The 10 race Friday afternoon card is highlighted by the Grade 3 Baird Doubledogdare Stakes. Speech, who won the Grade 1 Ashland here last summer, is the headliner, but this is no cakewalk for her. Three other graded stakes winners, Bonny South, Eres Tu, and Royal Flag are entered, looking to jump start their seasons.
Race 1: Top Pick: 2
A half dozen, evenly matched, three year olds go one mile, carrying a $30K tag in the opener. Delta invader, Two Worlds (2), is the only multiple winner in the field and has never been off the board in three starts when running for a claiming tag. He’s been very consistent and has run three straight races at two turns. He came up just short in optional claiming/allowance company at Delta last out, and now moves to open claimers here. The Beat (5) has a very nice progression of races on the dirt, with a few duller synthetic races sandwiched in between. He has never gone two turns on the main track, so that is a minor concern, especially as the morning the line favorite. However, he had a good race at 7 Furlongs already at this meet, finishing third last week. I’m hoping for a price that is a little better than 9-2, but I’m interested in seeing Mobster Gun (6) getting back on the main track, after showing some solid improvement in three races this year on Tapeta at Turfway. Two turns seems to be where he’ll excel, winning two back with maiden claimers, and just missing last out with N2L claimers, when facing winners for the first time. This is a step up in class, but he makes sense to me in this spot.
Race 2: Top Pick: 5
Another six horse field goes in this starter allowance race at 7 Furlongs. Favored Keep Your Distance (5) looks tough to beat in this spot. She’s won two in a row in starter allowance company at Oaklawn. She’s won 18 of her 53 career races (34%), making her a prime candidate for this starter allowance condition. Her last race at 7 Furlongs wasn’t great, but she has a good record at the distance overall. I see Bye Bye Bertie (6) on the outside as the main threat, as she returns to the main track and cuts back in distance. I like playing horses that are coming out of two turn turf races cutting back to 7 Furlongs on the main track. It’s a solid angle, especially because the distance can be demanding for sprinters trying to carry their speed. She was a solid winner at two turns on the dirt two back with optional claiming/N1X allowance foes at the Fair Grounds. She has also had success in limited experience at this distance. I’m playing against second choice, Jungle Juice (3) who beat the favorite on the square back in November at Churchill. She is a talented mare who may be better on dirt than turf, and she is very good at the distance. However, she is making her first start off a three month layoff and she has typically been a horse that has needed a start or two before she runs her best races.
Race 3: Top Pick: 4
Multi-conditioned claimers run with a $40K tag here. This race is designated for three year old fillies or older fillies and mares that have never won three times. There is only one three year old entered, which is my top pick in Xtrema (4), but she still fits in under the N3L condition. She was claimed at the Fair Grounds last out in an optional claiming/starter allowance on the grass. She finished a respectable third that day as the beaten favorite, and now switches back to the main track for her third start in this current form cycle. The 0-4 record on the dirt isn’t ideal, but it’s fair to note that all four of those starts on the main track came in stakes company. She was defeated by horses like Simply Ravishing, Crazy Beautiful, and Travel Column, and these fillies here are a far cry from that level. I think she’ll get a good set up here and show improvement getting back on dirt. Graysonsmacho Gal (2) makes her first start since January when she finished 8th in the Pippin Stakes at Oaklawn. She was a smashing winner on this course at the distance this fall, crushing a field of $50K N2L claimers. She’ll likely have competition for the early lead, so she might not get the easy lead she got that day. However, she might just be faster than these. Persisto (6) is one that I’d like to be able to get a better price on than the 3-1 morning line. I had her around 5-1 in my notes, as her current form isn’t that great. She drops in class after four straight defeats. She is better at two turns, and she has races this summer and fall at Monmouth and Delaware that, if she is able to run back to, will make her tough at this level. I will likely upgrade her, if her price is higher, as I’m not eager to take a short price on a horse that isn’t in very good current form.
Race 4: Top Pick: 5
This is the first of four scheduled turf races this afternoon, this one for three year old, maiden special weight horses. Deferred Taxes (3) from the Chad Brown is likely going to be the heavy favorite and the horse to beat, but I don’t think he’s a slam dunk here. He ran well after getting pinched back near the start in his debut at Tampa. They have a great turf course at Tampa, but Chad Brown’s best maidens weren’t running there this winter, when they could be running for twice the money at Gulfstream. He’s sired by Flintshire, out of a More Than Ready mare, so he should get better with more races and longer distances on the grass. I think from a tactical standpoint, Feeding Frenzy (5) has the advantage, after sitting close to the lead in his debut against a stronger field at Gulfstream. He finished 6th that day, beaten 5 lengths on the wire. I liked his effort last time and figure that he could easily be on the lead, setting soft fractions here. Shaldag (4) is not as palpable as the other two for me, as he needs to prove that he’s able to duplicate his last try in New Orleans, when he finished third at 16-1. He had a wide trip in his only run on this course. Gaffalione continues to ride well here, so he has a shot, but I think the top two are better right now. Accredit (2) makes his first start on dirt after an even debut on Tapeta at Turfway. He adds blinkers and Laisx for his second career start, while also switching surfaces. I think there’s a chance that Sophie Doyle will be asked to put him in the race early and see what develops. He may have the best chance of the longer priced entrants here.
