(Updated Statistics After Keeneland’s Opening Day on Friday, April 2)
It is G2 Blue Grass Stakes Day. It is also G2 Wood Memorial Stakes Day. And, it is G1 Santa Anita Derby Stakes Day.
In other words?
It is major Kentucky Derby Preps Day.
In a month, we will all be at Churchill Downs in Louisville — either in person, or in heart and soul — for the 147th running of the KY Derby. The roses will be back in May. The horses will be back in May. The Derby will be back in May. And, we will be back celebrating like Kentuckians were born and trained to do better than anyone else — the “Greatest 2 Minutes in All of Sports.”
As final preparations, though, Saturday will be a huge day for many. It will be the final stamp of approval or the final revelation of fault. It will be validation and time to move to Churchill Downs with hope and dreams. Or, it will be time for reality to sink in and dreams of grandeur to be dashed. It will be time to celebrate the potential for the greatest celebration in the sport of horse racing. Or? It will be time to cry in your beer and settle for other races; other times.
The G2 Blue Grass Stakes — along with the other two major preps — will be some of the final major stepping stones, or rocks on the head. But it promises to be a thrilling day, either way.
Here’s our looks at the entire Keeneland card this coming Saturday, capped with the 11/8-mile Blue Grass Stakes. Our views of the other major events on Saturday will be coming later, in our “Bonus Coverage” segment.
Keeneland on Saturday:
1st: 1/4-5/3-2…It didn’t take us long to find our first “Key Play of the Day.” It comes with the #1 horse in the #1 race. Ghazaaly (1) is a 3YO son of Curlin, who cost a cool $1.05 million at the 2019 KEE September Yearling Sales. Now, he is back in his familiar surrounds trying to break the maiden and begin a lifelong pursuit of making good on that huge investment by Shadwell Stable. Comes into this one off a near-miss 2nd last time out at Gulfstream Park. Went gate to near-wire with a burst of speed and endurance. Gave it up just inches from the finish. Made the career debut against Prevalence, who will run later today in the G2 Wood Memorial and try to punch his ticket to the KY Derby. After a brutal start and adventurous run, finished 3rd in that one. Talent is here. Returns as a beaten favorite and the barn wins with .27% of those. Trainer wins with .26% when routing for the 2nd time, too. Has all the credentials to be tough here. I bet the 1 to win/place and then key the 1 over/under the numbers listed in the exactas. More with the 4-5.
2nd: 2-7-5/8-6/4-1/3…If the #1 works out in the first race, how about the #2 in the second? I’ll go with Mahomes Money (2) in this spot. This 3YO son of Not This Time is coming off a win two starts ago and a near-miss 2nd last time out at Gulfstream Park. Slow start in that one, but managed to run at them late — showing a new dimension when facing winners for the first time. Barn wins with .21% when getting Lasix for the 2nd time. Could be a tough out here. A C Expressway (7) had an extremely wide trip last time out and that compromised any chance for a victory. Returns with the same rider holding the reins. Should fit nicely with these. Perfect Cut (5) goes for the barn of Ken McPeek and this one broke the maiden in a real gutsy move late last time out at GP. Rider takes the mount our on top pick, though, and this barn opts for Robby Albarado. This guy has been lightyears without a win here and has a .05% win rate in the last 476 mounts. Not for me. I bet the 2 to win/place/show and then key the 2 over/under all the numbers listed in two exactas.
3rd: 5-11-2/7/6-4-10-9/12-3-1…Shadow Matter (5) nearly won at first asking on March 4 at the Fair Grounds. This barn is not known for getting them cranked and ready to go on debut, either. But this one just missed. Gets a new rider here and the works are even better. This guy is nominated for the Triple Crown series and may be on the improve very quickly. My pick Primary Endpoint (11) is a first time starter for the barn of Brad Cox. Trainer wins with .18% of those that debut in the MSW ranks. The rider has gone 3-2 in the last 5 starts for this barn and this one is working very well for this effort. I have to factor into the equation at a square price. Mr Annoying (2) ran a solid 3rd on debut at Gulfstream in late February. That was sprinting over the grass. May enjoy the switch to the main track and the “Place” horse in that first race came right back to win the next outing. Gets a top rider in the irons. Threat. I bet the 5-2 across the board and then box the top 3 numbers in the exactas. I will key the top 3 over/under the 7 in two smaller units.
4th: 11-1-2/4-9/8-10/7-3-12/6-5…Enjoyitwhilewecan (11) has run two really good 2nds in a row and could have / should have won both or either. Gets a new rider in the irons, and this guy knows how to finish a race. Let’s see if he has better luck getting to the wire. This 5YO mare by Quality Road only brought $47,000 last November at the Keeneland sale. New connections have got nearly half of that back already. Could be profit time soon. Secret Time (1) ran in a G3 last time out. Only beaten 41/2 lengths. Should fare better against the likes of these. Look for a real run late. Will need racing room on the rail. Will she get it? Osaka Girl (2) has raced here twice before and has a 2nd and a 3rd on the resume. In 6 starts at the distance? Three seconds and a third. Right there, but never good enough. Maybe again today. I bet the 11-1 across the board and then box the top 3 i the exacta. I will key the top 3 over/under the 4-9 in two smaller units.
5th: 9-8-6/7-1A-3-5/10-2-1-4…Founder (9) is a 3YO son of Upstart that cost a whopping $600,000 at a 2YO sale last year. Found his way into the barn of Chad Brown and will get the Lasix for the first time here. Has run two solid races out of the three on the charts so far. Only misfire came in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity here last Fall against Essential Quality. Has been training well for the 2021 debut. Look for a big effort here. Democracy (8) is elevating his game after breaking the MSW last time out at GP over a sloppy track. Will need to find more, but the barn wins with .24% when moving up to face winners for the first time. Training very well for this return. Joe Frazier (6) is one of two from the barn of Brad Cox that will make the gate here. This one is 12-1 in the ML and is our first “Upset Special of the Day.” Barn’s go-to rider selects this one to board and the training sessions have been solid in the a.m. Has a win over this track, too. Hmmm. I bet the 9-6 across the board and then box the top 3 in the exacta. I will key the 9-6 over/under the 8-7-1A-3-5-10 in two smaller units.
