Despite the potential of weather that emulates the winter, it is opening weekend at beautiful Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky.
The track that will soon be roughly 60 miles from my residence wastes no time jumping into high quality action with a ten-race card on Friday followed up by a stakes laden Saturday that includes three Grade 1’s spread over the 11-race slate.
The headliner on the first of three Saturday cards at Keeneland this spring is the one million dollar Blue Grass Stakes. The Grade 2 event is conducted at a mile and an eighth and offers 170 qualifying points (100 to the winner) on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” leaderboard.
The full field of 14 is led by two-year-old champion #11 Good Magic. The 2-1-morning line favorite disappointed in the first start of his three-year-old campaign for trainer Chad Brown, but he is very likely to move forward off of his third place finish in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 3rd. In that race, Good Magic showed solid tactical speed and ran on a bit late, but failed to impress.
There is reason to believe Good Magic will be hard to beat in the Blue Grass despite disappointing his backers in Florida, but his price will reflect that. Some may be concerned with his outside draw, but with a limited of number speed horses drawn to his inside I expect jockey Jose Ortiz to be able to find a comfortable spot a few lengths off the early pace.
If Good Magic is going to be competitive at Churchill Downs next month he needs to run well on Saturday. I expect him to, but swallowing 2 to 1 or lower in a full field of three-year-olds is not for me. I will try to find value in the exotics.
#6 Marconi is a horse that should have no problems as the distances continue to get longer. The two million dollar Keeneland September 2016 purchase lacks early zip, but has shown a solid turn of foot when given an honest pace to run into for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Last time out in the aforementioned Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park the son of Tapit raced wide and against the flow in an event dominated by those on the front end. He may not get a hot pace in the Blue Grass, but if the great Ryan Moore can avoid significant ground loss and get him a bit closer to the early pace than he has been in his two graded stakes efforts, he should be finishing well at a price.
I will need Marconi to hit the board to cash in the Blue Grass Stakes.
#2 Sporting Chance disappointed in the Grade 2 Rebel, but jockey Luis Saez may be able to take advantage of a moderate pace and his inside draw. Including at 10-1 on the line.
#4 Kanthaka ships in from Southern California for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. The Jimmy Creed colt ran third last time out in the Grade 2 San Felipe, but he was six and a half lengths behind Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie and never threatened the top two. I have no interest in him at two turns.
#5 Quip took advantage of a perfect stalking trip in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby to earn his third career victory. I expect him to regress off of the career best 98 BRIS speed rating on Saturday.
#7 Blended Citizen has posted two consecutive 100 BRIS speed ratings, but those came over the synth. If he can translate that form to dirt he could be a major player at a price. That is a big “if” though.
#8 Gotta Go looks like a sprinter to me. Much like Kanthaka I will have interest on the turn back.
#10 Free Drop Billy took a step backwards in the Grade 3 Gotham, but that was at one-turn. He lacks the turn of foot needed to come from off the pace to win a race of this nature, but could grind away a minor share.
#12 Flameaway ran two big ones at Tampa Bay Downs for trainer Mark Casse. If jockey Jose Lezcano can avoid serious ground loss from his outside draw he has a shot to make it three straight top two finishes in Triple Crown prep races.
Here is how I will wager on the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes:
$1 Trifecta Wheel
6+11 with 6+11 with 1+2+7+9+10+12 = $12
$2 Trifecta Wheel
6 with 11 with 2+7+9+10+12 = $10
$2 Trifecta Wheel
6 with 2+7+9+10+12 with 11 = $10
$.50 Superfecta Wheel
6 with 11 with 2+10+12 with 1+2+7+9+10+12 = $7.50
$.50 Superfecta Wheel
6 with 2+10+12 with 11 with 1+2+7+9+10+12 = $7.50
Total Budget: $47