There’s 10 races this afternoon at Keeneland, highlighted by the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup, presented by Dixiana. That race, which is always a target for quality three year old fillies on the turf, drew seven runners, highlighted by the Grade 1 winner, McCulick. She’ll be a heavy favorite in that race which goes off around 5:15 (ET). First post is 1:00 (ET) and this sequence begins with Race 6, which gets underway at 3:40 (ET).
Best Bet: Race 7: #4 Worthington (7-2, ML)
Best Price Stab: Race 9: #7 Paris Peacock (10-1 ML)
I’ll typically be covering the Late Pick-5 sequence from this exciting meet on the ITM Blog, along with posting some updates and thoughts from time to time on Twitter @EricSolomon718. Feel free to reach out!
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|7||4||4||9||PK4, PK3, DBL|
I see this maiden special weight contest for fillies and mares as a two horse race between the two favorites, Inventing (#4) and Sunny River (#7). I give the slight edge to Sunny River, making her first start in a true two turn race. She ran well two starts back at Ellis where they have the mile chute at the top of the first turn. She tried stalking the pace when breaking from the outside post at Churchill in her most recent effort. She was gaining late, but just missed to a next out winner (Jag Warrior, who cleared the N1X here last week via DQ, after crossing the wire second in a photo). She’s sired by Arrogate out of a Tapit mare, so I don’t foresee the added distance being an issue. I think she can get the job done here. Forever After All (#8) finished in front of Inventing two starts back at Saratoga in a 1 mile and 1/8 race on the main track there. However, Forever After All has never really been close to winning a race yet. She draws wide once again, which was part of her undoing as the heavy favorite last month at Churchill. With the short stretch in the 1 mile and 1/16 dirt races here, I think she’s much more likely to finish second or third, than she is to win this race. Inventing makes her 6th start this afternoon for Todd Pletcher, who has done very well with the horses that he’s brought to this meet thus far. She hasn’t run back to her excellent debut at Gulfstream in April, finishing second despite stumbling in a maiden special weight race on the Florida Derby undercard. Her only off the board finish came in the Grade 1 Acorn behind Matareya. Forever After All had the better trip when they met at the Spa, but I think Inventing has the better post and will have a smoother journey today.
This maiden special weight race for two year olds going one mile on the turf, oversubscribed, and was split into two divisions. The first division is the second race on the program. I think Worthington (#4) quite a bit in this race. I’m not buying the Wesley Ward runner, Ashcroft (#11), who is the morning line favorite. Worthington on the other hand, debuted at seven furlongs at Kentucky Downs, tiring late during the uphill run to the wire. I think that was a great spot to build off of, and he draws well to do just that here. I don’t think this field is as deep as some of the other races for two year olds at this meet, and he showed more ability than most of those with experience. While there’s not a ton of turf pedigree in his bloodlines, I trust Maker and Gaffalione in this spot. Team Leader (#9) is a little interesting to me in this race. He’s shown very little in two dirt starts, despite being heavily backed at the windows. There is some turf pedigree there, being sired by Street Boss. I prefer Street Boss runners at one turn, but there are some stamina influences underneath. His half sister, Across, broke her maiden in her second career start in maiden special weight company at this distance at Keeneland. Vincent Cheminaud has yet to win at this meet, but he has put his horses in good spots on the turf and he’ll get the call today.
I found this to be a challenging N2L allowance race for fillies and mares sprinting six furlongs. I ended up on Ain’t Broke (#1) making her first start since her maiden score at the Fair Grounds in March. She was 5th in her debut when facing a salty group at Churchill last October. She competed in two turn races in her next three starts, finishing no better than third. She was very sharp when cutting back to a sprint, setting a solid pace and holding on to win in New Orleans. She has been working well for Calhoun, gearing up for her fall campaign. I think she can take this field wire to wire coming from off the bench. I see the main threat to top pick being Scenic Masterpiece (#5) shipping across the country for trainer Jonathan Wong. Wong has saddled 903 horses in 2022, and has won 20% of those races. He’s only started one horse at Keeneland in his career, sending out Windy City Red to an off the board finish behind Golden Pal in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint. His filly ran two weeks ago and was 4th behind Ce Ce, who was preparing to defend her title in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, in the Grade 3 Chillingworth Stakes. While she’s getting some significant class relief, she’s going to have to overcome her trouble at the gate. She’s had trouble lines in every one of her seven career starts, and most of those issues are coming out of the gate. She could be dominant with this group with a clean trip, but having trouble every time she hits the track seems like more a habit than an anomaly. I’d likely need better than 3-1 (ML) to fully get behind her because of that. The morning line favorite is Cancel This (#2), and while she’s a nice horse that is in good form, she’s tough for me to get behind at short odds. It’s been close to a year since she broke her maiden at Churchill. She went off form for a while, but she’s been knocking on the door at this level in her last three starts, most recently losing in a photo at Churchill. I don’t love that in her 12th start, she was still on her wrong lead in the stretch last out, which could be seen as the difference between winning and finishing third in a close race. She doesn’t seem to have a running style that she’s comfortable with either. She’s definitely trending in the right direction, and this field is not as deep as some of the N1X allowance races that have been offered at this meet. However, she feels like she’s more likely to hit the board than win this race.
