The G1 Maker's 46 Mike
Keeneland, Race 9
By Jason Perlmutter
The Maker's Mile features the return of a true equine hero in two-time defending Horse of the Year Wise Dan, who is making his first start of 2014. As a fan of this giant-hearted gelding, it will be tough to oppose him. Beyond fandom is the fact that Wise Dan is 11-for-12 lifetime on the turf, and he sustained his only loss over two years ago. He is extremely tough to oppose, and we don't view this race as a golden wagering opportunity. That said, there are a number of rising young stars in here lined up to oppose Wise Dan, who is coming off a layoff and getting a bit long in the tooth at the age of seven. Let's take a look at this small but terrific field of horses.
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Za Approval: Ran a huge 126 figure in narrowly succumbing to Wise Dan in last year's BC Mile. He has the benefit of a useful comeback race (113 figure), which should provide a wonderful tee-up to today's battle. Additionally, he gets five pounds from Wise Dan here as opposed to in the BC Mile, where they carried even weights. Trained by a true turf master in Christophe Clement, Za Approval deserves a solid measure of respect in here.
Alakazan Alakazan: Needs to run 25 points higher than his career-top to factor in here. Has been working bullets, but he couldn't even beat allowance horses last time and is an underlay here at his 30-1 morning line odds.
Wise Dan: Needs no introduction. Heart. Class. Guts. A parade of speed figures in the 120s. He can be placed anywhere and has demonstrated push-button acceleration. Note that the Pace Projector has him on the lead, though we tend to doubt he will go to the front here.
People haven't generally been getting rich opposing Wise Dan, but he wasn't quite as dominant toward the end of last year, and there are a few in here with the upside to pull off the shocker.
Gentleman's Kitten: What would a graded turf stakes be these days without a son of Kitten's Joy? This one was rank and uncontrollable in his last race, but still ran pretty well. Now the probable pace-setter cuts back to a mile, and he'll look to take them all the way. He certainly is going in the right direction, but the modest late pace rating of 71 would seem to spell trouble here.
Reload: Has clearly found a home on the sod, posting back-to-back career tops, the most recent one taking place a healthy 48 days ago and also marking the first stakes win of his career. Still, those races won't get it done against this field, and he will need another rather large move forward. It's one thing to eke out a rail-skimming victory over Salto and Mr. Online, quite another to take down Wise Dan.
Lochte: Impressive effort in the Kilroe mile, shipping out west and running a bang-up second. Four-year-old keeps improving and has reached the 118 level. Will need yet another move forward to get the job done. While his improvement is remarkable, we think he may have reached the end of the line, at least temporarily.
Kaigun: Yet another lightly raced, improving four-year-old, coming off a career-best 107. He'll obviously need to up his game, but he's eligible. Note that he has shown versatility in recent starts, making strong runs from off the pace and then wiring an overmatched field in his most recent effort. Deserves consideration for those who look for live bombs.
Ever since Wise Dan turned into a turf monster, his imposing presence has spelled trouble for speed horses. We can't take a strong stand against him. So instead, we will try to hit the trifecta using as few combinations as possible. Za Approval has the rail, the back class, and the perfect tune-up, and is the most logical candidate to upset Wise Dan. Kaigun will be a massive price on the tote board. We will play him to sit back and make one big run at long odds, but we will leave it up to you whether to use him on top.
The Play: Trifecta Part Wheel: Wise Dan and Za Approval on top, with those two and Kaigun underneath. Mini exacta box: Za Approval, Gentleman's Kitten, and Kaigun.
The G1 Arkansas Derby
Oaklawn, Race 11
By Robert Finnegan
The announcement that Knock Em Flat will scratch leaves the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby with a field of eight three-year-old colts to run the 9 furlongs on dirt as the Road to the Derby makes another stop at Oaklawn Park.
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According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the Arkansas Derby will be run at a fast pace, and the leader at the opening half will be Ride On Curlin, with Bayern and Strong Mandate just behind, followed by Tapiture. However, the Ride On Curlin camp has made noises to the effect that Ride On Curlin will be rated early, which, if it actually happens, would leave Bayern and Strong Mandate to contest the early lead.
