck to all, especially if you're going to Keeneland for Blue Grass Day this year.

Race 1:  7 furlongs, Starter Allowance (won maiden claiming race for less than $40,000 claiming price), 3+ year olds, $31,000 purse

My top selection in here is likely #4 Dig Alittle Deeper since he can pass and Gulfstream Park turf horses tend to run well on Keeneland's main track.  It also doesn't hurt that John Velazquez gets the mount.  His trainer, Bill Mott, wins 25% of races when switching from turf to synthetics and 25% with Velazquez riding his horses. #8 Wallyanna is dangerous as the outside speed with an underrated trainer in Michael Pino who is 33% on the year, which is unheard of for most trainers, as even the top ones are normally 15-25% on their winners.  If #6 Smartified can handle the polytrack at first asking, he could be a longshot that can pass tiring horses late in the running.  Should Julien Leparoux get #2 Wingate Hall to take back early, he could get a piece of the action, though he's vulnerable to a pace meltdown if he doesn't rate off the speed.

(Top 4:  4-8-6-2)

Race 2:  6.5 furlongs, Allowance (never won 1 non-restricted race or 2 lifetime races), 4+ year olds (fillies/mares), $60,000 purse

I will try and take a stand against the program favorite in here by betting a filly making her American debut in #5 Good So Far.  Julien Leparoux gets the mount, she ran a respectable third on synthetic tracks in France in her first lifetime start, and Empire Maker (2003 Belmont winner) usually has success with horses running on synthetic tracks.  At her best, #4 Ultimate Shopper is probably going to win this race, but 1.60-1 odds are a bit short to like her in a wide-open race.  Also, speed stopped to a crawl the past few days at Keeneland and she could get pressure from the #8 to make the early lead.  Although she is stepping up in this race, the way that Joe Rocco is finding the winners' circle makes #1 Anna Pavlova appealing at a price.  She has the running style to handle the distance and her races 2 and 3 starts prior would be good enough to get a placing.  #6 Tap Twenty One is worth a look, although her victory at Keeneland last Spring was comically slow.

(Top 4:  5-4-1-6)

Race 3:  6 furlongs, Allowance (only won their maiden race), 3 year olds, $60,000 purse

This race has a plethora of speed horses.  The outside looked better on Friday during a nice day, and I expect tomorrow to be similar.  Therefore, my top play is #8 Forfeit to come from behind to win.  He rallied nicely to be a near-miss second at Keeneland last year during College Scholarship Day in October 2013.  His Turfway Park races were underrated in defeat since his maiden win, as the top 1-2 finishers were far ahead of the rest in those races. #6 Green Mask is a danger if he can replicate his maiden victory from Fall 2013 at Keeneland.  #5 Manaus is unlikely to win, since he's 1/8 with 1 second and 4 thirds, but he's logical as a show bet or a horse to finish second in exactas.  #7 Mendota looked well in his Beard Course maiden win on College Day in October 2013, and a return to that form would find him in the winners' circle.  However, I'd like him better second start off the bench than I would starting for the first time since November.

(Top 4:  8-6-5-7)

Race 4:  1 1/16 miles, Maidens, 3 year olds (fillies), $58,000 purse

I prefer #7 Twenty in One to win her second career start after a hard luck third in her debut on wet dirt at Gulfstream. Julien getting the mount doesn't hurt, and being a daughter of the 2006 Breeders' Cup Classic winner (Invasor) ought to help her run a route race well.  I usually avoid first-time starters in routes, but #6 Terrific Treasure could be a surprise with Rosie Napravnik and Christophe Clement working together.  Clement is 18% with horses that start in 2-turn races (most trainers are more like 8-10% there), and Rosie has a few winners this week.  If Corey Nakatani can get #11 Crissy Field to harness her speed, she could lead every step of the way from the far outside post.  The two that beat her at Tampa Bay her last start came back to win their next starts.  #4 Partyinslowmotion is intriguing the first time on synthetic surfaces, and Alan Garcia has started decently riding winners so far at Keeneland.  Her dad won the 2006 Preakness Stakes more infamous for Barbaro's injury.

