If this coming weekend wasn't already jam packed with enough stakes action at Keeneland and Oaklawn Park, we've also got two Grade 1 races on Friday afternoon in Kentucky and Arkansas. The Grade 1 Maker's Mark Mile will load into the Keeneland starting gate at 5:13 pm Eastern, with 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan making his seasonal debut. A couple of hours later, older fillies and mares will contest the Grade 1 Apple Blossom (Post Time: 7:16 pm Eastern), with Grace Hall as your 9/5 morning line favorite.
Let's take a quick look at each of those races.
Grade 1 Maker's Mark Mile, 1 Mile, 3&up, Turf, Keeneland
On paper, this looks like it could be a laugher for Wise Dan -- not only was this gelding the top turf miler in North America last season, but he's clearly one of the best milers in the world. He finished off 2012 with four consecutive graded stakes victories (including three Grade 1s), and his only loss of the season was by a head in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap on dirt in mid-June. He's won on dirt, synthetics and turf, and his class towers over this field. But at 3/5 on the morning, there's not a ton of opportunities for a big score.
The logical second choices in this field are Data Link (3/1) and Silentio (9/2). Mr. Commons is a co-third choice on the morning line at odds of 9/2, but his recent form just doesn't measure up against the best horses in this field. He hasn't won a race since the G2-Arcadia back in early 2012 and his last three efforts were solid but unspectacular.
If you really love Wise Dan, and have a great pick in mind for the place spot, an ice cold exacta is probably the best way to attack this race. Or perhaps you take a small shot with one of the others and hope he's off his game in his first start off the bench. (Although, as Jessica Chapel pointed out in her excellent Railbird blog, betting against a returning Horse of the Year has been a futile exercise for quite some time.)
Grade 1 Apple Blossom, 1 1/16 Miles, 3&up, fillies & mares, Dirt, Oaklawn Park
Only seven fillies and mares entered this year's Apple Blossom, but it's a real nice group of accomplished distaffers. (Spell check is telling me "distaffers" isn't a word. I disagree. It's definitely a word.) Personally, I didn't love that last effort by morning line favorite Grace Hall. Yeah, nobody was going to beat Royal Delta in the Sabin that day (she was five lengths clear of the place filly), but Grace Hall really didn't put in much of a run and, when combined with a pretty dull effort in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, I'm not exactly ready to run to the windows to bet her in this race.
On Fire Baby comes in off of a long layoff (we last saw her racing in late May), and you've got to wonder if this spot might be just a bit to challenging for after almost a year away from racing. She's run well at Oaklawn in past (winning the 2012 Honeybee) but this is an awfully tough field and she wasn't running that well before she took her vacation. Plus, there isn't a lot of speed in this race and I wouldn't be surprised if On Fire Baby is pretty pumped up right when she leaves the gate.
My handicapping brought me to two fillies in this field: Tiz Miz Sue and Summer Applause. Overall, I like Summer Applause the best of the bunch; she's coming out of a pretty good race in the G2-Top Flight and she has the ability to sit a little closer to the lead if the pace ends up on the soft side.
If this race had a bit more pace in the mix, I'd pick Tiz Miz Sue and be done with it. But the absence of any true need to lead filly has me shying away from a filly that might not get enough to run at in deep stretch.