With 18 Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series ‘Win and You’re In’ races this weekend, this Friday, Saturday and Sunday are ‘must watch’ (and ‘must wager,’ in my opinion) days for racing fans as preparations for the World Championships continue.
Keeneland opens Friday and they’ve got nine Challenge Series races this weekend, including the Phoenix (Sprint) and Alcibiades (Juvenile Fillies) on Friday, the Shadwell Turf Mile (Mile), Breeders’ Futurity (Juvenile) and TCA Stakes (Filly & Mare Sprint) on Saturday and the Spinster (Distaff), Bourbon (Juvenile Turf) and Indian Summer (Juvenile Turf Sprint) on Sunday. That’s a lot of firepower in Lexington this weekend!
Belmont has four ‘Win and You’re In’ races this weekend – the Champagne (Juvenile) on Saturday and the Flower Bowl (Filly & Mare Turf), Futurity (Juvenile Turf Sprint) and Frizette (Juvenile Fillies) on Sunday.
Santa Anita’s Sprint Championship (Sprint) is Saturday and Longchamp has a trio of ‘Win and You’re In’s’ on Sunday – the Prix de l’Opera (Filly & Mare Turf), Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Juvenile Turf) and Prix Marcel Boussac (Juvenile Fillies Turf). And you can bet them all with Xpressbet.
My focus this week is on Keeneland’s Saturday card, which features five graded stakes races and a $350K All-Stakes Pick 4 (Races 7 – 10) and $250K All-Stakes Pick 5 (Races 6 – 10) that will be hard to pass up.
The marquee race is the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile, which attracted an overflow field of 16 (only 14 can start) and familiar faces like Heart to Heart, Analyze It, Voodoo Song, Divisidero and Almanaar are signed on. Simply put, this is going to be a good one!
Xpressbet customers can cash in on a 1 Million Point Split by hitting the Late Pick 4. All customers that correctly hit that bet will win an equal split of the pot.
My focus in this week’s blog was identifying the horses you ‘must use’ in the Pick 4 and Pick 5, along with horses worth considering. Any horses not listed here are tosses in my book, but may not be so unlucky in yours.
Woodford Stakes (Grade 2, $200,000) – 3YO+ - 5 Furlongs (Turf)
The All-Stakes $250,000 Guaranteed Late Pick 5 kicks off with the Woodford Stakes, a turf dash that attracted a very evenly-matched field of 12. And for this handicapper, whether or not I play the Pick 5 really hinges on how I feel about this race. And spoiler alert, it’s not very good. This field is just loaded with a bunch of horses that ‘can’ win, but not a ton that ‘should.’
In fact, I wonder if Wesley Ward is kicking himself for not entering Bound for Nowhere in the Woodford instead of the Shadwell Turf Mile. He won the G2 Shakertown by 4-lengths here in April but ended up drawing an impossible post (#14) in the Shadwell. He would be a single in this race and he’s probably now a toss in the one he was entered in.
But enough about who isn’t here – here are my thoughts on this field.
- #6 Rocket Heat (8/1) – I think he’s the speed of the speed and this is his distance. Toss his effort at short odds in the Lucky Coin last out at Saratoga when he got eliminated at the break and he’s as good as any of these.
- #2 Bucchero (5/1) – Won this race last year at 26/1 and was a strong 5th in a loaded Group 1 race at Royal Ascot. Got a solid sharpener in at Parx on September 3 and should be sitting on his best effort.
- #5 Holding Gold (4/1) – Tough call to put him on either list, but he certainly hasn’t been kind to his backers in the last few years. He’s just 2-for-12 since the start of 2017 and it’s just getting tough betting him and watching him come up short. He clearly needs a firm course.
- #10 Will Call (4/1) – Effort in the KY Downs Turf Sprint Preview was an absolute head scratcher but have to trust Brad Cox will have him ready to fire. Tailed off after winning a G3 turf race at Churchill on Oaks Day.
- #11 Angaston (6/1) – Has been knocking on the door all season and finally notched a stakes win at Kentucky Downs on September 13. He’s won 3-of-5 turf sprints in his career and wouldn’t be a shock.