(Top 4:  7-6-11-4)

Race 5:  7 furlongs, Maidens, 3 year olds, $58,000 purse

I think that the first-timers have more to offer here than the boys with racing experience in here.  I kind of have co-top picks that are making their debuts.  My first selection is #5 Sultry Cat, since Alan Garcia and Ken McPeek (jockey/trainer) are 5/13 at Keeneland since 2013 when teaming up together.  The workout times don't bother me, as McPeek usually doesn't ask for full effort in the morning drills.  #8 Oil Strike is my other horse to consider since Julien Leparoux gets the mount and his trainer, Mark Casse, has a handful of wins already this Spring.  Of the starters, I prefer #4 Indian Guide the best since his dad, Cowboy Cal, almost won the 2008 Blue Grass before Monba passed him late that year.  Also, Stewart Elliott is riding winners this meet as if every horse he rides is Smarty Jones like it's still 2004.  I guess #1 Rare is my fourth pick by default as favorite with his second here last Fall, though I don't like many too much after the first three, really.

(Top 4:  5-8-4-1)

Race 6:  1 1/16 miles, Maidens, 3 year olds, $58,000 purse

I feel this race will be a huge tell on what will happen in the Blue Grass.  If #6 Stroll to Victory manages to run well, it bodes well for Bobby's Kitten in the Blue Grass later in the card.  Stroll to Victory's running style ought to suit him well at this distance and I think he'll be ready to fire.  Should he not be ready, I like #10 Athens to get a piece at a price.  Constitution had some Derby buzz earlier this year, so there's no shame in having lost to him in his debut. He'll have to get over his bad start history to run well here, though.  #11 Xaverian is running for the second time in the week should he not scratch.  I'll take that as a positive sign.  His wide post ought to mean he'll avoid trouble for once.  #4 Galton had a trouble trip in his debut at Keeneland last Fall.  A cleaner trip paired with a repeat of his runner-up effort at Fair Grounds should give him a chance.

(Top 4:  6-10-11-4)

Race 7:  7 furlongs, Commonwealth Stakes-Grade 3, 4+ year olds, $175,000 purse

Here's the first stakes race.  While he may not the best if all horses run their best effort, if the outside bias holds, I prefer the chances of #9 Occasional View to the others in here.  He won at the distance in a fast time here last Fall, and figures to make a run in the stretch at the overload of speed that entered here today.  The best horse on his game is clearly #1 Laugh Track with his win and second over the grounds, though 2-1 odds is a bit short to like for a win bet.  #6 Quiet Force could play a large factor in here if he likes the Polytrack; a bit of a question mark on the synthetics, though a win on turf and dirt suggests he'll like it, along with the pace set-up.  While his synthetic form leaves something to be desired, #11 Piquant could get dragged home by Stewart Elliott if the first-run horses run well from the outside in here.  More likely, he's an exacta/place/show play, as he has 10 seconds/3 thirds against 4 wins.

(Top 4:  9-1-6-11)

Race 8:  5.5 furlongs (turf), Shakertown Stakes-Grade 3, 4+ year olds, $100,000 purse

Not much thought process needed here, really.  #6 Havelock is running a race at 5.5 furlongs on Keeneland's turf course.  That's almost as automatic as Mizdirection running down a hill on grass at Santa Anita.  Long as he's not below 3-1, bet what you can to win on him in here.  A longer-priced option may include #7 Animal Style since he has a win at Keeneland on turf and also has 3 wins and 1 second on Fair Grounds' turf, which is also sand-based turf like Keeneland is.  Also, how often are the Ramseys and Michael Maker 20-1 in a stakes race?  #2 Something Extra nearly missed in this race last year to Havelock, and could easily run well again if he replicates that effort.  Another option to consider, if she takes to the sand turf, is #3 Shrinking Violet, who ran well twice at Kentucky Downs.  She has a four race win streak on the grass, which helps.

