Pedigree Handicapping With & Doug Salvatore: Saturday, April 5, at Keeneland

RACE 1 (click for FREE Ultimate Past Performances with comments)

We have our first dash of the meet for babies going 4 ½ furlongs, and trainer Wesley Ward sends out an uncoupled entry of 2-to-1 morning line favorite Climb In Back as well as Time Out of Mind (4-to-1).

Before I discuss any horse, I must profile Wesley Ward’s past accomplishments in this type of race at Keeneland. A dozen years ago, when Ward was a far less prominent trainer, sharp handicappers knew him for his incredible skill in Santa Anita’s 2-furlong juvenile dashes.

Since 2001, Wesley Ward is a mind-blowing 50-26-7-7 (52% wins) with first-time starters at distances of 3 furlongs or less. Half of those wins have come in 2 furlong races at Santa Anita, where Ward is 13-for-26 with debut runners.

The Ward machine and his pack of precocious two-year-olds didn’t emerge at Keeneland until 2007 (the same year Polytrack debuted at the spring meeting). Now, virtually everyone who follows racing seriously knows of Ward’s dominance in these 4 ½-furlong baby races at Keeneland. Indeed, at last year’s Spring meeting, Ward’s babies won with five of his eight starters. I choose those words carefully because Ward ran multiple entries in two races, meaning he actually won five of the six babies races in which he competed.

The bottom line is this, it’s hard to get a price on a Ward baby, but you better have a very compelling reason to bet against him in these types of early-season dashes. Now, on to the horses!

#6 Climb In Back (2-to-1 morning line) : This Wesley Ward filly debuts against males and is an expected favorite on the basis of a fast gate work over the track on March 29. Interestingly, she and her stablemate will run without lasix. In the past, Ward debuted his babies here on lasix, so this is a change for him. Climb In Back is sired by graded stakes-winning two-year-old Ready’s Image. Her dam, True Deception, was claimed for just $2,500 out of a race in 2010 at Lincoln Racecourse in Nebraska. This is her first foal.

In plain English, there is nothing classy about Climb In Back’s pedigree. However, her sire was a very precocious two-year-old and her dam usually set the pace in her lackluster career competing in sprint races at tracks such as Turf Paradise, Prairie Meadows, Remington Park, and Lincoln. Interestingly, the great product American Produce Records shows that she was RNA’d for $47,000 as a yearling. That might not sound like much when it takes seven figures to grab headlines at a yearling sale, but it’s actually a large sum of money for a yearling filly with such an obscure pedigree. Climb In Back has to be feared because she’s a Wesley Ward runner with a bullet work from the gate, but this is a filly you’ll want to bet against later on in the future, when the distances increase.

#1 (Poe) Skyway (5-to-2): He is coupled in the betting with Sky Racer, but this appears to be the stronger part of the Mark Casse entry. According to the Keeneland Clocker report, both he and his entrymate worked in tandem from the gate on March 25, and Skyway’s workout is described as follows: “sharp gate effort, a length better than Sky Racer, out in” :59.60.

Skyway’s sire, Sky Mesa, was perfect as a two-year-old and won a fast edition of the Grade 1 Hopeful. Skyway’s dam, Bedside Manner, was a very speedy Mike Hushion-trained filly who won each of her first five career starts while competing on the NYRA circuit. Surprisingly, Bedside Manner has yet to produce a two-year-old winner, and Skyway will be her ninth foal to race. However, she has produced a couple of horses who won their career debuts as three-year-olds. Over the last four years, trainer Mark Casse has only started a single horse in a 4 ½-furlong two-year-old race at Keeneland, and that was Sky America, who won by 3 lengths and paid $12.20 for this same owner John Oxley.

#2B (PoE) Storm Off (6-to-1): He is coupled in the betting with Indygo By You. Storm Off owns a 3-furlong bullet gate work on April 2 that caught the eye of the clocker, who reported that he “broke sharply from the gate and was not pushed in the breeze.”

That nice gate speed he showed in a fast breezing workout is very encouraging, as long as it doesn’t help find him in an immediate head-to-head speed duel with Ward’s filly.

Trainer John Hancock has done sneaky well in these 4 ½-furlong dashes. He’s only 1-for-11 in them, but that lone winner paid $44.40 and won clear. What’s more, he’s had three second-place finishes, and at odds of 7-, 16-, and 19-to-1 no less. The fact is, these John Hancock babies are outrunning their odds in baby dashes at Keeneland. It should be noted that jockey Orianna Rossi is named to ride on both parts of the Hancock entry, indicating that one of them might scratch and wait for the next baby dash. Storm Off is the part of the entry we’re interested in. Indygo By You is a slow working son of Ed DeRosa’s favorite sire, but we have no interest using him in exotics in this type of a race.

Selections: 6-1-2B-4

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