OK, in an act of Grade 1 insouciance, let's begin by tossing the two Todd Pletcher horses, Danza and Commissioner, on the gounds that they are not good enough to win this race. Then let's toss the two Mark Casse horses, Thundergram and Conquest Titan, for the same reason we are tossing the Pletcher horses.
That gets us down to four contenders (let's hope it's that easy when they run around the racetrack). Let's go in order of post position, with morning line odds in parentheses:
Tapiture (9-5): We thought he was rank in the early part of the Rebel, apparently displeased with the rating tactics being employed. In any event, he has put together a beautiful pattern of improving speed figures: 86 90 100 103 in his last four efforts. Has the speed to make his own trip. Always fires. Seemed willing to do whatever was necessary to break out of the box they had him in during the stretch run of the Rebel. Strong contender at a short price.
Ride On Curlin (12-1): Earned a speed figure of 107 as a two-year-old. Has not yet gotten back to it at age three, but after making allowances for his preposterously wide journey in the Southwest, one can argue that he has been improving in every start as a three-year-old. Got into a moderately paced battle with Strong Mandate in the Rebel and won that race within the race before losing the war to Hoppertunity and Tapiture. Has reportedly been training very well for the Arkansas Derby. His breeding suggests that the additional half-furlong will not prove his undoing. As mentioned, a change in running style may be coming today. Given the chance that he is coming into his own, his 12-1 morning line proves irresistible to us. Ride On Curlin is our selection.
Bayern (2-1): For whatever reason, Bob Baffert has put together an astounding record of success at Oaklawn (trainer rating of 100, the maximum, but if our scale allowed for 120, a 120 it would be), and Bayern, though relatively untested, certainly has the talent to add to it. He ran a 97 in his debut, in a 7F race at Santa Anita. Then he made his two-turn debut and ran a 104 while winning by a ridiculous margin. Then he lost some time. His Pedigree Rating for this race is a mediocre 62. He exits races that received race ratings of 93 and 90. The 2014 Arkansas Derby has a preliminary race rating of 102. Quite a jump in class. Will need to work out a trip but has the speed to do so. Also has Gary Stevens, who, much as we dislike praising riders, has been riding horses as intelligently as it is possible to do so. Strong contender at a short price.
Strong Mandate (9-2): To date he has failed to live up to his early promise, and here he draws outside the other early speed. But he has proven to be a consistent colt, and his trainer has proven over the decades that he can produce top efforts even in the utter absence of evidence that a top his coming. Be that as it may, we do not believe that his 9-2 morning line odds justify taking a shot on him turning things around today.
Win bet on Ride On Curlin.
Exacta boxes: Ride On Curlin with Tapiture and Ride On Curlin with Bayern.
Trifectas: Tapiture and Bayern with Tapiture, Bayern, and Strong Mandate with Ride On Curlin.
The G1 Blue Grass Stakes
Keeneland, Race 11
By Craig Milkowski
Grade 1 (G1) Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course is for
three-year-olds and will be run at one mile and one eighth on
polytrack. The race is worth 100 points towards a start in the Kentucky
Derby for the winner, 40 points for the runner-up, 20 points for third,
and 10 points for fourth. A field of 15 was entered but only 14 can
start. Divine Oath was designated as an also- eligible. The TimeformUS
Pace Projector predicts the race will feature a fast pace. That is not
really a surprise in a large field. Rarely do horses get easy leads in
races with this many runners.
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Spotlight Rating in the field belongs to Harry’s Holiday. He has earned
a TimeformUS speed figure of 102 in two of his last three races. Last
out, he tracked the leaders early through a fast pace, took the lead
with three furlongs to go, and was nipped in the last jump in the G3
Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, also over polytrack. He has faced brutal
paces his last two times out, and though that is possible again, he
should be a big factor in the outcome on Saturday.
ranks second in the Spotlight Ratings, just a point slower than Harry’s
Holiday. He finished third beaten a neck in the Spiral. He was
farther off the pace early and made a nice run to get near the front,
but just couldn’t finish. In seven career starts, Coastline has run
twice on polytrack and five times on dirt. His two fastest TimeformUS
speed figures have both come on the polytrack.
