Fall Stars Weekend has come and gone and now we’ll move into the first full week of racing for this fall meeting at Keeneland. As per usual, two year olds tend to be a focal point at this meet and that trend will continue with four baby races on the eight race Wed program. There’s a full field for the featured race today, which is a N1X allowance race for fillies and mares going one mile on the turf in the 6th race. First post this afternoon is 1:00 (ET).
I’ll be covering 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||Exotics Menu|
|1||4||2,4||3||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|2||6||6||4||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|4||3||1,3,7||5||DBL, PK3, PK6|
|5||2||2,6||8,9||DBL, PK3, PK5, All-Turf PK3|
|6||12||4,12||8||11||DBL, PK3, PK4|
The Sunday afternoon program begins with a $30K maiden claiming race, going seven furlongs plus on the Beard Course. I tend to like playing horses cutting back distance in these races and the morning line favorite, Derrick (#9) fits that bill. He’s run two starts for Brad Cox, both at two turns. However, there are some red flags that are going to cause me to look elsewhere. He was a $295K purchase that is on sale for $30K in only his third career start. The cutback in distance feels more like an experiment as opposed to what this horse wants to do. Going into yesterday, there have been ten races at 7 or About 7 furlongs at this meet. Four of those races were won by horses going from turf to dirt and seven of those races were won by horses stretching out from shorter distances in their last races. Horses cutting back in distance on dirt from one mile or less have been shut out in these races. Obviously, that’s a small sample size, but it is something to keep in mind, especially when starting down a short price. I’ll take a chance with Airborne Elite (#4), going from turf to dirt for Carlo Vaccarezza in this race. He debuted when racing for Guadalupe Preciado at Monmouth, going six furlongs on the dirt at Monmouth in August. Those maiden special weight sprint races there this season were definitely on the salty side and the horse that beat him, Just Beat the Odds, has some ability. He changed barns and tried the turf at Churchill last out, finishing near the back of the pack, while pairing his initial Beyer Speed Figure. He drops in class and gets back on the dirt. His dam won at 6 and ½ furlongs and she’s produced some runners that have fared well in these middle distance sprint races. Horses sired by Army Mule have excelled in dirt sprints, so I see a lot of upside with this one today. Lots of Mischief (#2) has been gradually improving over his last few starts. He’s been stuck on the rail at the start in his last two starts, and post two is only a slight upgrade in this spot. I think this field is a little softer than the group that he saw at Churchill last month. I think he’s one that could be an upgrade in this race as well. Dreamwithinadream (#3) has had his chances to break through, but he remains a maiden after eight career tries. His best career effort came in a one turn mile at Churchill back in June. There’s not a ton of early speed signed on, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Saez put him on or near the lead, which has been a decent place to be on the dirt at this meet, especially in one turn races.
Two year old fillies will go 1 mile and 1/16 on the main track in a N1X allowance race. Six are entered here with no one taking advantage of the optional $100K claiming tag. The two runners on the inside, Courbe (#1) and Riperton (#2) are both coming out of the Grade 3 Pocahontas last month at the one turn mile. Both runners regressed at the longer distance and when looking at their pedigrees, I’m not convinced that either are chomping at the bit to go two turns. Show Off (#6) was a maiden breaking in a two turn race on the turf at Ellis in her debut. Brad Cox switches surfaces here, trying her on the dirt for the first time to see if there is something more there. Her half brother was third in an allowance sprint earlier this week and he started his career with a pair of wins sprinting on the dirt. I do see her being better at two turns and despite the short price while trying something new, I think she’s the one to beat. Peignoir (#4) broke her maiden for Rodolphe Brisset in a one mile race on the dirt at Ellis last month. They thought about running her in a small stakes race at Delaware yesterday, but she scratched out of that race, likely in favor of this one. She makes her third career start and her second route race. Brisset is 2-2 with his first two runners at this meet, so he is being very purposeful with the horses that he’s bringing to town.
