Full field? Check. Competitive betting race? Check. Official Kentucky Derby prep race? Check again.
The 2018-19 Road to the Kentucky Derby will resume on Saturday with the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs, and from a handicapping perspective, there’s nothing not to like about this 1 1/16-mile event.
I find the race particularly exciting because I’m not convinced that the expected favorites #13 Knicks Go and #1 Signalman are unbeatable at short prices. Obviously, their form to date is far superior to that of their rivals—they ran 1-2 in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) and Keeneland and 2-3 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) behind the three-time Grade 1 winner Game Winner—but they’re coming back on pretty short rest off a tough race in the Breeders’ Cup, and neither colt has drawn a particularly appealing post position. Will Knicks Go get hung wide? Will Signalman manage to hold his rail position in what figures to be a furious rush to the first turn?
With these thoughts in mind, I’m going to take a shot at beating Knicks Go and Signalman, and my top choice to spring the upset is #6 Blue Steel. As a son of Will Take Charge out of a Candy Ride mare, Blue Steel is bred to relish running a mile or farther—indeed, the classic distances next spring should be no obstacle—which is why it’s exciting that Blue Steel has already shown a lot of promise sprinting.
Granted, Blue Steel’s debut was pretty much a disappointment. Sent off as the 2.20-1 favorite in a six-furlong maiden sprint at Churchill Downs, Blue Steel never really challenged and faded to finish eighth. But on October 28th, he returned in a seven-furlong maiden race at Churchill and looked like a completely different horse, sprinting to the lead through fast fractions before drawing clear in the homestretch to win by five lengths.
Trained by Dale Romans, Blue Steel still needs to step up his game a bit in terms of BRIS speed figures, but I think that significant improvement on Saturday is well within the realm of possibility. The distance of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes should be more to his liking, and unlike the favorites, he’s drawn well in post position six. Suffice to say, I’m expecting a big run from Blue Steel.
#9 Current, a son of Curlin switching to dirt after a quartet of strong efforts on grass, is another logical contender for trainer Todd Pletcher, while #4 Dunph could have a very bright future after winning his first two starts—including the Spendthrift Juvenile Sire Stakes at Churchill Downs—by a combined 16 ¼ lengths. I’ll use both of them in the exacta while emphasizing Blue Steel, who would also be an excellent win bet at 6-1 or higher.
$8 to win on #6 Blue Steel
$2 exacta: 6,9 with 1,4,6,9,13 ($16)
$1 exacta: 1,4,13 with 6,9 ($6)