Keeneland Fall, one of the most challenging and entertaining meets of the year, opens Friday here in Lexington. Keeneland will host nine graded stakes from Friday through Sunday, with many of them having implications for the Breeders' Cup.
This week's race of the week will be the Breeders' Futurity (G1), for two-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles on the polytrack. Carded as Saturday's 8th race, it is the third leg of a 50-cent pick-5 wager that also includes the Thoroughbred Club of Amercia S. (G2), the First Lady (G1), and the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1), and ends with a maiden special weight race for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 on the polytrack.
Speaking of the Polytrack, the main track surface at Keeneland is a huge handicapping variable. Unless a horse is proven over the surface, I recommend demanding extra value. Favorites have performed extremely poorly in graded stakes on the polytrack since it was installed in 2006.
Here is my take on the Breeders' Futurity:
1 Joha likes Polytrack with a combined career record of 3-1-1-1 sprinting over the synthetic surfaces here at Keeneland and at Woodbine. He was alone on the lead stretching out to 1 1/16 miles on the turf at Saratoga in the With Anticipation Stakes (G2) and he held until the final yards, when Balance the Books ran him down rather impressively. Joha is likely to be sent from this rail post. Forwardly placed horses do well on this track layout (very short stretch), but unless there is a speed bias on Saturday, I won't be using him on top.
2 Are You Kidding Me broke his maiden impressively in his third career start at Woodbine, looking like a horse who would love more ground. His next two were on turf. He stepped up to the allowance ranks and beat a good filly (Nancy O, who ran third in the G2 Natalama), then was a closing second in the Summer Stakes (G2). He got shuffled back in that race but still came with a steady rally on the yielding turf. I view him as a win threat, but he'll need to keep in touch with the leaders and work out a trip from the inside.
3 He's So Fine gets first-time Lasix after running a non-descript 5th in the With Anticipation. Previously he picked up the pieces behind a pace duel to finish a distant second in the Saratoga Special (G2). Not convinced he fits here.
4 Java's War looked great breaking his maiden at Ellis Park, and the horse that finished third to him (Sonofasamurai) came back to win impressively at Saratoga. He was last early in the Sunday Silence Stakes at Louisiana Downs but worked his way through traffic like a men among boys. He delivered a powerful late burst and wore down stakes winner Brown Almighty to get the win. Some questions about the quality of field he beat, but no question about the style in which he did it. His final time was more than a second faster than 2yo fillies ran in the sister race on same card. Java has some natural speed to stalk the pace in here, and I think he's a win threat making his first start on the Poly.
5 Tizracer earned the top last-race Beyer speed figure with his 10+length win breaking his maiden at Belmont. He was alone on the lead and steadily drew away in that small field. Progeny of Tiznows are gallopers, and they often like synthetic tracks. He only beat four horses in the maiden win, and he'll face 13 rivals here. Mixed feelings.
6 Pataky Kid broke his maiden in a key heat at Arlington Park, then stepped up to win the Arlinton-Washington Futurity (G3) by three lengths, going one mile on the Polytrack. Steady mover looked like he will handle more ground no problem and he was not extended. He's a little slow on speed figures, but he still has some upside.
7 Craving Carats stole a maiden race on the front end at Saratoga, then was a troubled 8th in the With Anticipation. Expect an agreesive ride from Desormeaux, who rides this track configuration as well as any rider, but this one would need to jump forward significantly on the poly to compete for the win.
8 Dipsy Drew looks overmatched coming off the maiden win at Kentucky Downs. He is likely to be sent by rider Jon Court.
9 Charming Kitten looked good breaking his maiden off a wide, pace-pressing trip at Saratoga. He got an even better trip in the With Anticipation but couldn't quicken enough in the lane to catch Joha, then got his doors blown off by Balance the Books. He could be ready to take a small step forward 2nd time vs. winners. Castellano staying on board is a plus.
10 Positively returns off a 90-day layoff following a good three-race campaign at the Churchill spring meet. He looked like he would appreciate more ground in the maiden win going 5 1/2 furlongs. He produced a wide rally from last in the Bashford Manor (G3) and absolutely lookd like a winner mid-stretch, before flattening a bit to get second. The winner (Circle Unbroken) came back to finish second in the Mountaineer Juvenile, in what was probably an above average edition of that race. Positively showed some high leg action in the Bashford Manor, and sometimes horses with that motion adapt well to Polytrack.
11 Balance the Books got going a little too late in his debut when finishing second behind wire-to-wire winner Craving Carats. Despite his maiden status, his connections put him in the With Anticipation (Grade 2), and he showed why, producing a fierce rally to run down loose-on-the-lead Joha. Balance the Books ran his final 5/16 in a fast 28-4, and looked like he would love more ground. If he can duplicate that move on the Poly, he is very dangerous, but two caveats. This course layout does not favor deep closers, and I often seen big turns of foot dulled a bit on the Poly. Expect him to come running.
12 Dynamic Sky debuted in a Canadian-bred stake at Woodbine, where he finished third after getting repelled by the very good two-year-old Uncaptured. Dynamic Sky came back in another restricted stake and took a nice step forward. He produced a sustained, wide move and wore down Honorable Guest (whom Joha also beat by a head in his maiden win) to get the win. The race came back fast (90 Beyer speed figure), but he looked a little green lugging in during that stretch run. He has some running ability, but I think he'll need another step forward in the maturity department to take this from out here.
13 He's Had Enough looked green but promising when he broke his maiden in his debut going 6 1/2 furlongs on the Del Mar polytrack. Stepped up and stretched out to one mile on turf, he ran an ok 6th in the Oak Tree Juvenile. In both races he shied from close space competition with other horses. The connections are going blinkers on here, no doubt to try to improve his forward efficiency. 1 1/16 miles on the poly looks like a good trip for this Tapit colt, but there's no margin for error from this wide post and he'll need a forward move.
14 Tree of Life looks slow on Beyer speed figures, too slow, but I really liked the intangibles in both of his wins. Undefeated Lion Heart colt handled a lot of chaos and showed good presence in both of his races. Note his restricted stakes win at Fairplex was a two-turn race. He's stepping up in class a few levels and drew a terrible post. I like this horse, but I can't endorse him for the win on the cross-country ship and move to G1 company.
Balance the Books
Are You Kidding Me