(Top 4:  8-7-2-3)

Race 9:  7 furlongs, Madison Stakes-Grade 1, 4+ year olds (fillies/mares), $300,000 purse

It's difficult to ignore how well #4 Judy the Beauty runs on synthetic tracks, especially Keeneland, where she is 3/3. In fact, Groupie Doll and Pure Hot are the only two to even beat her on any synthetic surface.  Should she falter, #7 Byrama could pick up the pieces.  She won the Vanity on synthetic at Hollywood last year and can pass if the pace is quick.  A mega-bomb that could run well is #8 Cozze Up Lady.  Though she's stepping up in class, she is 4/5 since 2013 with her lone defeat coming on grass.  She also won at Keeneland at 6.5 furlongs, just shy of this race's distance, last year.  #9 Eden Prairie nearly won the Raven Run last year at Keeneland, and a repeat effort could see her finish close to the front.

(Top 4:  4-7-8-9)

Race 10:  1 1/16 miles (turf), Jenny Wiley Stakes-Grade 1, 4+ year olds (fillies/mares), $300,000 purse

This field is a difficult one to judge.  I will take a chance on a price horse in #6 Fitful Skies to pull a mild upset in here.  She nearly won the E.P. Taylor at Woodbine in Canada last Fall, and she ought to be fit enough to run 1 1/16 miles, since most of her races range from 1 1/4 to 1 7/8 miles internationally.  It also helps that Joe Rocco has started well riding winners this meet.  It is difficult to teach the habit of winning.  You either have it or you don't.  It is apparent that #5 Class Included has "it" with her 13 wins in 25 starts.  This includes a 2/2 mark at the distance on grass at Fair Grounds, which is comparable to Keeneland since they both are sand-based turf courses.  She could get the jump on late runners if the pace is soft to boot.  #10 Centre Court would win on her best effort, though she's cheaper at the window than I'd like.  Also, I think she's better at Churchill Downs than at Keeneland.  The other likely betting choice, #2 Stephanie's Kitten, has the same dilemma.  I think she's better on wetter turf as well, and it figures to be (mostly) firm going tomorrow.

(Top 4:  6-5-10-2)

Race 11:  1 1/8 miles, Blue Grass Stakes-Grade 1, 3 year olds, $750,000 purse

#1 Asserting Bear could have done better in the Spiral Stakes than he did.  He does have a win at 1 1/8 miles on Polytrack in Canada, but I'm not convinced of his form so far this year.  I'd also feel better if Joe Rocco rode him instead of #10 So Lonesome in this race.  The inside hasn't fired well so far this meet; don't think it will here, either.

#2 Extraysexyhippzster ran well in the Mid-Atlantic region against listed stakes horses, but ran up the track in the Gotham at Aqueduct last time.  I'm encouraged by the workouts at Keeneland, though I'd prefer picking a horse that has seen the Polytrack in a race in here.  I'll let him beat me.

#3 Pablo Del Monte figures to be a pace factor in here.  He did win impressively in sprints at Keeneland, although he has been found out by his peers at 7-8 furlong races.  I'd be shocked if he won the Blue Grass, especially since speed has largely been ineffective this meet.  His dad almost won the 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic and would have, but for Tiznow, and his mom has the 4 1/2 furlong track record (also world record?) at Keeneland.  He'd have to pass or run off a la Sinister Minister (2006 Blue Grass winner) to fire in here.  I'll pass.

#4 Harry's Holiday is out of a sire, Harlan's Holiday, that won this race and the Florida Derby back in 2002.  None of his 7 starts have been abject; 3 of them are even wins.  However, those wins are in sprint races.  And his race in the Spiral last time was much like Super Saver's 2010 Arkansas Derby in that he had every chance to win but couldn't beat the final horse with a decent trip. He'd have to improve to win this race, I'd think.

#5 Bobby's Kitten figures to be the betting favorite in here.  He's been allegedly training to try and pass horses in workouts since he probably won't go gate-to-wire in this or the Kentucky Derby, much less both, down the road.  If the experiment is successful and he can make his own trip, he'll win.  I'm not convinced that he'll do it if he's 3-1 or less on the tote board, though.  Also, it's still his first race on Polytrack, even if he's bred to like it.  I'll use him on top of horses I like better, but he's too short to bet to win for me.

#6 Coltimus Prime just backfired in the Tampa Bay Derby.  A return to Polytrack may wake him up a bit, though he appears to be a speed horse that won't make the lead in this race.  Don't like his chances for that exact reason.  His dad is a 2-time winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, so distance isn't a concern for me, but running well while being chased by other speed is a concern of mine.  I'll pass.

