One of the surefire signs of spring is when the Opening Day card at Keeneland is drawn. The racing office has put together an excellent ten race card that is anchored by three stakes, most notably, the Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland. Eight three year old fillies are looking to join an already competitive group that is being assembled for the Kentucky Oaks next month. I have a strong opinion about one of the runners in that spot. Three year old males are highlighted with a full field of 12 in the Lafayette Stakes and a compact field of six in the Grade 2 Kentucky Utilities Transylvania Stakes. The weather will be far from perfect, with highs in the 40’s and scattered rain showers, however, the return of world class racing to Kentucky will certainly brighten things up.
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!
|Race||Top Pick||A||B||C||Wagering Menu|
|6||12||2,7,9,12||PK5, PK3, DBL|
|7||12||8,12||3||PK4, PK3, DBL|
The Late Pick-5 starts with a wide open maiden special weight contest for three year old fillies going seven furlongs. There are many ways to go in this race, so I’m going to try to get out of this first leg by going four deep. I think the 2/19 maiden special weight race at the Fair Grounds is a race that is better than it looks on paper. Imogene Malvina (#12) and Indigo Miss (#9) both debuted in that race and both look to be horses that could improve in their next start. Jose Ortiz was in to ride Imogene Malvina on the Risen Star undercard that day. She was away slow, and allowed to settle at the back of the pack. She came with a wide charge, and closed well to get within just under four lengths of the winner. I think the seven furlong distance will suit her well. Indigo Miss was on the front end when they were going pretty quick. She hit the front but got a little leg weary in the final strides, fading late to finish 4th in the long stretch there. She should be more fit for Paulo Lobo, who always seems to have horses run well at Keeneland. Beravina (#2) makes some sense in this race, while getting back on the main track. She showed interest when finishing second to a well-meant Brad Cox filly in her debut at Churchill back in November. She shipped south to Gulfstream and had trouble at the break and some traffic issues in a maiden race there when finishing 4th, She was given a few months off and returned in a two turn turf race, where she finished midpack. She returns to the dirt today while getting the services of Irad Ortiz for the first time. Classic Coyne (#7) looks like a first time starter to keep an eye on for Shelbe Ruis. She was a $350K purchase at the Keeneland September Sale in 2020. She’s a Pioneerof the Nile filly that was working well in California prior to shipping here. Making the cross-country trip shows some definite confidence from her connections.
Race 7: The $400K Lafayette Stakes:
I suspect this seven furlong stakes contest for three year olds will be on the formful side as the morning line favorite, My Prankster (#8) and the second choice, Tejano Twist (#12) look very formidable with this group. I’ll give the edge to Tejano Twist, making his 11th career start today. He had a very good fall in Kentucky, crushing an allowance field in October on this oval and winning the Lively Shively Stakes at Churchill in November. He finished in front of Barber Road in that race, who has gone on to have a very good winter at Oaklawn. He tried two turns at the Fair Grounds, and was a distant second to one of the potential Derby favorites, Epicenter. He returned after a few months away with a powerful runner up performance in a fast allowance race in New Orleans. He ships back here where he’s run very well. He’s drawn the outside which should be an advantage for the race he wants to run. My Prankster is the one to beat after an impressive win in the Grade 3 Swale at this distance at Gulfstream in his last start. He was a $600K purchase by Robert and Lawana Law at the Fasig-Tipton Select Sale in 2020. Short of being dusted by Jack Christopher in the Champagne, he’s been right there in his other starts. He just missed in the Bowmans Mill Stakes in the slop at the end of the meet here last season. On deeper tickets, I think it’s worth a shot to take a flier on the Delta invader, Old Homestead (#3). He’s been dominant in two five furlongs sprints in Louisiana, putting up solid speed figures. He stretches out to seven furlongs while moving up to a premier circuit. He’s never been tested and if speed is playing well, he may be worth a shot at long odds.
