Saturday Keeneland Race 9 Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes
Keeneland’s race of the day Saturday is the Grade 2 Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes going the marathon distance of a mile and half over the turf. The race is named after a central Kentucky stream that is 18.3 miles long and runs through several counties with its two primary forks taking the shape of antlers. The race was first run at 1 1/8th miles in 1986 and then lengthened to today’s distance in 1996. Notable winners include Manila (1987), Lure (1994), and Musketier (2010 & 2011). This year’s edition features a competitive, full field of eleven older horses although Mike Maker, who has a superfecta of runners, has already stated he may scratch Taghleeb (4-1) and Roman Approval (20-1). The forecast for Lexington on Saturday shows several rounds of rain which means the turf might be rated “good” or “yielding.” I have handicapped the race under the assumption that the turf will be “good/yielding” and Maker scratches the previous mentioned horses.
The horse I will key on is Maker’s Bigger Picture who is the tepid morning line favorite at 7-2. While I would prefer a better price, he is in my opinion the most likely winner and the horse I will key and wheel in my vertical wagers. The Badge of Silver gelding was off-the-board in his last start in the G2 Mac Diarmida but was only beaten by half a length. Bigger Picture won four of eight races last year, but more importantly can handle rain soaked turf as he finished a strong second in the Sycamore Stakes on a course rated “good.” He has a versatile running style and can press or stalk the pace. Note the sharp workout on April 15th and his regular rider, Jose Ortiz, is in the irons.
Makers’ other runner, Charming Kitten (6-1), is worth a look and can be used on your tickets. The son of Kitten’s Joy has failed to pick up a check in his two starts this year but has only been beaten 1 ¾ and 1 ½ lengths in those starts. Prior to two starts in Ireland in the summer of 2016, he won the two-mile H. Allen Jerkins Stakes on a Gulfstream turf course rated “good.” Maker has had success in this race winning it with Dark Cove in 2013 and Da Big Hoss last year.
Itsinthepost (4-1) is a player in this race. The five-year-old French-bred, by American Post, is shipped in from California for trainer Jeff Mullins. Itsinthepost’s form has been razor sharp as he has finished in the exacta in eight of his last nine races. He became a grade 2 winner in his last start when he won the San Luis Rey Stakes at Santa Anita. The soft ground should not hamper his cause as he is proven on turf rated “good” or “soft.” Tyler Baze gives up his mounts at Santa Anita to make the trip which adds to the appeal. Mullins rarely ships his horses East so you have to wonder if he can bring his California form to the Bluegrass State. If he does, Itsinthepost will be right there at the wire.
A live longshot in the race is Interpol (12-1) for trainer Jimmy Toner. Interpol, by English Channel, came into Jimmy’s barn in late December after being sidelined for over a year. His 2015 form was solid and I was able to cash some nice tickets on him when he won the Grade 2 Sky Classic and Grade 1 Northern Dancer at Woodbine. He too is proven on giving ground and the marathon distance is well within his scope. Toss his 2017 debut as it was simply a prep race at a distance that was less than ideal. If Toner has the screws tightened and Interpol can run back to his 2015 form, then he is a contender in this race at what should be a great price. Throw Bullard Alley (20-1) in underneath on your vertical wagers as his best races have come on “good/yielding” turf.
Wishing safe trips to all and hopefully despite the rains we won’t see any floaties.
Friday Keeneland Race 9 Maker’s 46 Mile
The highlight race on Friday’s Keeneland card is the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile. Unlike the bourbon Maker’s 46, which has a smooth taste with hints of both vanilla and caramel, the race came up quite salty with a highly competitive field of 12. The race could be billed as an East vs. West Coast contest as we have four shippers from California, including What a View (5-1), Bolo (5-1), Conquest Enforcer (12-1), and Calculator (10-1), taking on the East Coast challengers, including the morning line favorite Heart to Heart (3-1). The six-year-old son of English Channel has had a stellar career, winning 12 of his 27 lifetime starts with earnings exceeding $1 million. There is no secret to his success as he likes to set the pace and run his competition into the ground. He is 6 of 13 at the one mile distance and is ideally drawn in post nine, outside of the other speed in the race.
The pace dynamics of the race will make things interesting for Heart to Heart. What a View, for trainer Kenny Black, has the same style of running and is capable of being head to head with Heart to Heart through the early parts of the race. How that battle plays out on the front end will determine the outcome of the race. To add more fuel to the early heat, you have Conquest Enforcer, who likes to press the pace and gets jockey Paco Lopez in the saddle. Lopez is an aggressive gate rider and I would expect him to have Conquest Enforcer involved in the race early. With all the early pace in this race I will be looking for a horse coming off of it for the most likely winner.
Bolo for trainer Carla Gaines is a contender in the race. He wants firm turf so if the skies decide to weep Friday you can discount his chances. That being said, the forecast calls for a clear, sunny day and that’s how I’m handicapping the race. Bolo made his 2017 debut winning the Grade 2 Arcadia after sidelined for eight months. He may have regressed a bit off that effort when he finished third in his next start in the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile, however. While there is some cause of concern that he has failed to produce a top effort when shipping, I love his works coming in and this will be the first time he has strung three races together without time off since 2015. You get Mr. Grade 1 himself, Mike Smith, in the saddle and I expect him to place Bolo right behind the early speed. While I doubt the morning line price will hold up you might get 3-1 on Bolo and he should be right there at the wire.
Calculator and Inspector Lynley (8-1) are interesting in this race. While I can’t see either taking the winner’s share, they are logical for exactas and trifectas. Calculator is son of In Summation who has spent most of his career racing on the dirt. He had a successful 2016 with five in-the-money finishes in six starts. His best races were when he finished second in both the Grade 1 Carter and Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes. He too should sit a stalking position and I find it interesting Peter Miller runs him in this grade 1 affair off only two turf starts. The Frenchman, Florent Geroux, takes the reins which adds to the appeal. Calculator will have to transfer his best dirt form over to the grass to have a chance in this race but I can see him getting a share. Inspector Lynley is an interesting horse to use underneath on your tickets. He is a two-time grade 3 winner and won the Tampa Bay Stakes in his last start. While has only one start in 2017, Shug McGaughey enters him here after three bullet works at Payson Park. The mile distance may be a bit too sharp for him as he is by Lemon Drop Kid and would likely appreciate a little more ground to work with. He should be running late and could pick up a minor share.
As for my key horse I am going to take a shot with Bondurant (10-1) for trainer Ian Wilkes. The lightly raced son of War Front just missed last time out finishing second to Heart to Heart in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf at Gulfstream Park. He is 2 for 2 at Keeneland, 3 of 4 at the one mile distance, and this will be his third start off the layoff. Should the pace setters go too fast early, look for Bondurant to be flying at the end. While he has never tasted grade 1 company, if he can improve just a bit off his last race, he can pull off the upset. He is a half-brother and stable-mate to the Derby contender, McCraken, who finished third in his final prep last week. While Ian did not get his picture taken last week in the winner’s circle, he may have just been waiting for the Maker’s 46 to flow on Friday.
Safe trips to all.