Fillies and mares will sprint six furlongs in a $20K beaten claiming race. Everyone with the exception of Gormleyesque (#8) is entered in this race with the N3L condition. Ben DeLong’s Gormley filly has three total wins, winning three of her last four starts at Mountaineer in West Virginia. While I’d like to do better than 6-1, I do think Gormleyesque is a player in this race. She has the best early speed in the field and Walter Rodriguez is adept at getting speed horses to the lead. She struggled earlier in her career on this circuit, but I do think her time at Mountaineer has made her a better horse. She’s in top form and should be tough to catch. Yolanda Who (#5) makes her second start off the layoff for Tom Amoss. He’s had trouble keeping her sound since claiming her at Oaklawn over the winter. She was a little keen in her last start, but she figures to sit a cozy trip just off the top pick. She should have every chance if she’s good enough. Sunday Grace (#2) struggles with consistency, but her best is easily good enough to beat this group. Only one of her four starts this year would be good enough to beat this group, so the 10-1 morning line is where I’d need her to be at if I’m going to play her. This is the lowest level that she’s competed at to date.
A field of 12 will go in this $20K maiden claiming race at 1 mile and 1/16. Being forwardly placed on the dirt has continues to be a good thing, so My Uncle Frank (#3), getting back on the main track, makes a lot of sense in this one. Brittany Vanden Berg already has one winner at the meet and she’s looking for more with this Hard Spun gelding who was claimed for $30K in his last start. This barn has good numbers first off the claim, hitting 23% of the time since 2022. The drop to $20K isn’t ideal, but they are running for a $43K purse at this level. Desert Wolf (#1) was 4+ lengths better than Exemplified (#7) when they last met in Indiana two starts ago. Both runners went to Churchill for their next starts, with Desert Wolf running poorly in maiden allowance company and Exemplified finishing second with $30K maiden claimers. Since then, Desert Wolf was transferred to Brad Cox, who gives him a stiff drop for this $20K level. Exemplified makes his third career start after essentially pairing his Beyer figures in his first two tries. I think both are eligible to run better races. The way the track has been playing and the rail draw should give a little edge to Desert Wolf. However, I think we see a better effort from Exemplified, so I’m not going to try to split them. The Gatekeeper (#5) is a total wild card in this race. He’s making his first start for Wesley Ward and his first start since finishing 6th in a maiden special weight race here in April of 2022. He’s been gelded since he was last seen on the track and he’ll run for a small $20K tag, a far cry from the $400K his original owners paid for him at the Fasig-Tipton Select Sale back in 2020. He didn’t show much early speed in his first two tries, but he’s been posting some fairly quick AM drills here, so perhaps Ward is going to try to have him fire out for the lead. 8-1 is probably too short for my liking, however, if he is bet down in the 4-1 or 5-1 territory, I would think there is a little backside buzz supporting him in a spot like this.
The race that ends the Early Pick-5 and starts the Late Pick-5 is a conditioned $140K allowance race, going 5 and ½ furlongs on the turf. This race had a lot of early speed signed on, so I’m thinking that there are some back markers that are going to be motoring home late. Biz Biz Buzz (#2) was getting very good at Monmouth this summer, after showing some promise as a three year old. He was 4th, beaten by Nobals in the Da Hoss Stakes last month at Colonial, but he wasn’t far behind that talented runner. While it might not be as top heavy, there is a lot of depth in this race. He should be sitting in the second flight where he could get first run on the early leaders with the right trip. Evan Sing (#6) won the Colonel Power Stakes at this distance at the Fair Grounds two starts ago. His last start came at Churchill in the Grade 2 Turf Sprint Stakes in May. He ran here last fall and found himself too far off the early leaders to get home first. He closed a lot of ground to get up for third. Flavien Prat round him beautifully in New Orleans and he’ll reunite with this son of Hard Spun today. Cloudy (#8) was a winner here last season for Shug McGaughey, clearing the N2X condition. That was his only start at this distance and that was his highest career speed figure. He got leg weary in the stretch when going 6 and ½ furlongs at Kentucky Downs last month. He was making his forest start in 11 months and finishing up the hill there is surely a demanding task. He might still be a race or two away from being his best, but I think he is good enough to be a factor in a race like this. Mischievous Rogue (#9) is another horse that tired a bit in the stretch at Kentucky Downs when going the 6 and ½ furlong trip there. That third place effort snapped a three win streak for him, which included wins at this distance on this course and at Ellis. Since William Cowans determined he was a sprinter, he’s been very consistent, showing up each and every race.
