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Keeneland Opening Day (Spring 2014)

It's Spring time. You know what that means in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Keeneland opens. And for those of you that are still in college, it's College Scholarship Day to boot. Don't forget your College ID (if still a student) so you can attend for free! This meet's also a farewell to the Polytrack era, as the dirt makes a return for the Fall meet in October. Let's pick some horses to bet on that run around in circles, shall we?

There's 10 races on the Opening Day card, highlighted by the usual feature race of Spring's opening day, the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes for 3 year olds on the turf course at 1 mile.  It's often a prep race for the American Turf on Oaks Day at Churchill.  I'll be in the Lexington Room for an alumni event that the University of Louisville is putting on tomorrow.  I'm listing the top 3 I like in each race first and then what I think of the others in case you want to look elsewhere.  Now to the horses running around in circles that we like betting on to make money...

Race 1:  1 1/16 miles (main track), $10,000 Claiming Tag, 4+ year olds, $18,000 purse

My Top 3:  On paper, this appears to be a two-horse race.  If speed can prevail, #1 Cantonic looks dangerous, as Michael Maker--the trainer of the #1--usually wins races in droves at Keeneland.  On the other side of the pace set-up, #7 Straight Town has 2 wins and 1 3rd place finish in 3 starts at Keeneland.  Also, Gulfstream turf horses tend to run well on the grounds to boot.  For this reason, I favor #7 over #1 in this race. If you're looking for a higher-priced return out of a winner, you could do worse than #5 Moving West, as he won 2 races at Turfway Park going 1 mile on Polytrack back in February and can pass should the pace be fast.

And the rest:

#2 Pasta Lover has 2 wins at the 1 1/16 mile distance, although he has not seen a winner's circle since 2012.   His last effort in a third-place showing was better than it appeared, as the horse who ran 2nd out of the race came back to win.

#3 Never On Time has 4 victories in 10 efforts, with all 4 of those efforts coming in front-running fashion.  Not sold on Arienne Cox as a jockey, especially since the 4 wins came with different jockeys in the saddle, though.  May be pressured by #1, #4 and #6 for the early lead, which doesn't help.

#4 English Council is certainly bred to handle a route race, as his dad won the Breeders' Cup Turf in 2007 at 1 1/2 miles on grass.  He also won his maiden race on Polytrack at Arlington Park.  He's 0/2 at Keeneland, though.

#6 Rockefeller did win a race back in late February at Turfway, although that was against beaten claimers that hadn't won in 6 months.  He's also 0/2 at Keeneland and seems to be better on the turf, as his other 3 victories were on the lawn last summer against restricted company (maiden claimers, two non-winners claiming races).

Order of preference:  7-5-1-4-2-3-6

Race 2:  7 furlongs (main track), $50,000 Maiden Claimers, 3+ year olds (fillies/mares), $26,000 purse

My Top 3:  My pick is more of an indictment of the inconsistency of the rest of the field, so if I don't like the starters, I'm leaning towards those making their debut in this race.  For this reason, I prefer #5 Share the Sugar to take this race at a price.  Julien Leparoux and Ken McPeek (jockey/trainer) were 4/16 at Keeneland in 2013 and 6/33 overall since 2013 when they team up with horses.  Of the starters, #7 Petite Warrior has the most room to improve.  She broke slowly in her debut and her trainer (Nick Zito) is better with horses running their second career start.  Her dad flourished at the 7/8 mile distance in his career, which is a plus.  I think that #6 Follow the Kitten will be tough to beat with her best effort, as her runner-up effort at Fair Grounds would likely be enough to win this race.  Kitten's Joy horses also like Polytrack.

And the rest:

#1 Artful Lady seems to not want to collect the winner's share in races, though she has gathered a handful of minor awards with 3 thirds, 2 fourths, 1 fifth, and 1 sixth in 9 starts.  Her effort at Keeneland was underrated since she encountered trouble back in October when she was fifth.  I'll let her beat me since she's 0/9.

#2 My Regency Lady looked listless at Turfway this winter getting beat by at least 13.5 lengths in all three starts.  As a matter of fact, she's beaten a whopping 1 runner to the finish line in 3 starts.  Not exactly encouraging for Keeneland.  Pass.