Race 5: Top Pick : 2
Another maiden special weight race rounds out what could be a pretty chalky early Pick-5 sequence. This one is a 6 Furlong race for fillies and mares three years old an upward. The horses with experience seem very ordinary here, so this seems like a spot to try some first time starters, especially in the Pick 4 and Pick 5. Liberty Isle (2) draws the rail for Dallas Stewart in her career debut. She’s got a strong foundation of drills at the Fair Grounds and is finally unveiled today. The Stewart barn has been red hot all year so far, winning 23% of their races. He’s hit the board with 6 of 8 thus far at this meet, winning two of those races. She’ll need to create a trip from the rail, but I like her chances the best here. Congratulated (4) is the morning line favorite, making her second start off the layoff. She was vanned off after a dismal try with a tough field at Churchill in June, and wasn’t seen again until running second at Turfway, while still facing maiden special weight foes. She should be better on the dirt and finds a soft group for the condition here. Happylife (5) debuted at Oaklawn last month and improved position after breaking last of six that day. If she can take a step forward in her second start, she’ll figure to be in the mix with these. Sofia Strong (3) by Strong Mandate makes her debut for Mike Maker. She had a decent work over the track last week after doing the rest of her prep work at Tampa. Callie’s Candy (6) is definitely one that I’ll be looking for clues from. On one hand, her works are better than some of the other first time starters here, however, she was only sold for $5K, $70,000 less than the stud fee for Candy Ride. There’s definitely mixed signals, but if she looks good on the track and still offers value, I would consider upgrading her.
Race 6: Top Pick: 1
This conditional allowance features Master Piece (1) for Chad Brown facing off against multiple graded stakes winner, Factor This (2). I’m siding against Factor This as he drops from stakes company because he hasn’t looked like the same horse in his last two races, throwing in the towel in the stretch. The presence of Admiralty Pier (6) also works against him here, as both horses are dedicated front runners. I think that both of them entered in here will set things up perfectly for Master Piece. This son of Mastercraftsman was a Group 2 winner and a Group 1 placed finisher in Argentina before being moved to the Chad Brown barn. He was the wild card in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic in October, finishing a decent 4th behind Channel Maker. He ran well off the layoff that day and should get a favorable set up off the layoff this afternoon. The nine furlong distance should be right in his wheelhouse and set him up nicely for a stakes effort next out. If the favorite falters, give a look to Talk or Listen (7) on the outside. He was shuffled to the back of the field in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay last out, rallying well to get 4th that day. His effort two back was strong and he if can duplicate that race here, he should get pretty close.
Race 7: Top Pick: 3
There are a lot of chances in this 6 Furlong N2L allowance race, and I’m looking for a little value. As is the norm at Keeneland, there are several strong pedigrees in this race, but there’s one that stands out. Be Here (3) is sired by Ghostzapper and the dam is multiple Grade 1 winner and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint champion, Informed Decision. She did most of her damage on synthetic tracks, but she was a Grade 1 winner in the Derby City Distaff on the main track at Churchill. Ghostzapper was a brilliant one turn horse that could carry his speed longer distances, winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2004. Be Here won on debut at two turns at Turfway and was moved to stakes company, where he finished 4th in the Rushaway as the beaten favorite. He cuts back to a sprint and moves to the main track for the first time in his third career start, and I think he could relish those changes today. I’m a tad concerned that the 6 Furlongs will be a little short for him, but I think he’s very playable here around his 8-1 morning line. The race favorite on the morning line is Therideofalifetime (5) who showed some promise at two, battling Jackie’s Warrior twice and breaking his maiden emphatically in between those starts on this course. He ended his four race two year old campaign, wilting after doing a lot of heavy lifting on the front in the Iroquois. I think he’ll be a better sprinter, but I think his next start is when I’ll want to play him as there are some fast horses to his outside in this spot, and Correas’ horses tend to need a race off the layoff before they fire their best shot. I’ll try Wora (10) on the outside coming off a monster effort against maiden special weight foes in his first start on the dirt at Gulfstream last out. He ran well enough on turf prior to that and has worked well since his last race. Etched In Stone (9) can been given a pass in his last race when he stretched out to 9 Furlongs unsuccessfully when facing Florida Derby winner, Known Agenda. His dirt debut when sprinting at Hawthorne was decent, and his subsequent start against winners on the grass wasn’t bad either. He could bounce back while reverting to a sprint. I’m not ready to give up on Shackleford Strong (8) who was pretty disappointing last out when facing a solid allowance group at the Fair Grounds. He did blaze the opening quarter in 21:1, which is lightning fast, especially at the Fair Grounds. This group has the potential to be even better, so that is a concern. He rejoins the Asmussen barn and he may have the best speed of the group. If he can run back to his race two back, he’ll be tough to catch.
