Opening day at Kentucky Downs is upon us and it features an exciting six day festival of turf racing. As customary, purses are juiced at this racing meeting and that notion always attracts large fields. Add in the unique European style turf course with undulating terrain and twisting turns and it makes for an interesting challenge for horseplayers. Sunday also kicks off an interconnected series of three two-day handicapping contests to crown the National Turf Handicapping Champion. For more information on how to sign up, go to inthemoneypodcast.com/kingturf
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- Race 1: 1-3-8-7
- Race 2: 12-6-4-5
- Race 3: 7-1-3-13
- Race 4: 4-6-8-10
- Race 5: 11-1-12-8
- Race 6: 8-6-3-9
- Race 7: 8-7-6-2
- Race 8: 8-11-3-6
- Race 9: 9-8-6-3
- Race 10: 4-8-12-5
- Race 11: 4-8-2-10
Kentucky Downs Race 1: McLovin (#1)
The Kentucky Downs racing season opens with a maiden special weight affair featuring a purse of $135,000 that exceeds the offerings of the ungraded stakes at Saratoga. With so much cash in the pot, this affair attracted a very competitive field of 10 runners. The logical runner in this race and the one likely to go favored is Freddy Flintshire (#3) going out for a very capable Kentucky Downs trainer in Brendan Walsh. His five starts since coming to North America have all been competitive and he got caught behind a slow pace last time at Ellis. However, I think the big question looming over this field is the stretch out in distance to 12 furlongs over this unique turf course. That’s why I’ve gone to a bit of an outsider in McLovin (#1) for Rodolphe Brisset and Team Valor. To be honest, this colt has run superbad in his first two starts, but I think the stretch out in distance will be what wakes him up. His dam was 2011 Champion 3yo Filly in Uruguay and won races up to 2000 meters (~10f). He’s a son of Animal Kingdom who has been known to produce a good turf distance horse with runners like Delta’s Kingdom and Nakamura featured among his progeny. McLovin goes second off the long layoff and looks to sport a grinding running style that could play to this marathon distance.
Kentucky Downs Race 3: Exulting (#3)
I’m not trying to beat race favorite Exulting (#3) in the third race at Kentucky Downs on Sunday. To me, he seems like a very likely winner on a card where a horse like that is super hard to find. At first glance, he might seem like a short priced favorite to play against since the figures he’s earned recently, which are superior to the rest of this field, have all come on dirt and he’s winless on the turf in his career. However, picking apart those seven turf efforts tells me a different story. Back in 2019 and early 2020 he was running competitively in stakes races on the grass, also for Mike Maker, against competition that would drown this field. The thing I like most about this runner is that he has some hidden prior form over the Kentucky Downs turf course. Although he didn’t hit the board that day, the effort came in the 2019 Tourist Mile where he rallied to finish sixth only beaten 2.5 lengths over a turf course that was carrying speed that day. The only other horse in the field that can compete with Exulting if he transfers his current dirt form over to the turf would be Quality Step (#1), but I’m dubious he’ll be able to produce the same type of effort he did last time without the benefit of walking on a slow pace.
Kentucky Downs Race 9: Earth Strike (IRE) (#9)
The stakes racing at the 2021 Kentucky Downs meet kicks off in the ninth race with the Dueling Grounds Oaks named to pay tribute to the original name of the track that it operated under until 1998. I think the question handicappers in this event will have to ask themselves is what to do with Adventuring (#6) for Brad Cox. This filly is out of the great race mare Questing and should have a pace advantage on the rest of this group. She got back on track last time in the prep for this race at Ellis after two disappointing efforts and the winner of that stakes event came right back to win the Virginia Oaks last Tuesday. However, I’m skeptical of taking a short price in this filly stretching out to 1 5/16 even if she does have it all her own way on the front end. The two fillies that most will use to try to take her on will be Inthewinnerscircle (#3) and Core Values (#8). The former looked good winning a nice allowance at Woodbine last time and it will be interesting to see if the form of those sweeping turns at Woodbine will transfer to the expansive Kentucky Downs oval. The latter actually beat the boys last time at Ellis Park and did so at 9 furlongs so she won’t have to stretch out as far as some others. I’d use both of those fillies in multi-race exotics, but my top pick is going to be Earth Strike (#9) for Mark Casse. The Casse barn hasn’t had much success at Kentucky Downs recently with the only winner over the past three years being when Got Stormy took down a turf sprint stakes here last year, but I’m still interested in seeing what this filly can do getting out to 10.5 furlongs. She was 6-1 in a pretty salty Saratoga allowance last time out and ran second earlier this year to Technical Analysis who might be the best turf filly of this crop. Her pedigree suggests she’ll really appreciate the added ground as she is a half sister to multiple Group 1 winning stayer Order of St. George who took down many a prestigious race in Europe going marathon distances.
Kentucky Downs Race 10: Modern Science (Ire) (#4)
The Dueling Grounds Derby is the feature on the Sunday card and will be run at the same distance of 10.5 furlongs as the filly version of the race that precedes it. There are two key races coming into this that nearly all the entrants of the field are exiting out of. The first is the Saratoga Derby from which morning line favorite Du Jour (#12) comes out of. He ran fine that day getting a run up the rail to crack the trifecta, but my problem with this runner is he got yet another perfect trip and it seems less likely today from the 12 post where the run into the first turn comes up pretty quick. For my money, I think Cellist (#8) actually ran the better race that day as he set a blistering pace that fell apart in the late stages and held on well to be only beaten 4.25 lengths. The horse closest to him on that fast pace was the prohibitive favorite Bolshoi Ballet and the pace took its toll on him as he missed the board. I’ll be using Cellist prominently, but wanted to go in a slightly more creative direction. My top pick Modern Science (#4) comes out of the other key race coming into this and that was the prep for this event at Ellis Park. He set the pace that day before faltering late, but again I think it’s important to look for who will project to handle this stark stretch-out in distance the best. Professional horseplayer Mike Maloney noted on the Kentucky Downs preview show over this network that it’s important to look for horses that have “true turf pedigree” and this guy has just that. Modern Science is a long-striding galloping son of Galileo (Ire) that I think will really appreciate the unique configuration Kentucky Downs has to offer. I think he’ll get lost in the wagering a bit since he lost the prep for this event and only has a maiden score to his name, but if he appreciates this new trip as much as I think he will I think he can surprise at a price.