#7 Casiguapo won for fun in his maiden win in July.  He hasn't been close to winning since, though he's lost to good horses along the way.  I fear that he'll be one of several that try for the lead early and have little left in the stretch run.  The 3 furlong workout suggests that he'll show early speed.  That could be a downfall in this race.

#8 Dance With Fate could have done a bit more in the El Camino Real Derby last time.  He could easily win on his best effort, though.  His three synthetic starts where he had fair breaks ended well for him.  I'd use him in exactas, but probably not to win.  I'd have liked him better had he won his last start after getting a late lead.

#9 Big Bazinga is one of many making the short trek from Turfway's Spiral Stakes to run here.  He looked decent in Canada as a 2 year old a la Mine That Bird, even down to the running style where he came from last to finish first in his maiden victory.  Save for a runner-up effort this year on grass, he's fallen flat this year, though.  He'd have to improve to win here, I think.

#10 So Lonesome seems a bit out of place in this setting.  He'd have made more sense running in the Bay Shore or even the Wood Memorial last week, being a New York bred.  He does get Joe Rocco to leave the irons of the #1, which intrigues a little bit, but I have a hard time believing that he'll take to synthetic terribly well the first asking.

#11 Coastline gets a good post position for the track bias and he has a Keeneland victory from last year.  His Spiral could have been a little better, but he has a hot jockey and trainer that have several wins this meet.  I do fear that being out of Speightstown (2004 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner) that 1 1/8 miles might be too far for his liking, though.

#12 Vinceremos fell just short at Tampa Bay in his last start.  His dad was 2nd to Mine That Bird in the 2009 Derby. That means he may like the synthetic track at Keeneland, as Pioneerof the Nile won several races in Southern California on synthetics.  He is also a proven passer, which helps.  He does lose Edgar Prado, but gets Julien Leparoux in his place.  Not too bad.  He'll be my top play.

#13 Medal Count won the Transylvania on polytrack when it was rained off the turf last week.  It's rare to run twice in a month, much less in a week, in modern racing.  His running style should help him in here a bit, and I like that the connections are confident enough in him to run him back so soon.  He's my second choice in here.

#14 Gala Award has never been on the polytrack yet.  However, he runs well on turf at Gulfstream, which bodes well for several runners at Keeneland.  I like him the fourth most in the field.  I worry about his wide post more than with #12 and #13 because he has more speed, though.

#15 Divine Oath is the also eligible runner in the bunch.  If he runs, he's dangerous as a late runner that could surprise at a good price.  However, I worry that he'll even run in the race, and even if he does, Julien Leparoux likely will ride #12 Vinceremos if both #12 and #15 run.  Keep an eye on him to see if he'll run and who picks up the mount.  My fourth play if he draws in this field.

(Top 5 if #15 runs:  12-13-8-15-14)

(Top 5 if #15 scratches:  12-13-8-14-5)

Race 12:  1 1/8 miles (turf), Allowance (never won 3 races/0-1 non-restricted wins), 4+ year olds, $62,000 purse

This race is wide open for anyone's taking.  I believe the likeliest winner is #7 Mills since he won here last Spring, albeit with Joel Rosario when he was "printing money," in the words of Matt.  #8 Brilliant Comet has Stewart Elliott aboard and a 2/2 record to boot, even if this is his turf debut.  Color me nostalgic, but when he runs on sand-based turf in 9-10 furlong races, #3 Vindication Now can seriously outrun his odds.  I bet him on closing day of the 2012 Spring meet at 12-1 to key a late double and superfecta.  Had the fifth and sixth horses switched places that day, I could have had the super high five on closing day that day.  He's worth a small win bet at/near 50-1, as he'll either win or run horribly near the rear of the field.   A fourth option to consider could be #2 Klisz, as he has 2 turf victories and a trouble trip in a fourth place effort last Fall at Keeneland that could be good enough to win with a cleaner trip in here.  If you're crazy enough to bet a Super High Five (top 5 horses), you could do worse than #9 Al's Uncle to get a piece late.  Sure, he's 50-1 on the morning line, but he has won 3 straight races (2 on turf), even if at Arlington last Summer.

(Top 5: 7-8-3-2-9)