- #4 Extravagant Kid (5/1) – Has sharpened into a nice horse for Brendan Walsh and has missed the board in turf sprints just once in his last seven tries. The water is deeper here, so he’s only a fringe contender for the ‘W’ to me.
Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (Grade 2, $250,000) – F&M 3YO+ - 6 Furlongs (Dirt)
Like in the Woodford, field size here trumps field quality. Ten have been entered, but only half of these have won a graded race of any kind. It’s difficult to envision a Breeders’ Cup winner would come from this field, but there are some nice horses in here and one or two would be worth considering in the World Championships.
Miss Sunset and Chalon went 1-2 as three-year-olds in last year’s G2 Raven Run during the Keeneland Fall Meet and they rekindle their rivalry here. Neither would be a shock, but I can’t help but wonder if their presence, along with that of Vertical Oak, could set things up for a closer.
Here’s my take.
- #7 Golden Mischief (7/2) – She’s it. The only horse you ‘have’ to use. Others merit consideration but she has been sensational in her last two starts (and three of her last four) and she should carve out a great stalking trip. She’s 7-for-10 at the distance, too.
- #3 Miss Sunset (3/1) – Won the G2 Raven Run here last fall (over Chalon and Torrent) and got the worst of the draw, ending up inside the other speed. She was also beaten just a nose in the G1 Madison here in April. Loves Keeneland, but will have to run hard every step.
- #9 Chalon (4/1) – Has become a capable stalker and checks most of the boxes – success at Keeneland, loves the distance and is in top form. She’s never beaten fillies/mares this good, though.
- #4 Vertical Oak (4/1) – Showed a brand new dimension when she closed to win the Open Mind last out at Churchill. Still not sold on her fast dirt prowess or her chances at this level.
- #8 Curlin’s Approval (5/1) – Florida shipper is 9-for-20 in her career but 0-for-4 away from Gulfstream and she’s never hit the board anywhere but South Florida.
First Lady Stakes (Grade 1, $400,000) – F&M 3YO+ - 1 Mile (Turf)
The last two editions of this race were shockers – Photo Call ($61.40) took ‘em gate to wire in 2016 and Zipessa ($35.20) took advantage of a pedestrian pace to pull the upset last year. Will that trend continue this year? Or will it revert to 2005 – 2015, where no winner paid at odds higher than 5/1?
Here’s what I think:
- #4 Crown Walk (GB) (4/1) – I’m going to make her my top pick here by a whisker. She ships in from France for Godolphin and she’s 3-for-7 in her career. She won the G3 Prix Chloe at Chantilly in July and was runner-up in the G1 Prix Rothschild there this summer.
- #3 Quidara (GB) (2/1) – Was the ‘other’ Chad Brown horse in the G2 Ballston Spa behind A Raving Beauty, but she got all the marbles that day. Not sure she can takes this field gate-to-wire but having a tough time betting against the Brown/Castellano tandem.
- #2 A Raving Beauty (GER) (3/1) – I thought she looked unbeatable earlier this year when she won the G1 Just a Game and G3 Beaugay and made excuses for her defeat in the G1 Diana. But the effort as heavy fave in the G2 Ballston Spa was subpar.
- #7 Dona Bruja (ARG) (6/1) – I’m a longtime fan of this one but I’m not crazy about the rider change back to Declan Cannon, who did not ride her well in this race last year. I preferred Jose Ortiz, who put her in the race early when he rode.
- #1 Insta Erma (20/1) – Won the G3 Ladies Turf at Kentucky Downs off a long layoff and she should get pace to run at here. I would have preferred to see Drayden Van Dyke back in town to ride, but there’s a pretty big card at Santa Anita, too.
Breeders’ Futurity (Grade 1, $500,000) – 2YO – 1 1/16 Miles (Dirt)
It’s hard to believe this is the field assembled for a Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup prep race, just because it’s so subpar. But I guess they’re running in competition with the Champagne (also Saturday) at Belmont and the American Pharoah (last Saturday) at Santa Anita. There are only so many horses this time of the year with the credentials to merit running in a Grade 1.