Kitten is the morning line favorite at 3-1 and checks in third in the
Spotlight Rating pecking order. His rating of 98 was earned on the turf
three races back in the G3 Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park. All six of
his lifetime starts have come on the lawn. His top TimeformUS speed
figure of 103 was earned in the G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, a race where
he set a fast pace before tiring late to finish a close third.
with Fate last ran nearly two months ago, in the G3 El Camino Real
Derby at Golden Gate Fields. He registered a 96 speed figure that day
when finishing second. It was his career-best. The biggest positive in
his corner is his late speed rating. He tops the field with an 81 in
that category, and does so as a midpack-type runner. If the predicted
fast pace does develop, he has enough speed to stay within striking
range and a good late kick to make things interesting late.
Kitten is a vulnerable favorite. He is trying a new surface, running a
half-furlong farther than he ever has in the past, and facing the very
real possibility of a fast and pressured pace on the front end.
Holiday is our top choice. He represents good value if near his 10-1
morning line, proved to be a very game sort in the Spiral, and should
save plenty of ground, since he drew the 4 post position in this big
4 Harry’s Holiday
8 Dance With Fate
5 Bobby’s Kitten
The G1 Jenny Wiley Stakes
Keeneland, Race 10
By Jason Perlmutter
Those lucky enough to be at Keeneland on Saturday will be treated to a smorgasbord of great races. One of them is the tenth race, the Jenny Wiley, deservedly granted the top designation of "One" on the graded stakes scale. Indeed, this is one loaded field.
Perusing this field, one can't help but chuckle in admiration at the prolific nature of the sire Kitten's Joy. From the rail out, the first three gals are all his progeny. #2 Stephanie's Kitten, the 5-2 morning line favorite, is the class of the field. The multiple G1 winner is coming off a 259-day layoff and making her first start for her new trainer, Chad Brown. While we have no choice but to respect her lethal late kick (113 Late Pace rating), we think she may be overplayed. Therefore, we can't key her. But we will certainly have her on our tickets and we recommend you do the same.
#8 Discreet Marq (6-1 ML) comes in off a more reasonable 132-day freshening. Trainer Christophe Clement has a 95 rating with this sort of time between starts. She is a talented performer who has been off the board only once in her 12 career turf starts, and that was a five and a half furlong sprint in which she was a fast-closing fourth. The Pace Projector puts her in a great spot near the front of the pack early, and she figures to get first run once #5 Class Included (a touch slow on our numbers) throws in the towel.
Discreet Marq will need to run right back to the 112 she posted in her most recent start, but she is a four-year-old coming in fresh, and it's the type of number that can win this race with the right trip.
If you believe in mermaids and unicorns, you probably believe the 8-1 morning line on the Irish-bred #6 Fitful Skies will hold up. She is the wildcard in this race. Other than in her career debut, the five-year-old mare has never run at a distance less than 10 furlongs. How will she take to 8.5 furlongs? In her most recent race, Fitful Skies showed great tenacity in wedging through a tight opening just outside the eighth pole, but what she didn't show is the type of rapid turn of foot that is usually necessary to win these middle distance US turf stakes. The short homestretch at Keeneland will also work against her. This is one we will use liberally underneath in exotics, based on our speculation that she will get bet down to 4-1 and won't reach the front until the gallop-out.
#1 Kitten's Point (5-1 ML) deserves serious consideration. She actually had a much better trip than the mare who defeated her by a nose in her last race (#10 Centre Court). But we like Kitten's Point better in this spot, as she should save ground from her inside post position and should benefit from the extra sixteenth of a mile. Kitten's Point has raced only eight times in her short career, but she is already at about the 110-level speed figure-wise. If anything were to give us pause, it's the rather dull workout she posted on April 4th, but we're going to take the optimistic view that it was just a maintenance work for a filly that is fit and ready to rumble.
The Wager: Exacta and Trifecta Part Wheels: #1 Kitten's Point and #8 Discreet Marq on top, and use those two underneath with #2 Stephanie's Kitten, #6 Fitful Skies, and #9 Hard Not to Like.
The G1 Madison Stakes
Keeneland, Race 9
By Alan Mann
In the Grade 1 Madison Stakes, at seven furlongs for older fillies and mares on the Polytrack, Eden Prairie (10-1) returns to the surface and distance over which she just failed to last in the G2 Raven Run last fall. Since that time, the four-year-old daughter of Mizzen Mast has been racing successfully, with steadily improving figures, on the grass at Fair Grounds.
