The Saturday card is highlighted by the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup for three year old fillies going 1 Mile and 1/8 on the turf. The Early Pick-5 sequence has an interest mix of five races to kick off the program. The rain picked up Friday and there’s more rain forecasted in Lexington overnight. I’ve handicapped the one turf race in this sequence for both surfaces.
|1||3||6||4||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|2||6,8,11||1||2,10||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|5||7||1||8||DBL, PK3, PK6|
Race 1: Top Pick: 3
$30K maiden claimers start the card and there are definitely many question marks with these runners. Devil’s Tower (3) was claimed at this level by Tom Amoss in his last start back in February. He has been working well over the last month or so at Turfway and Churchill in the AM. Amoss gets to use the waiver in here to protect him from being claimed off the long layoff. He showed promise in his debut last year at Ellis with maiden special weight company, but was dull in his next three. I think he’ll be able to turn it around with this group. Freer (6) has done most of his best work on the turf. His lone start race was not good, but he had some notable trouble in that race, so that effort can be forgiven. I’m not sure I love the six furlong distance for him, but this is not a deep group. On deeper tickets, perhaps try Gunduz (4) making his first start in over a year. He debuted at two turns on the turf in July of 2020 at Ellis, which was his only start. He has since joined the Ben Colebrook barn, which is always pointing horses to races at this meet. His works haven’t been bad in preparation to restart his young career.
Race 2: Top Pick: 11
A full field of twelve two year old maidens run with a $50K tag in an absolutely wide open affair. Ashwins Orb (11) is my tepid top pick making his second career start today, He ran evenly in his debut at Indiana Grand last month when facing maiden special weight foes. The first and third place finisher in that ran came back to win in their subsequent tries. Wesley Ward has ridiculous numbers with horses debuting in maiden claiming races, winning 44% of the time with his last 57 starters. He sends out both Sherwood Avenue (1) and Just Say When (6). Of that duo, I think Just Say When is the one with a better shot. His works in the AM are better and post six is probably a better place to be for a debut as opposed to the rail in a full field. Giant Nova (8) runs for Eric Reed, who has certainly popped with some longshots over the last few years. He has a great ROI while winning with 3 of his last 9 first time starts debuting n maiden claiming company. Sonny Leon, who has teamed up with Reed to win 19% of the time, gets the opportunity to compete at Keeneland. On deeper tickets, First Glimpse (10) tired the turf at Kentucky Downs with maiden special weight company and faded badly. He worked okay n his few dirt drills since that start. Golden Luna (2) is one of two making their debut for Greg Foley in here. Gaffalione, who has been riding very well at the meet thus far, gets the call.
Race 3: Top Pick: 12 (Turf) / 4 (Dirt)
I think the favorites are going to be tough in this maiden special weight for two year olds going 1 Mile and 1/16 on the turf. Spin Wheel (12) ran a quality race against a decent field at Saratoga on the Travers undercard in his debut. George Arnold does well with his horses in their second career start. He didn’t have the sharpest start, he was gobbling up ground late. Grand Sonata (10) ships in from New York for Todd Pletcher to make his second career start. He met a runaway winner in a 7 Furlong turf event. Slipstream, who defeated him that day, came back to win the Grade 3 Futurity at Belmont last week. He’s bred to get better as the races get longer. Heston (1) is one to think about on deeper tickets, especially with the favorites drawing wide posts. He was wide, but still gaining in his debut at Ellis when facing a next out winner.
If this race gets moved to the main track, I’ll try Federal Hill (4) on top, giving him the mulligan after a trouble filled debut at 6 Furlongs on the dirt at Churchill last month. He should improve while going two turns, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see James Graham be aggressive with him in the early stages of this race. I’d also consider using him on deeper tickets on the grass. Bon Bueno (15) is the lone main track only entrant, and he’ll definitely take some attention after losing to next out Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity Winner, Rattle N Roll. Joe Sharp adds blinkers for his third career start. He’ll be on the outside, but it remains to be see how far out his post will be. He’s live, but I feel he’ll be overbet. Grand Sonata has enough dirt influences in his pedigree to consider using him if this race comes off the turf.
