It’s opening day at Keeneland and we are less than a month away from the 2022 Kentucky Derby. Although horse racing is a year-round affair, I’ve always thought the beginning of the Keeneland Spring meet marks the point when racing hits another level and maintains it all the way through the Breeders’ Cup in November.
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- Leg 1 (R5): 5-6-8-3
- Leg 2 (R8): 5-4-6-2
- Leg 3 (R10): 5-2-9-8
Leg 1 (3:08pm): Keeneland Race 5 – AllowanceN1X 110k Purse
The all-turf pick three kicks off halfway through the card in race 5. Like many Keeneland races this meet, this allowance race features quite the healthy purse available to the runners. The conversation has to begin with Supply Chain (#5) going out for the potent Chad Brown operation. Chad typically targets this meet for the majority of his turf runners and this son of the late Speightster showed a ton of raw talent in his debut. Typically, Chad Brown horses are taught to sit and finish, so for this one to show significant early foot is already a feather in his cap. I foresee a nice stalking trip in the pocket for him under Flavien Prat before tipping out and running down the early leaders. I’ll center most of my play around the likely favorite, but have a couple others to throw in as backups. In Effect (#6) is a little short for my liking at 6-1 on the morning line, but if he drifts up off that I think he’s worth a look. He has one of the best single pieces of form in the race from last year’s G2-Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga last year, finishing just behind the talented Public Sector (GB) while experiencing trouble in the lane. After limited success in five tough stakes affairs, he finally got the class relief he needed last time in an allowance at Gulfstream. However, that was a tough trip as he was wide throughout and tired in the stretch to exaggerate the margin of defeat. Rochambeau (#8) is also a bit interesting for Cherie DeVaux. This horse took a long time to break his maiden, but has competitive figures to the ones who project to be the shorter prices on the morning line. DeVaux has good numbers coming off long layoffs like this and has been a red hot barn to start 2022. It’s always dangerous to leave Mike Maker off tickets in turf races at Keeneland, but I’ll be out of the sequence if Healing (#3) takes this race. Although his last effort got a big figure, I think this field is a bit tougher and it is strange to see that much of a jump up from a horse in their 17th start.
Leg 2 (4:44pm): Keeneland Race 8 – G3-Transylvania Stakes 400k Purse
While the G3-Transylvania Stakes only drew a compact field of 6, I think a case can be made for all of the runners in the race. The first thing to note is the complete and total lack of early pace. That sets the race up well for Coinage (#5) who projects to get an even better trip than the one that he parlayed into a victory in the Palm Beach Stakes last time out. I am actually of the opinion this Casse trainee is the 3rd or 4th most talented runner in the field, but think he’ll receive the most advantageous trip. As far as who the most talented runner in the field is, I think that is a close call between Grand Sonata (#4) and Verbal (#6). The former showed an explosive turn of foot to get up over the aforementioned Coinage in his last start and looks to have been training forwardly. I’ll use him prominently but refrained from making him my top pick due to his only turf wins being at Gulfstream. Verbal seems to have a ton of talent as well, but an undefeated stakes-winning Chad Brown/Juddmonte runner is sure to be overbet and he was with the flow of the race in his win out west. I don’t think Chad’s other runner Napoleonic War (#2) is without a chance. Although the Beyer figure for his debut win came back light, the TimeFormUS rating came back competitive, and he overcame a dawdling pace with a poor break. The same can be said for the other Casse, Credibility (#1). He might not get the pace setup he needs in here, but his G2-Bourbon over this same turf course came with some give in the ground and represents his best line of form to date. I am completely against Sy Dog (#3) based solely on Graham Motion’s lack of success on the turf at Keeneland recently. Over the past two years, he’s just 2/39 (5%, $0.25 ROI) with runners over this turf course and with my affinity for all the other runners in the race I have to play against him here.
Leg 3 (5:48pm): Keeneland Race 8 – AllowanceN2X 120k Purse
The sequence concludes with a 12-horse turf sprint and Wesley Ward holds a strong hand. Illegal Smile (Ire) (#2) looks to be the most likely winner in the race. Although she’s coming off a layoff, her most recent try was a dominant score at this course and distance over two next-out winners. She has the positional speed to sit the pocket early, and showed she handles a wet Keeneland turf course in her last victory. I’ll let Wesley’s other horse Spicy Marg (#10) beat me even though she also sports a win turf sprinting here over a course with give in the ground. I think the runner to her inside Bay Storm (#9) is reason enough to oppose since I think they’ll hook up early on and I prefer the Jonathan Thomas trainee of the speeds. However, I’m going to get a bit more creative for my top pick and that is Mamba Wamba (Ire) (#5) for Brian Lynch. Her last running line does not look encouraging, but I think that it was just a case of getting outfooted on a firm turf course going a flat 5f. She was bet heavily to 9-5 favoritism that day, but the pace held together pretty well and she never really had a chance to get involved. Her North American debut was impressive albeit with a good pace setup, but I’m more inclined to make her my top pick off the effort at Ascot last summer. That race was run over a good-soft turf course which will likely be the conditions she receives today. The TimeFormUS figure she received for that effort stacks up well with the favorites and I imagine this daughter of the good turf sprint sire Mehmas (Ire) can come running late. I’d also have to include Amalfi Princess (#8) somewhere on my tickets. I don’t generally like turnbacks on the turf when they are going less than 6f, but her last running line dirties her form due to a tough trip. Corrales hops aboard for the dangerous Mike Maker barn despite having ridden the favorite to victory in her last start.