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.