Race 4: Top Pick: 5
This is a tricky $20K claiming race for three year old fillies or for older fillies and mares that have never won three races. There are two absolute wild cards in this race, both coming in for high percentage barns, but carrying some serious question marks. The morning line favorite is Afleet Diva (4), who runs for Wesley Ward for the first time. She’s undefeated, winning both of her career starts at Del Mar back in August 2020, when she was campaigned by Peter Miller. Her works aren’t catching the eye, and this is a fairly low level of competition for her to make her return to the races. Taranta (1) is bred to run on the grass and that’s what she has done for the first 11 starts in her career. I remember her showing up to Saratoga last year and running a respectable 5th in allowance company behind Witez. Her next start wasn’t nearly as strong, and then she went away until May of this year. She looks to be a shell of her former self as a four year old, so Eric Reed is trying a change up with her. Both fillies have a shot here, but I’ll be playing against them for the most part. I’ll leave Afleet Diva on the C line and focus mostly on Lichita (5) and Kewpie Doll (3) in this spot. Lichita is the top pick coming in from softer circuits. She is clearly a better horse on the main track, where she has never run a bad race when running in claiming company. Her last two efforts at Belterra with $12,500 N3L claimers show an improving filly that has gotten stronger since her efforts in the spring and winter. She has run a competitive race with claimers on the dirt at Churchill, so there’s enough there to think that she can handle the rise in class. Trainer Cirilo Gorostieta is an unknown to many players, but he’s won with 27% of his starters in 2021, so he clearly knows how to spot his horses. Kewpie Doll is another one that is moving to a bigger circuit after a pair of efforts at a similar condition at Delaware Park. She tried turf last out, and ran okay, but her effort at 6 Furlongs on the dirt two back was very good, and likely good enough to be a factor here. I like the 6 and ½ Furlong distance for her in this spot, as that distance can be kind to closers, especially in a race where there is some cheap speed signed on.
Race 5: Top Pick: 7
This is another spot where I’m not sold on two of the three shorter prices on the morning line. Fighting Seabee (6) was a horse really liked on the turf last week when he landed on the also-eligible list and didn’t get to run. He’s run okay on the turf, but I don’t love the drop in class and surface switch while also coming off a race where he was a voided claim. I also think Pioneer Spirit (4) who has been facing stakes foes in Canada at Assiniboia and Century Downs, is trending in the wrong direction. While he’s getting a drop in class on paper, this field is likely tougher than the stakes foes he was seeing at those smaller tracks. I like Hanalei’s Houdini (7) quite a bit in this spot. This five year old gelding has been running consistently strong races with optional claiming/N2X fields in Maryland for the better part of this year. Those fields at Laurel and Pimlico are typically deep and competitive, and they match up very well against those in this $50K open claiming contest. He was claimed out of a turf race at Colonial where he ran an okay fourth, beaten the savvy turf veteran, Ballagh Rocks. He’s a better horse on the dirt, and he should be able to sit a nice midpack trip with this field. My only knock on him is that trainer Michelle Lovell, is 0-13 in the last two years with horses running for her in their first race off the claim. She’s a good trainer though, and I think she has this one well spotted today. Lord Dragon (1) is one that certainly is eligible to improve off the Mike Maker claim. He’s a seven time winner in 26 career starts, coming off a second place finish in a slower race when facing $40K claimers. This is a step up in class, but Maker does very well with horses that he targets for this meet. He’s another one that figures to get a good trip with his rail post. American Tattoo (8) could be a gate to wire threat on the cutback in distance if there isn’t a lot of pace pressure here. Pioneer Spirit may try to go from post 4, but I think Talamo is going to want the lead with him. He was a game second when going nine furlongs three back at Churchill, when running second to a talented horse in Trident Hit. His last two haven’t been great, but he’s been facing some tougher fields. He faltered at 10 Furlongs last out, so the drop in class and shorter two turn race should work in his favor.
All A’s ($0.50 Base Wager – $6.00)
3/6-8-11/10-12 or 4-15/3-5/7
All A’s/B’s ($0.50 Base Wager – $48.00)
3-6/1-6-8-11/1-10-12 or 4-10-15/3-5/1-7
All A’s/One C ($0.50 Base Wager – $6.00)
4/6-8-11/10-12 or 4-15/3-5/7
3/6-8-11/10-12 or 4-15/3-5/8
All A’s/One C ($0.50 Base Wager – $3.00)
3/6-8-11/10-12 or 4-15/4/7
All A’s/One C ($0.50 Base Wager – $4.00)
3/2-10/10-12 or 4-15/3-5/7