It’s opening day in the heart of Kentucky as Keeneland kicks off their fall racing season which leads seamlessly into the Breeders’ Cup World Championships hosted on the same serene rounds. I’ll be providing coverage of my favorite unique wager offered at the Keeneland meet, the Turf Pick 3. With a $3 minimum and low takeout, it’s an opportunity to narrow in on your opinions and make a big score.
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- Leg 1 (R4): 2-8-5-9
- Leg 2 (R8): 11-1-3-12
- Leg 3 (R10): 6-11-1-5
Leg 1 (2:36pm): Keeneland Race 4 – AllowanceN3X 130k Purse
The all-turf pick 3 kicks off with a very competitive allowance race for turf sprinters. All nine runners entered in the body of race are in with a decent chance. I think the horse to beat is Johnny Unleashed (#8). His 0/6 record over the Keeneland turf is super misleading as he’s run some of the best races of his life over this sod with many of them against much tougher fields than the one he faces today. In his most recent trip over this course and distance, he finished a good second to the superstar Golden Pal in the G2-Shakertown. He possesses a tactical advantage in today’s contest as the controlling speed, but the fact he hasn’t won a race on grass in over two years is enough to have me look in a different direction for my top pick. I ultimately landed on Therideofalifetime (#2) who seems to have really taken a step forward since getting into the Bret Calhoun barn. He was able to transfer that improved form in his turf debut last time in a facile win over this distance at Ellis. He has enough speed to stay close and possesses more upside than the majority of his rivals as a four-year-old. The other two horses I’d use as backups met over this course and distance last fall. Mark of the Z (#9) got the better of Strike Me Down (#5) that day, but I can easily see the latter turning the tables. Strike Me Down has always presented as a better sprinter so I like the turnback from his mile effort last time. Mark of the Z might not be in the same form he entered last year’s contest in, but he’ll be too big of a price not to include somewhere.
Leg 2 (4:44pm): Keeneland Race 8 – G2-Jessamine Stakes 350k Purse
The first turf stakes race of the Keeneland season might also end up being the biggest scramble of the entire meet. I think the tepid morning line favorite Delight (#3) is actually the horse to beat, but she doesn’t possess the type of credentials of a favorite you want to lean heavily on. Her maiden victory last time was fine as her and the second-place finisher distanced themselves from the rest of the competition, but I actually think her race two back at Saratoga was an even better line of form. She was forced to chase 3-wide around the track and ultimately finish a clear third behind two talented fillies. However, I think what will ultimately prove to be the key race for the Jessamine is a nondescript maiden special weight at Colonial Downs on August 3rd. Knockyoursocksoff (#11) got the better of Sabalenka (#1) that day much to my chagrin as I liked the latter quite a bit. However, as much as I’d like to complain this was some bad beat, the winner was much the best that day circling the field and drawing off impressively. I’m willing to forgive her last effort at Kentucky Downs for a myriad of reasons. 1) The race was run in a driving rainstorm over a course condition she didn’t need to appreciate. 2) She made a middle move in the race that certainly contributed to her flattening out in the lane. 3) The race was dominated on the front end. Add to that the fact that Sabalenka flattered the form of her maiden win by returning with solid score at Kentucky Downs and this 30-1 ML shot is a must play. As far as backups, Towhead (#12) hasn’t done anything wrong in her career thus far, but she has to overcome a tough post. Bling (#7) is bred to stretch out and she toyed with that field at Ellis in her maiden win.
Leg 3 (5:48pm): Keeneland Race 10 – AllowanceN2X 120k Purse
The opening day card and this sequence conclude with a full field of turf marathoners, and this is a situation where I’m willing to fade almost all the short prices on the morning line. I’m not a huge fan of the race at Kentucky Downs where a few of these are coming in from as it was a blanket finish on the line usually indicative of a weak race. Rather, I think the Saratoga allowance is the more applicable race to focus in on. In that affair, the winner set an uncontested lead and was able to wire the field. I think those race dynamics were extremely unfavorable to Mia Martina (#1) and to a greater extend Light Stars (Fr) (#6). The latter got extremely rank in the early stages and was never able to settle into a good spot. On the surface, the rider switch away from Joel Rosario seems like a negative, but I’m hopefully Vincent Cheminaud can get her to settle early on and make a run in the lane. The other horse I want to use prominently is Soft Touch (#11). The proverbial lightbulb has seemed to go on for this lightly-raced and well-bred filly in her most recent starts and it also seems as if more distance is her friend. She has tactical speed to stay close in a race with a murky pace situation and hopefully her upside allows her to handle the class hike.