#3 Radiant could certainly get there, as Michael Maker and Joel Rosario won all the races last Spring at Keeneland, so it seemed.  Fair Grounds turf form also tends to carry to Keeneland's Polytrack.  I am a bit discouraged by the 0/7 start, though.  She also blew three open-length leads late in races, albeit at route races.  However, she's 0/2 in sprints.  Running 7/8 of a mile may suit her best, but it's not worth betting her around 2/1 odds.

#4 Maybe Lily chased the pace in vain on Spiral Stakes Day at Turfway in her last start.  Although she could certainly place or show (2nd or 3rd), 0/8 is hard to ignore for a career record.  Her start at Keeneland also left something to be desired, as she was stone dead last in her October 2013 start on the grounds.

Order of preference:  5-7-6-3-4-1-2

Race 3: 1 1/16 miles (main track), $10,000 Claiming Tag, 4+ year olds, $18,000 purse

My Top 3:  This race came up the weaker of the two splits on paper, as race 1 is the first division of this race.  I have a hard time looking past #3 Get in Line, as he appears to be lone speed with top-flight connections (leading owner and trainer from last Spring, top jockey in J. Castellano) and good recent form.  Gulfstream and Fair Grounds turf horses like Keeneland's main track.  Though he hasn't ran on the Polytrack yet, no reason he shouldn't like it.  If someone can make the exacta respectable for second, #4 Five Afleet could fit the billing.  He won there in the past with his top Beyer coming in a race similar to this.  I don't think he'll win, since he's 0/12 since 2013, but he can get a piece for second.  #1 Thatboathassailed is probably the most logical horse to beat the #3 if anyone does.  He won in a last-to-first effort last Fall at Keeneland at the distance and condition of this race.  He also won recently at Turfway at the distance to boot.

And the rest:

#2 Artillery is 0/3 on synthetic surfaces and is taking a step up in competition for this race.  I find it hard to take someone who hasn't even cracked the top 3 of a race since at least November 2012 to win at Keeneland.  Pass.

#5 Silence has 8 wins, though his most recent win was in a sprint race 2.5 furlongs shorter than this race.  The 0/5 in the money, much less for winning, at Keeneland, is a black mark.  Pass.

#6 Magical Moment has 2 thirds at Keeneland in 5 starts and has 4 wins on synthetic surfaces.  He might like the dirt better though, as he won at Churchill at 1 1/8 miles against similar foes.

#7 Geaux Wando was my top pick back when I went to Turfway on January 31st and majorly disappointed.  His second Polytrack effort there wasn't much better.  I'll let him beat me.

#8 Dynamic Royal did win for fun at Arlington at 1 1/8 miles on Polytrack last May.  However, he hasn't even finished second in his other 11 starts since 2013.  It also doesn't help that Rafael Mojica (his jockey) is 1/79 this year.

Order of preference:  3-4-1-6-7-8-5-2

Race 4:  1 3/16 miles (turf), Allowance (non-winners of 2 lifetime/0-1 non-restricted wins), 4+ year olds, $60,000 purse

My Top 3:  There's a decent chance that this race could be taken off the turf with all the rain in the forecast.  I'll handicap it for the horses that could handle either equally well.  My top pick is #8 Rei since he won on Polytrack in his maiden victory and has decent turf form, despite being 0/4 on the lawn.  My second choice is #3 Big N Perfectsince his turf form is solid (1 win and 1 second) and his dad won the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic at a similar distance.  Also, Joel Rosario in the irons is never a bad thing.  My third option would have to be #4 Mutasaawy since I like recency in past performance lines, which he has after winning on Fair Grounds' turf (also sand-based, like Keeneland's) in his last start.

And the rest:

#1 Rapscallion could run well if he returns to his Saratoga form from last Summer.  However, he's vulnerable to not being able to last the distance.  He is lone speed, though, and for that reason, he's my fourth choice for the race.

#2 English Pound is bred to handle the distance, though 1/12 is a bit of a red flag.  He chased speed in vain last Fall at Keeneland on the turf, and might falter similarly today chasing the #1 around the track.  Because it's a long turf race, anything can happen.  But I'm leaning elsewhere in this one.

#5 Wings of Fortune has 8 seconds in 14 starts.  He had every chance to win a 1 1/2 mile race on turf here last Fall and still didn't get the job done.  I'll let him beat me at a short price.