Eden Prairie looks very much like a filly who figured out the game late in her three-year-old season and is flourishing at four. She will have to improve on her synthetic figures earned last year to compete with the best of her rivals here, but every indication is that she is fully capable of doing so. Pace Projector places her not too far behind a contested pace in a race favoring a horse on or near the early lead.
It is also worth noting that trainer Neil Pessin is repeating a successful pattern here. Note that her seven furlong synthetic win at Arlington came after a mile and a sixteenth turf race, also the case here. Her smashing workout--four furlongs in a ridiculous 45 3/5!--on April 6 certainly signals fitness and affinity for the surface. And a look back through our expanded workout tab shows that a half mile drill six days prior to the race has served her quite well in her prior seven furlong synthetic races.
At her 10-1 morning line, or something in that vicinity, we think that Eden Prairie represents excellent value in the Madison.
Byrama (6-1) finished a close second in this race last year, earning a figure of 101. She probably would have won if she did not run into traffic problems late in the stretch run. She has outstanding back figures on synthetic, numbers that are quite competitive here. Like the top pick, she precedes this with a turf race, the same strategy employed last year prior to her Madison effort. This time, the grass race comes off a layoff; and it was a sharp second, first time out for trainer Bill Mott, to a horse who came back to win her next start. This barn has a trainer rating of 95 for horses running second time under its care, and an 83 for those running second time off a layoff.
Better Lucky (3-1) has never run on synthetic, but she is a classy two-time Grade 1 winner on grass who has a pedigree rating of 88 for synthetic sprints and may appreciate the turn back to seven furlongs. Judy the Beauty (8-5) is three-for-three on this track and has never been out of the money in 14 starts, spanning all three surfaces. Her most recent race at Keeneland was a win last fall in the G2 Thoroughbred Club of America, for which she earned a speed figure of 114, which obviously makes her a top contender. That race was at her preferred distance of six furlongs, however, and she has just fallen short in her tries beyond that distance.
The play: Eden Prairie to win. Exotics with the others mentioned; with an eye on value, we'll put emphasis on Byrama.
The G2 Potrero Grande Stakes
Santa Anita, Race 8
By Robert Finnegan
The Grade 2 Potrero Grande has attracted a field of eight colts and geldings to go 6.5 furlongs on the dirt. Five of these horses (Zeewat, Midnight Transfer, Wild Dude, Big Macher, and Cyclometer) are coming out of the same race: the Grade 2 San Carlos run at Santa Anita a month ago. Mongolian Saturday ships to Santa Anita from Florida. The well-travelled Wine Police comes from New Mexico. And Crimson Giant, who is 1 for 50 lifetime, steps up from bottom-level allowance company for trainer Charles Stutts, who has always been partial to employing broken slingshots in his efforts to fell giants.
At the morning line odds, two horses interest us in this race: Wine Police and Midnight Transfer.
Wine Police went to the sidelines after running a strong 8th in the BC Sprint. In that race he stalked the hot pace, raced very wide around the turn, and remained in contention until mid-stretch, earning a strong speed figure of 113. And a look at the TimeformUS result chart for that race shows that the speed figures from it have held up very well.
Wine Police returned three weeks ago to run second in a minor stake at Sunland. This is a pattern we like, a pattern that the great Bobby Frankel raised to a high art: Classy horse returns from a layoff and loses against relatively easy company, and then steps up in class.
Now in the barn of aggressive trainer Peter Miller, who likes to go hunting, Wine Police will get a good trip stalking the pace, according to the TimeformUS Pace Projector. If he returns to his Breeders' Cup form today, he is going to be hard to handle. Wine Police is our selection.
Midnight Transfer finished sixth in the race common to five of these. However, that race was run over a surface that was favoring the inside paths, and Midnight Transfer received a very wide trip and still put together a strong run from the turn to the top of the stretch. He has strong back speed figures to aim at today, and he figures to be a price. Unfortunately, according to the Pace Projector, he figures to be well behind early in a race that favors horses on or near the early lead. For that reason, we feel obliged to temper our enthusiasm a bit.
Wine Police to win.
Wine Police and Midnight Transfer in exotics over and under Wild Dude and Big Macher.