- #13 Mind Control (7/2) – Miserable post for this speedy son of Stay Thirsty, who won the G1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga on Labor Day at odds of 10/1. He’s never tried two turns and not sure how far he wants to go, but he’s definitely the best of these. He’s the only ‘must use’ horse but I’m not sure he’s a single.
- #2 Somebeyay (5/1) – Pletcher-charge is more workmanlike than flashy but he’s good enough to have won the G3 Sanford at Saratoga. Inside draw is a plus, but note Castellano steps off to ride Standard Deviation .
- #14 Standard Deviation (10/1) – Horrendous draw for this Chad Brown-trained son of Curlin, but I love the way he broke his maiden at Saratoga on August 18. It is tough to know what he beat that day as it was an off-the-turf race and the post couldn’t be worse.
- #10 Mr. Ankeny (12/1) – Big jump forward in his last race at Ellis and note the Romans go-to rider, Albarado, opts for this one over the 9. He’ll need to learn to sit back a little more, though.
Shadwell Turf Mile (Grade 1, $1,000,000) – 3YO+ - 1 Mile (Turf)
The marquee race on the card is the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile, which attracted a loaded field of 14. You’ve got venerable veterans like Heart to Heart and Divisidero. You’ve got up-and-coming runners like Synchrony and Bound for Nowhere. You’ve got two Chad Brown horses. You’ve got pace. You have a three year old (Analyze It). Simply put, you’ve got it all.
I really have a hard time betting the outside horses here, especially the ones that need to be tactically placed. Mr. Misunderstood and Bound for Nowhere are both hard bet-againsts for me despite positive resumes, simply because I can’t envision they’ll carve out a trip that is in any way decent.
- #11 Almanaar (GB) (9/2) – Arlington Million runner-up is going to love the pace he gets here and will be rolling late. He’s a G1 winner and has been right there at the finish in his last four starts. Note the new rider (Velazquez) instead of Rosario.
- #6 Synchrony (8/1) – If you accept the belief that this horse needs a firm course and races 1 1/8-mile or shorter, he’s virtually unbeatable. Actually he has been. No virtually needed. He is 5-for-5 in his career in firm turf races at 1 1/8-mile or less, with wins in the G3 Red Bank and G3 Oceanport in his last two.
- #9 Analyze It (9/2) – I love this horse here. Not sure why. After all, he’s lost three straight against sophomores. But two of those were to Catholic Boy and he cuts back to potentially a better distance for him. He’s never been worse than second and regular rider, Jose Ortiz, stays in New York. Can we read into that?
- #7 Qurbaan (5/1) – Shadwell import was a bit of a surprise when he won the G2 Bernard Baruch at Saratoga over Voodoo Song, Forge and Projected. That field wasn’t particularly strong, though, and he was 13/1 that day and it was a blanket finish.
- #5 Heart to Heart (7/2) – He probably needs the lead, but Voodoo Song won’t let him have it. That’s a problem. He also needs a firm course, so keep an eye on that too. But if he’s comfortable, he’s dangerous. He won a G1 on this course in April, too.
- #10 Voodoo Song (6/1) – No clue what this horse brings to the table outside of New York and I thought his most recent try at Saratoga was pretty disappointing. For a horse that runs so hard every step of the way, it’s fair to wonder if he needs a break. I’ll probably pass.
My $250K Guaranteed All-Stakes Pick 5 Ticket
Here’s how I’m playing the $250K Guaranteed All-Stakes Pick 5:
Race 6: 2, 5, 6, 10, 11
Race 7: 7
Race 8: 1, 2, 3, 4
Race 9: 2, 13
Race 10: 5, 6, 7, 9, 11
Ticket Cost: $100 for 50-cents
My $350K Guaranteed All-Stakes Pick 5 Ticket
And here’s how I’m playing the $350K Guaranteed All-Stakes Pick 4:
Race 7: 3, 7
Race 8: 1, 2, 3, 4
Race 9: 2, 10, 13
Race 10: 5, 6, 7, 9, 11
Ticket Cost: $60 for 50-cents