#6 Kingston Jamaica does have Julien Leparoux aboard, which is dangerous.  And he should like wet turf, as he hailed from Ireland before shipping to the US.  You can't bet everyone, and I may not bet him unless he floats to 6-1 odds or better, but I won't fault anyone that lands on #6 in this race.

#7 Secret Bid could be doing better.  His win was in an off-the-turf race, which intrigues should this race be taken off the turf course because of rain.  He could win, like many others in here, but again, you can't bet everyone.

#9 Professor Midnight is only 1/9, and that win was a dead-heat win, so he technically hasn't passed the last horse that he needs to pass in a race just yet.  His third place finish at Keeneland last year was decent, and his dad ran one of his best races there in winning the 2006 Perryville on the main track in course-record time.  Like him a bit more if on the main track.

#10 Scout Leader did win on the main track against similar foes.  Two fifths isn't terrible on the turf, as Fair Grounds is comparable to Keeneland.  However, the post and 1/11 mark is a stay-away sign for me.

#11 Foolhardy and #12 Gran Chat are both also-eligibles that might not make the field.  Even if they do, I don't rate either of them to win or run well in this race, main track or turf course.

Order of preference:  8-3-4-1-6-7-2-5-9-10-12-11

Race 5:  6.5 furlongs (main track), Allowance (never won twice/0-1 non-restricted wins), 3 year olds (fillies), $60,000 purse

My Top 3:  Though this field is small with just 7 entrants, any of these 7 could find the winners' circle.  My top pick in the race is someone who won on the grounds last year in #1 Miss Arrangement.  Though she's 0/2 this year, those were turf races at Gulfstream.  I think a return to the grounds will suit her just fine.  My second option is #6 Appreciating since I anticipate a speed duel early, as #2, #3, #4, and #5 could all show strong pace in the first 1/4-1/2 mile.  I'm willing to toss her effort at Delta Downs since she eased.  My third selection is #5 Hot Squeeze, since I think she's the fastest of the speed and could pop loose with Joel Rosario positioned to the outside of the other speed.

And the rest:

#2 Royal Witch ran well at Turfway in March.  However, she appears to be the inside of 3-4 speed horses.  That doesn't bode well for a 6.5 furlong sprint.  I'll let her beat me.

#3 Gold Magic ran exceptionally well at Mountaineer in her maiden victory.  She could very well win and I won't talk you out of her at the betting window.  But I'm not convinced she'll pass these horses if she has to do so

#4 Abou looked overmatched in the Davona Dale at Gulfstream.  A return to sprinting should help her, though I'm not sure she'll have an easy go of the pace early.

#7 Irish Score won with style in her last start at Aqueduct on the turf.  She could easily take this race, as Graham Motion is 31% when switching from Turf to Synthetic surfaces.  Probably my 4th choice to win.

Order of preference:  1-6-5-7-4-3-2

Race 6:  6 furlongs, Maidens, 3 year olds, $58,000 purse

My Top 3:  I find the starters either unconvincing or overvalued in this race.  Therefore, my top selection is #6 Watery Moon.  Alan Garcia and Graham Motion are 5/11 together with a $4.15 ROI (double the return on a $2 win bet) together at Keeneland since 2013.  In general, they're 26% together with a $3.42 ROI ($1.42 profit on $2 win bet). While #7 H Town Brown is the best on his top effort, he's still 0/4 with lots of placings with no wins to show for it.  I can't pick him at 1.40-1 odds to win.  #8 Appealing Alex could appreciate the cut-back in distance in this race.  I'm also not sold on the inside horses in this race.

And the rest:

#1 Coastal Moon is debuting in this race.  Inside horses sometimes break slowly in their debuts, and Julien Leparoux isn't exactly a speed rider.  He could win, but not on my radar the first start.  Maybe the next one, I'll play him to win.

#2 Ranger Regiment is out of a sire that won the now-defunct Kentucky Cup Juvenile on Polytrack.  The back class is scary, as Vicar's In Trouble might be one of the Derby favorites (if not the choice, if Samraat loses).  Still, no top 4 finishes in 4 starts is discouraging.

#3 Metro Dreamer is out of a sire that ran very well on Polytrack, even if against competition that wasn't the best at times.  Jose Lezcano teams up with Eddie Kenneally quite well (29% wins), too.  Might be my fourth choice?