Race 8: Top Pick: 8
On paper, this race is pretty wide open, with the morning line favorite being Jades Gelly (7) at 4-1. She makes her four year old debut this afternoon and is one of the few true turf sprinters in the race. She has tactical early speed, so Johnny V. should have her in a good spot. I feel she is more likely to hit the board than win though. I’ll use her as a saver, but there are three others that I prefer. I like both Zero to Sixty (5) and Veruca (8) quite a bit, giving the slight nod to Veruca. Her trainer, Cherie DeVaux won the nightcap yesterday on the turf, and I think she’s got the upper hand in this race. This one debuted in a salty maiden special weight race here in October of 2019, finishing a close up third that day. She broke her maiden on the dirt, then dabbled in stakes company early in 2020 before going the sidelines for 11 months. She returned to the turf at the Fair Grounds, running two credible efforts in two turn races. I think she can take a big step forward in her third race off the layoff and on the cutback. Zero to Sixty also had a strong debut in a turf sprint, winning at Saratoga in July. She had a rough trip when she was the beaten favorite in allowance company at Kentucky Downs, when Jades Gelly narrowly finished in front of her. Her next two starts were dull, one on the dirt, and the other at two turns at the Fair Grounds. She didn’t have a great trip there but she makes a lot of sense cutting back to a 5 and ½ Furlong sprint. Senora Roma (6) might be the fastest filly in the early going here. Rivelli tried to get her on the turf in her last start in April 2020, but the weather didn’t cooperate. She was flying early that day, and decimated the scratched down field, winning by 11 lengths. She’s been off ever since, but Rivelli is strong off the layoff. Being sired by Verrazano, I think she’ll take to the turf, it’s just a matter of if she can hold on in the final furlong.
Race 9: The Grade 3 Baird Doubledogdare Stakes, Top Pick: 5
This is one of the better fields that I have seen assembled for this race in the last several years. Due to the pandemic, this race was not run in 2020. Prior to this race earning a Grade 3 listing in 2007, some higher profile names had won this race, most notably, Silverbulletday in 2000 and Canadian champion Dancethruthedawn in 2002. Recent versions of this race have been competitive, but have lacked the star power. There are four graded stakes winners entered in this seven horse field today, most notably, the winner of last year’s Grade 1 Ashland, Speech (6). She overcame a bit of seconditis when emphatically winning that race last year, beating the heavily favored Venetian Harbor. She didn’t have the same punch in the Kentucky Oaks or the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint last year, finishing off the board in both. She has been rested and ready to return for Mike McCarthy. Like many in this field, this race is not the main goal, but more of a starting point. I think she is live here, but I prefer a few others more. I like Bonny South (5) to turn the tables on Speech today. Speech got the better of her in the Ashland, finishing 8+ lengths in front of her. However, Bonny South was making her first start in four months that day, laid off since winning the Fair Grounds Oaks. She showed better form while finishing second in the Alabama, Black Eyed Susan, and Falls City. She has been working well for her return, with a bullet workout at Churchill last week to signal that she’s ready to roll. Royal Flag (1) is very consistent, and may get the run of the race when making her four year old debut. She was fighting hard in races in the mid-Atlantic region last summer and fall, most recently winning the Grade 3 Turnback The Alarm at Aqueduct. She’s never finished worse than third in eight races and she figures to get a sweet trip along the rail. On deeper tickets, Eres Tu (4) could be a factor as she’s in good current form and has been racing more consistently lately, while the other graded stakes winners are coming off the bench. She won the Allare DuPoint two back to earn her first graded stakes win of her career. She shipped to Florida for the Royal Delta and ran a solid second that day, snapping her three race win streak since returning from a long layoff. In previous years, she would have likely been favored in this spot, but this is a strong group where she’ll likely go off as the 4th choice.
Race 10: Top Pick: 3
For the second straight day, the nightcap appears to be headed in a formful direction. Seven three year olds go 1 Mile and 1/16 on the grass here. Pletcher and Saez team up with Mubtadaa (3) who stretches out for the first time. He debuted in a 5 Furlong turf sprint in January at Gulfstream. Saez had to really ride him that day, as I’m not sure 5 Furlongs is going to be where he thrives. He still finished with interest and had the look of a horse that will improve at longer distances. He’s sired by War Front out of a Tapit mare, so 8 and ½ Furlongs on the grass should be just right. We might not get 2-1, but I think he’s strictly the one to beat here. Rustler (1) is another live runner from the Dane Kobiskie barn. He has yet to win at the meet, be his horses keep getting close, finishing on the board 7 of 9 times. Both of his efforts sprint have been decent, facing stakes placed Fauci last out. He gets Lasix for his return and his first start for Kobiskie. Scarlet Fusion (6) is an $800K purchase that has run hard, but hasn’t lived up to lofty expectations. His last three efforts have been solid, and now Casse switches him to turf. Turf isn’t impossible, but his pedigree leans main track. I’ll use him as a saver, but I’m not sold that turf is the answer for him.