Race 8: The Grade 3 Kentucky Utilities Transylvania Stakes:
The turf condition is going to play a role in this race, as there was some rain that fell yesterday and there’s some more showers in the forecast today. I’m going to try to beat Chad Brown and the morning line favorite, Verbal (#6). While his win in the Cecil B. DeMile Stakes was impressive, I’m not sure that field was all that deep and I’m not sure his running style is going to play well in this compact field. If he can get over a softer course, I don’t see anyone challenging Coinage (#5) for the early lead. He was rated off a moderate pace last out in the Palm Beach and wasn’t happy about it. He did settle at the top of the backstretch, and was able to uncork a rally good enough to beat that field by a neck. While he was getting an education last month, I think the move today is for Saez to hit the front early and try to let him crawl on the front end. Grand Sonata (#4) beat him on the square in the Kitten’s Joy Stakes in February. He improved this winter at Gulfstream while racing a little closer to the front end. He had a miserable trip when falling to Sy Dog (#3) in the Central Park Stakes in November. After trouble after the break and a major traffic jam on the turn, he still rolled up and was making up good ground late to get into 5th. Sy Dog, who is making his first start since that race, avoided all of that mess by taking the overland route to victory. I’ll use that one on deeper plays as a saver, but I think he might be better next time out. On the B line, I’ll use Credibility (#1) who had a tough trip at Gulfstream last out in the Palm Beach. He ran a solid race in the Bourbon Stakes on a good course here in the fall, so perhaps he can have an impact in his return.
Race 9: The Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland Stakes:
This is a brutally tough sequence, so I feel that it’ll be critical to find a good single. While Nest (#4) is the morning line favorite in this race, I think both Interstatedaydream (#2) and Happy Soul (#6) are going to take some money at the windows. As a result, Nest may wind up offering some value here, especially since her Beyer Speed Figures aren’t the greatest. I think she is the most likely winner in the race, coming off a pair of performances that might be a bit underrated. Even though it came back a bit slow, I thought her win in the Demoiselle was excellent. She was wide the entire way around the track and still was able to gut out a victory over Venti Valentine. That one came back to win the Busher Invitational last month by seven lengths and is the morning line favorite in Saturday’s Gazelle Stakes at Aqueduct. While she didn’t face the greatest field in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa in her three year old debut, she still ran a big time race, drawing off to win by six lengths. I think Irad Ortiz can put her anywhere and she’s going to run her race. Meanwhile, I have my doubts with both Interstatedaydream and Happy Soul, shipping in from Oaklawn. Interstatedaydream was a runaway winner against an average allowance field last month. The runner up in that race, Warrior’s Battle, was scheduled to run yesterday, but was scratched, so we won’t get any clues there. She was very good off a long layoff last out, but the water is much deeper here, and I worry that she bounces in this spot. Happy Soul is stretching out to two turns for the first time after winning her last three dirt sprint races. Wesley Ward loves winning at Keeneland, but this is not the kind of race he typically wins. I suspect her best races will be run at one turn.
The nightcap is a 5 and ½ Furlong turf sprint that is wide open. Again, the condition of the course is going to have an impact on this race. On either surface, I like the chances of longshot, Amalfi Princess (#8), while making her first start as a four year old. She was really good on a yielding course at Kentucky Downs in a 6 and ½ Furlong sprint there last fall. She put forth a decent effort going 5 and ½ here in her subsequent start. She didn’t run great in her last two starts of the year, one coming on synthetic at Turfway and the other coming in a one mile stakes race at the Fair Grounds. While this race might be a touch short for her, I think she can get the trip off the layoff for Maker. She was third in the Beaumont on the dirt here last spring, so she can run a bit on the main track as well. Illegal Smile (#2) is the logical, shorter-priced alternative. Wesley Ward targets these Keeneland meets year in and year out, and he sends out both her and Spicy Marg (#10) here. Both fillies found the Winner’s Circle in allowance sprints on the turf during the fall meet here in October. Illegal Smile did it on a course with some give in it, beating a pair of next out winners. Spicy Marg is all about speed, but I’m not sure how that speed will carry on softer ground. She does get Tyler Gaffalione aboard, who rode 9 times for Wesley Ward at Keeneland in 2021 and he won 7 of those races. She’d be an upgrade to the A line for me if this race does get moved to the main track. Bay Storm (#9) is yet another one that is making her first start as a four year old. She ended her three year old season with a win in the Christiecat Stakes at Belmont and a runner up finish in the Glen Cove Stakes there going seven furlongs. The 5 and ½ furlongs here might be a little short for her, but her trainer, Jonathan Thomas is very good off the layoff. While I think she might be better next time, she’s worth using in this spot as well.
Pick-5 – Main Ticket: ($0.50 Base Wager- $48 Ticket)
Some days, I’ll lay out multiple tickets in this section during the spring meet, but with the weather forecast being less than ideal, I’ll stick to my main ticket here today. I want coverage on the bookends in this sequence, where I like a price in both legs as my top pick. I do think the trio of stakes races will lean toward being formful. I’m very comfortable using Nest (#4, R9) in the as a single in the opening day feature.
Race 6: 2,7,9,12
Race 7: 8,12
Race 8: 1,4,5
Race 9: 4
Race 10: 2,8,9,10