#4 King of Bay may need a start or two and more distance to run well.  He seems better suited to route races than sprints.

#5 Macro Zoom has pace, and should be a factor in the early running.  He's the most likely to go gate-to-wire if no one runs with him early.

Order of preference:  6-7-8-3-5-1-2-4

Race 7:  1 mile (turf), Allowance (0-3 non-restricted wins or 0-1 turf wins), 4+ year olds (fillies/mares), $68,000 purse

My Top 3:  This race may not see the grass as well, depending upon the rain.  I will handicap for either condition.  My top play is #4 Zero Game at a price.  She has 3 wins on synthetics and 1 win on turf.  My second option, especially if moved to the main track, is #6 Sisterly Love, since she is 2/5 on synthetics and ran an underrated 4th in last year's Spinster Stakes (top race for older female horses at Keeneland).  The show bet for me could be #8 Drama Drama, since she won here on October 19th and has 3 turf victories.

And the rest:

#1 La Malaguena is a bit outclassed against these.  I'd like her better at a track like Ellis Park or Mountaineer than here.  Might get a piece for the minor awards.

#2 Dame Marie is dangerous, though she's 0/2 on Keeneland turf.  If moved to the main track, she has only raced on turf.  There are more questions than answers with her in this race to take her as a 3-1 choice.

#3 Maid on a Mission seems to be here since the owner wants to run at Keeneland.  She did lead a maiden race before hitting the rail at Keeneland two years ago, though.  It featured Center Court.  She might want an easier test to win, though.

#5 Karola's Dance appears overmatched, as she has wins on neither the turf course nor the synthetic surfaces. She's better as a sprinter, I think.  This is a huge ask to run well against stakes-quality turf females.

#7 Absolute Crackers could get there, especially since she won there in October 2012.  However, I can't play her to win as a favorite.  Worth using in exactas on top of some of my top 3, though.

#9 Moon Philly could enjoy turf decently well, though I'm not sure this is the right spot to win at first asking.  Let's see what she does down the road.  I don't think it'll happen in this race, unless she moves up about 8-12 lengths on grass.

#10 Primed for Passion would rate higher for me if I thought she wouldn't be wide and/or far behind in the early running.  She might like Presque Isle Downs better than Keeneland, although she's ran against top quality horses in her defeats at the track.  Her turf start was a bit flat, so I'll let her beat me.

Order of preference:  4-6-8-7-2-10-9-1-3-5

Race 8:  7 furlongs, Allowance (0-2 wins, 0-1 non-restricted wins/$62,500 claimers), 3+ year olds (fillies/mares), $62,000 purse

My Top 3:  This race is the most wide open of the day.  Any of the seven can win, though only one of them has synthetic surface victories to brag about in the bunch.  So, I'm taking a chance with the longest-priced horse on the morning line.  #5 Weekend Wish has won at Keeneland, and is 4/10 on synthetic surfaces.  The rest of the field is either trying it for the first time, is 0/3 (#1), or 0/2 (#2) on them.  #2 Elusive Fate has ran hard-luck races in her Keeneland starts.  She can run well at 1 mile races, which means that 7 furlong races aren't out of her grasp.  #3 Bella Castani has the best recent form, though she hasn't ran on synthetics just yet.  She's the likeliest favorite to run well.

And the rest:

#1 Chelsea Road is coming off of a victory, and has a top trainer in Michael Maker at her disposal.  I'd feel better about her if she ran better on synthetics in the past, though.  She doesn't have excuse trips like #2 does.

#4 Street Girl hasn't cracked the top 2 since shipping out of Florida.  I'm not sure she'll fire at Keeneland, either.  Her back class is impressive, though the fact still stands that her lone wins were in off-the-turf dirt races.

#6 In Haste runs well on turf, though her synthetic form is only present in workout drills.  She could get there, as Tom Proctor (her trainer) doesn't run them there in vain.  Probably my fourth selection.

#7 Tipthetrolleygirl might be better on dirt, as that is where her 3 victories happened.  If this race were at Churchill, I'd bet her.  But, it's Keeneland.  So I won't.