6th: 1-4-2/3/6-5…Jouster (1) is a classy 3YO Noble Mission filly, and she has a ton of natural speed. Got caught right on the wire in the G3 Florida Oaks. Could not have been closer. She returns here with a cutback in distance and as a beaten favorite for a trainer that wins with .26% of those. Should love the rail. Should love this flat 1-mile distance. Could be clicking the heels all the way around in front. Plum Ali (4) is a classy filly who does her best running late. She has not started since finishing 5th in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf here last October. But she is training well and that was her only blemish on the record. Look for a top effort here. Barn wins with .14% when away from the gate this long. Spanish Loveaffair (2) won the G3 Herecomesthebride Stakes at GP last time out. Came off the pace from a nice stalking position. Ideal run that day. In 3 starts at this distance? Has 2 wins. Was 2nd here to Aunt Pearl in the G2 Jessamine Stakes last Fall. Threat. I bet the 1 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 in the exacta. I will key the top 3 numbers over/under the 3 in two smaller units and also key the 1 over/under the “all button” in two smaller equations.
7th: 1-7/2-5-4-3/6…G3 Commonwealth Stakes…Flagstaff (1) ran up against the likes of C Z Rocket and Whitmore in the Hot Springs Stakes last time out. Nobody here rates in that class. In 4 starts at this 7-furlong distance, this one has 2 wins and a second, too. Training very well and gets a rider who rode last time out. Got the blinkers for the first time last out. Don’t know if they helped or not, but they come off here. Good call. Look for a top effort here. Hog Creek Hustle (7) always comes hustling from the back of the pack. Rider loves to rail hawk, too. If they can get through and find a path late, look out. But this one has only a second in three previous runs here. Hmmm. I bet the 1 to win/place/show and then key the 1 over/under all the numbers listed in the exactas. More with the 7-2-5-4 than the others.
8th: 2/13/5-9/12-4-6-7/11…G2 Shakertown Stakes…My second “Key Play of the Day” comes here with Imprimis (2). This 7YO gelded son of Broken Vow has won half of his 18 turf starts, but in 15 starts at this specialty distance of 5.5 furlongs? This one has a 8-1-2 mark. Has a win and a third here in three previous tries, too. Returns as a beaten favorite after a gutsy 2nd at Tampa Bay last time out, and the barn wins with .23% of those. Aggressive rider may ask more of this one in the early stages. Look out. I bet the 2 to win/place/show and then box the 2-13 sternly in the exactas. I will key the 2-13 over/under the numbers listed in two smaller units.
9th: 5/3-6-2/4-1…G1 Ashland Stakes…This 11/16-mile event is a premier prep for the Kentucky Oaks, and this year’s version looks to be stocked with possible Lily contenders. I will go with my third “Key Play of the Day” here with Malathaat (5). This 3YO daughter of Curlin cost $1.05 million at the 2019 KEE September Yearling Sale and has done nothing to disappoint since making the races last October at Belmont Park. In the first three races to date, she has three wins. Perfect. And, she has been training lights out for the 2021 debut, too. Gets a top rider up. With her speed, should be able to pick out a perfect trip. My choice. I bet the 5 to win/place/show and then key the 5 over/under all the numbers listed in the exactas. More with the 3-6-2 than the others.
10th: 4-5-1/6-3/7-2…G1 Madison Stakes…What a nice field has been assembled for this 7-furlong event over the main track. Wow. I will give the slight edge to the quality 5YO mare Bell’s the One (4). This gal has run here 5 times overall. Has 2 wins and 2 thirds. Will be making the 2021 debut, but she has won off the bench before and has the closing speed to be a real threat at the wire. Look at who she has beaten in the past, too. Serengeti Empress. Break Even. Look who she has faced in the past, too. Gamine. Garana. Play On. Covfefe. Seriously? If she is ready, she is game. Kimari (5) has a race under her girth this year and it was impressive. Won the 5.5-furlong Spring Fever at Oaklawn by nearly 5. Has never been this long before, and that is a question until she does it. But her run is an absolute burst explosion. I bet the 4-5 across the board and then box the top 3 in the exacta. I will key the top 3 over/under the 6-3 in two smaller units. I will also key the 4 over/under all the numbers listed in two more units, as well. Love the 4 here.
11th: 4-3/9-1-7/5-2/6-8…G2 Blue Grass Stakes…Essential Quality (4) is the 2020 2YO Champ and is still undefeated after 4 lifetime starts. Half of those wins have come at KEE, too. And, truly, none of the 4 races have been close at the wire. This 3YO son of Tapit is the #1 pick going into this year’s KY Derby. Has been from Day 1. Continues to be until he is beaten. And, honestly, may not happen. Talented beyond measure and he has yet to find his best stuff. Could be one for the ages. Time and times will tell. But I love this one. Always have. Highly Motivated (3) ran a much, much, much better-than-looks 3rd last time out. Was put in an awful spot by the rider and never could overcome it throughout the race. Stretches out to the longest distance yet, and that could truly help this son of Into Mischief more than anything else. Look for this one to run huge. Huge. I bet the 4-3 across the board and then hammer these two in the exacta. If you (or I) think about boxing anything else? Double back down on the 4-3 again. And, again. And, again. I’m that locked in here.
Good Luck & All the Best / Gene