Two year old maiden special weight fillies go seven furlongs here. This is a tough distance to debut at, so I tend to look for runners with racing experience in a race like this. Both Lite It Up Louie (#11) and Abundant Life (#12) are coming out of the same six furlong maiden special weight sprint at Kentucky Downs last month. Lite It Up Louie finished a quarter of a length ahead of Abundant Life, so the disparity in the morning line odds (9-2 vs. 12-1) feels striking. Mike Maker typically has live runners at this meet, so perhaps that is the explanation there, however, from a pedigree standpoint, I think the transition to dirt and the added furlong should be more beneficial for Abundant Life. Her dam Calistoga won her first two starts in sprint races and her foal, Napa Candy, was a winner in her second career start when easily winning in a maiden special weight sprint on this course last fall. I like the outside draw as well for this daughter of Palice Malice. I’ll make Abundant Life the top pick and use Lite It Up Louie as more of a saver. Steampunk (#4) ran her first two races at Colonial Downs on the main track there. She ran well to be third in her debut at six furlongs and was sent off as the betting favorite at this distance there in her most recent start. The trouble line doesn’t really do her trip justice that day. She did have to steady at the 7/16 pole, which certainly didn’t help her chances. However, she was in a tight spot most of the race, never really having a chance to advance into a more comfortable position. After being forced to steady, she was still trying to advance for Karamanos, but she never was able to get any kind of lane. She finished with some interest to be 4th, but the lower speed figure is meaningless to me. If she is overlooked because of that, I think she could represent tremendous value. My only concern is that she hasn’t shown a ton of early speed on a course that hasn’t been kind to closers this week. I still think she has a big shot, and if we can get odds longer than her 12-1 morning line figure, I’ll be getting involved. Sweet Sunshine (#8) is the logical first time starter to pay attention to. Brad Cox sends out this daughter of Hard Spun for Godolphin, while giving the nod to Florent Geroux. She’s the first foal to run from the dam Emboldened. She was a winner on debut at six furlongs and was a stakes winner at this seven furlong distance in her third career start. I don’t think she’ll be a maiden for long, I just prefer a few other fillies in this spot.
Race 7, The Grade 2 Franklin Stakes:
The winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, Caravel (#1) is back in action after suffering her first loss on turf in over a year. She won this race last year and won the Grade 2 Shakertown against the boys back in April. She clearly loves this course, also winning the Breeders’ Cup race here. What I don’t love for her is the rail draw though. She is going to need to get out of the gate well here. She was uncomfortable once Nobals ranged up to her outside, assumed command, and pinned her on the rail, before going into the turn in the Troy Stakes last time out. I don’t think the softer course was to her liking as well. The purse and the grading is the same for this race as it is with the Woodford Stakes last weekend, so I’m not concerned that they opted to try to retain her title in this race. She is the one to beat, but I don’t think she’s a lock. Bay Storm (#5) has been in a bit of an up and down pattern, and if that trend continues, she should be sitting on a bigger race today. If Caravel is pressed hard, she might be able to benefit from that. This 5 and ½ furlong trip is what she likes the best and her trainer, Jonathan Thomas, excels with turf sprinters. If someone can upset the favorite, I think she has the best shot.