Order of preference:  5-2-3-6-1-4-7

Race 9:  1 1/16 miles (turf), Transylvania Stakes--Grade 3, 3 year olds, $100,000 purse

My Top 3:  All the favorites in here appear to be speed horses.  I expect them to pass at least somewhat in this field. The top horse in a wide-open running of the Transylvania appears to be #3 Woodfield Springs.  Julien Leparoux being the jockey certainly helps.  He should be able to save ground and make one of the first runs on the leaders from mid-pack.  My second option is #1 Medal Count, since he won his lone turf effort.  He tried to run on turf here at 2 in the Bourbon, but it got rained off the turf that day.  My third choice has to be #12 Can'thelpbelieving, despite the wide post position.  He's never ran a bad race, and almost won here last Fall chasing a slow pace home.  Plus, you get Joel Rosario at a price.

And the rest:

#2 Ry's the Man did win at Fair Grounds twice on the turf, though those were against cheaper horses.  His history of slow starts in his first four races could haunt him in a race like this.

#4 Hesinfront could fire on the turf, as he's 1/2 (win, second) on sand-based turf at Churchill.  He might be worth a small win bet as my fifth or sixth option in the race.

#5 Kody With a K is probably the early speed of the bunch.  However, he's 0/4 on the turf, and this will likely be ran on turf, and wet turf at that.  I'm surprised he's not running on the main track at 7/8 of a mile.

#6 Red River Rising appears more of a Blue Grass horse than a Transylvania horse on paper.  If he runs well on turf, he could get a piece of the action at the end of the race.  It's a tough ask first start on turf, though.

#7 Laddie Boy is also debuting on grass.  He might get cooked by the #5 in a speed duel.  Also, the #10 and #11 are likely to send to the lead.

#8 Pleuven is consistent, as he always finishes in the top 4 in races.  One of those wins was on soft turf.  He's my fourth choice in the race.  I'd like him better if he gained more ground in the Palm Beach, though.

#9 Global View has ran very well, and should be favored on recent form.  However, his efforts are mostly on harder turf courses.  Keeneland's turf condition figures to be good or good-to-soft at best tomorrow.  This could hurt him on Friday.

#10 Storming Inti would rate better if there was less pace in the race.  He has passed before, but he's only ran on firm turf.  It won't be firm tomorrow.  He also hasn't been on sand-based turf yet.  He's worth using on top in exactas, but I won't bet him to win.

#11 Picozza could be finding form at the right time.  Horses normally don't win by 5.5 lengths on the turf.  Plus, Pletcher and Velazquez could go off as non-favorites, which is rare.  He could get there.  Keep an eye on him on the tote board tomorrow.

Order of preference:  3-1-12-8-11-4-6-2-5-7-9-10

Race 10:  1 1/16 miles (main track), $40,000 Claimers (0-1 lifetime wins), 3+ year olds, $25,000 purse

My Top 3:  I probably won't see the last race in person, as I'll be en route to Louisville for the weekend.  My top play is #5 Aunt Ruby's Kitten since he only fits the condition because he was disqualified once when finishing first.  He's hard to look past in this race.  My second option is #1a Moon Traveler, in spite of the lengthy layoff.  If he replicates his 3-year-old form, he's dangerous.  My third option is #7 Maserati since he won his most recent start. The paltry finishing time is a concern at Oaklawn at first, but their track has been slow for most of the meet.

And the rest:

#1 Command Force, for betting purposes, is linked with the #1a.  I think he could be speed, though I'm not sure that will be best tomorrow.  We'll see.

#2 To the Stars is 1/14.  The win was in his last start, but I don't expect a winning streak to happen after starting 0/13 for his career.

#3 Column is live, as his third place effort last year might be good enough to win a race like this.  However, the trainer is 0/19 on synthetics.  I'll pass.

#4 Guy On the Go hasn't won in over 2 years.  That's tough to take even in a race like this.  I'll pass, thanks.

#6 Bold Dance is also winless since 2012.  This is an uneasy spot to claim that he'll win.

#8 Justfollowmylead hasn't technically won a race of his own doing.  His lone win placed him first thanks to a disqualification of another horse.  Passing the last horse is a concern I have for him.  No thanks.

#9 School On a Hill is the fourth choice in here for me, even if by default.  He ran against tougher horses as a 2 year old and his dad won the 2007 Pacific Classic on Polytrack, albeit in the slowest 1 1/4 mile race that I've ever seen. Who knows?

Order of preference:  5-1a-7-9-1-3-8-2-4-6

Best of luck to all attending and/or betting on the races!