Race 9, The $600K Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, Presented by Dixiana
This is one of the most prestigious races for three year old fillies in the country, and it’s headed by McKulick (#6), who boasts wins in the Belmont Oaks Invitational and the Jockey Club Oaks Invitational. She’s cutting back to nine furlongs for this race after running in longer races in her last three starts. While some might be struggling to get this distance, this might be a little too short for her. When she lost in the Regret and the Saratoga Oaks Invitational, there was a moderate to slow pace in front of her. I think that’s the scenario that she’s going to be faced with today. There is very little early speed signed on, and maybe Gina Romatica (#2) or Bellabel (#5) will be sent early. However, I think the European invader, Paris Peacock (#7) is going to set the pace, and I am going to pick her on top to wire this field with Florent Geroux aboard. She’s been competitive in every career start in Ireland. She broke through when going this distance two starts back, winning at Gowan Park. She followed that up by beating 15 other rivals in a Group 3 Stakes race there last month. I don’t know who or what she beat in those races, however, she was on or near the lead in both starts. She seems to be a perfect fit for this distance, winning twice and finishing second in three career tries. While there are some nice North American fillies in this race, this isn’t the deepest edition of this stakes race. At 10-1 or better, I think the shipper is a good longshot play.
The is the second starter allowance sprint of the week. On Thursday, there was a $10K starter allowance race at 6 and ½ furlongs, carrying a purse of $44K. I wrote about Beverly Park (#10), who was set to make his 24th start of the year. Norman Cash opted to defect from that spot in favor of this $20K starter allowance at six furlongs, carrying a $61K purse. With hindsight being 20/20, that might have been the best decision as three others scratched on Thursday. If he were able to maintain his better form, he had a very good chance of winning that race, which was run at his best distance. This field might be a little deeper, as could be expected for the higher purse. I still think he has a shot though, as this race feels like a race destined for a pace meltdown. He’s versatile enough to sit back and make a run at the frontrunners late. He’s surely worth covering on some deeper tickets. I like a few longshots on the A line though, making Alexandros (#2) my top pick. He is not as consistent as some of the others in here, but when he’s right, he’s very tough to beat. He made his first start since January last month in a similar race at Churchill. He was five lengths behind Beverly Park and The Queens Jules (#11) that day. However, he was more keen than usual, sitting much closer to the early pace than he prefers. He’s at his best when there’s a fast pace in front of him, setting up his late move. That was the formula for his last two victories at Oaklawn and Churchill. Jon Court has not ridden at this meet yet, but he gets the return call this afternoon. Montauk Daddy (#5) is another longer priced runner that makes some sense in this race. His current form is muddied a bit by some rough races at Saratoga and a turf stakes try at Monmouth. He was no match for win machine Greeley and Ben last out at Saratoga when he was claimed for $40K by Joe Sharp. Three back in ran into Sibelius, who was the post time favorite in the Grade 2 Phoenix Stakes here on Opening Day. However, he has three wins in his last six starts, with those races coming at Monmouth and Belmont at this distance. Sharp is a good claiming trainer, and I like that he keeps this one protected. Gaffalione, who has been cold at the start of the meet, gets the call on this one who looks like another good fit with this field. I’ll cover with the morning line favorite, Feast (#7), who has been feasting on his competition lately at Monmouth. He’s won three straight, including a score in the Rumson Stakes, which is a five furlong stakes race on the dirt. He stretches back out to six furlongs, which isn’t a big issue. However, he’ll likely have to either outsprint or duel with some combination of Hopedrivestheboat (#3), Big Sport (#6), My Man Flinstone (#8), and Divine Leader (#9). While I think he is better than anyone in this quartet, breaking in the middle of them is not ideal.
Pick-5, $32 Ticket:
I do see this sequence with the potential to be a bit chalky, so I’ll invest a little less than normal today. I think Paris Peacock (#7, R9) and either Alexandros (#2, R10) or Montauk Daddy (#5, R10) in the nightcap have the potential to add some value here. That’s a late double that I’d be interested in trying to hammer. While I don;t have a single, I think I can get away with using only two runners in the first four legs before spreading in the last race.
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