Even though this N1X allowance sprint at 6 and ½ furlongs is carded for three year olds and up, all eight runners that are participating are three years old. The speed figures are light, but I think there is definite upside for Old Alliance (#8) on the outside in this race. He was a winner at Laurel last year on debut for Michael Stidham. He came to Keeneland on Breeders’ Cup Weekend and ran in an optional $100K claiming/N1X allowance race where both Giant Mischief and Arabian Lion put on a show. He was a long way behind that duo, finishing third in that spot. He made his last start of the year in the Gun Runner Stakes behind Jace’s Road and Raise Cain. He’s been on the sidelines since, but he’s been working well in the morning at Delaware. He came here last week to get a work in, and I thought his 58:2 drill was decent. He’s making his first start today as a three year old, so I think there is definite room for those speed figures to improve. While I’m not counting on getting 20-1 on him, I still think he’s a sneaky play in this race, and he’s playable anywhere at 10-1 and up. Pensacola (#6) ran a strong race at this level when facing winners for the first time two starts ago at Ellis. He tried the grass for the first time in his last start and he looked like he wanted no part of that race. I’m thinking that race still could give him the right kind of foundation to come back with a strong effort at this level today. Both You Ain’t Poppn (#1) and Talkin’ Cash (#4) are making their second career starts after big maiden allowance wins in their debuts. I think there’s more upside with You Ain’t Poppn, but the rail post can be a little dicey in races like this. Talkin’ Cash did his damage on the Tapeta at Turfway back in March. Brad Cox certainly knows how to get them ready off the bench, but there is too much unknown with him for me to be comfortable with taking him at 4-1 or lower. He’s a deeper saver for me on the C line.
The day and the week will wrap up with a 12 furlong N2X allowance for fillies and mares. Do note that Highland Grace (#2) ran third in the Grade 3 Sands Point yesterday at Aqueduct and will almost definitely be scratched out of this race. Only three of the eleven runners that will remain have gone this far on the racetrack. Good American (#6) is not one of those three runners, but she finished her last race, which was a 1 mile and 5/16 journey at Kentucky Downs, with a lot of energy. She’s an improving four year old for Shug McGaughey that will be making her third start off the layoff today. She ran well in her return at Monmouth, finishing third behind a pair of next out winners. She shipped to Franklin, Kentucky where she was a force when clearing the N1X condition. Others have been facing tougher foes, but I think she might have the most upside in this field. Creative Cairo (#5) is coming off a third place finish in the lll Along Stakes on a day where the winner, Full Count Felicia, ran a monstrous effort on the good turf at Pimlico. She ran a solid race at this distance last year at Saratoga, and like the top pick, she is also making her third start off the layoff today. Her trainer, Lindsay Schultz had a nice winner here the other day in a turf allowance race. Malleymoo (#11) strikes me as an interesting player in this race for Todd Pletcher. She upset a small field to win the Penn Oaks when going a mile at Penn National back in June. She was on the shelf for three months before returning in a 6 and ½ furlong sprint stakes race at Kentucky Downs. She’s sired by English Channel, and while the dam’s pedigree suggests she’s not crying out for this kind of distance, this feels like a very intentional race selection from Pletcher. I think there’s a good chance that she’ll outrun her odds here.
How to Read the Picks-Grid:
This grid has become my favorite tool for helping to handicap a race card in advance. Keep in mind that these designations for me are flexible and may change depending on how the value in the betting market shifts leading up to post time.
The “Top Pick” Column is fairly self-explanatory, meaning that it’s the horse that I think will win the race.
The “A” Column is reserved for the horses that I feel have the best chances of winning. The more horses that are in this column per race, the more wide open I think the race might be. For multi-race wagers, these horses will be on the bulk of my tickets. If I’m betting on the vertical wagers (exactas, trifectas, superfectas), these horses would likely be candidates to be keyed on top.
The “B” Column are horses that I think have a chance of winning, but I don’t like them as much as the runners on the A line. If I put a morning line favorite in this column, I’m trying to find ways to beat them. For me, favorites on the B line typically will either be used underneath in the vertical exotics, or perhaps not at all. They’ll typically be used on some back up tickets in the multi-race wagers, especially in races where the other options aren’t as strong. I might also relegate a horse to the B line if I don’t think there’s good value on that horse with their morning line odds or how I think the race will be bet. For example, If I think a horse should be closer to 5-1, and their morning line odds are 3-1, he might start on the B line for me. If the betting public moves the line closer to the odds that I feel are fair, and I like the horse’s chances, I could move them up when I’m playing the race.
The “C” Column is reserved as a deep backup for me. Again, if a favorite is on the C line, that’s me telling you that I don’t like them that much in this race. I definitely won’t be using them on top in any vertical wager, as I’ll be trying to beat them with most of my tickets. Sometimes this spot will be reserved for a crazy longshot that checks one of the boxes I might be looking for when playing horses at long odds.