By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
There’s something for everyone in the world of racing this weekend. If you’re a fan of the older horse division—with its aging, but still incredibly talented cast of characters—you won’t want to miss Game On Dude against Clubhouse Ride, Long River, Moreno, and others in the Charles Town Classic (gr. II) at . If you’re looking for some three-year-olds to tide you over until the Derby, be sure to check out the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland and the Illinois Derby (gr. II) at Hawthorne, both of which have drawn intriguing fields of talented young horses. And if you enjoyed the exploits of last year’s stellar three-year-old fillies, you’ll be glad to know that Beholder is back in action on Sunday in the Santa Lucia Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
I’ll be discussing these races and many others, as well as recent Kentucky Derby developments, in the comments section of this post. I hope you’ll join me! But for the moment, let’s take a quick look at the Lexington and the Charles Town Classic…
Charles Town Classic (gr. II)
After years of lamenting the fact that the stars of horse racing retire much too soon, it has been a breath of fresh air for me to see Game On Dude compete with such success year after year. His victory in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) last month—his third overall in that historic race—marked the fifth consecutive season in which he has won a graded stakes, and the fourth consecutive in which he has won a grade I.
On paper, Game On Dude towers over his six rivals in the Charles Town Classic, a race he won last year by a half-length over Clubhouse Ride. It wasn’t Game On Dude’s most impressive victory by any means, but it’s important to remember that Game On Dude wore glue-on shoes without toe grabs last year, and had some difficulty handling the track. This year, he will be equipped with his regular shoes, and that should help him run his "A+" race on Saturday instead of his "B+" race.
If there’s one chink in Game On Dude’s armor, it’s the presence of Moreno, Ruler of Love, and Lucy’s Bob Boy, a trio of speedy contenders that could possibly engage Game On Dude in a battle for the early lead. If the pace were to get too hot, it could set things up for Long River, who ran a strong race when second by a neck in the Excelsior Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct last month. Clubhouse Ride also warrants a close look, for even though he hasn’t been in the best of form this year, he does have proven form at Charles Town, which is an important asset given the three-turn configuration of the race.
Selection: Game On Dude
Lexington Stakes (gr. III)
Given that the Lexington is the last of the official Kentucky Derby prep races, it’s a bit disappointing to see it fail to draw any of the serious Kentucky Derby contenders. But even though it probably won’t have an impact on the Derby, the Lexington has still drawn a deep field of eleven three-year-old colts, and the race looks perfect for those who embrace a good handicapping challenge.
In my last two Unlocking Winners blog posts, I selected the talented turf horses Testa Rossi and Bobby’s Kitten to win the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) and Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), respectively, and subsequently watched them fail to handle Keeneland’s Polytrack and finish well behind horses with proven affinity for synthetic tracks. With that in mind, I have decided to pick Supermonic to win the Lexington Stakes. The Todd Pletcher-trainee lost his first three starts, but has since won two straight, including an 8.5-furlong allowance race over the Keeneland Polytrack on April 13th. In that race, he set slow fractions of :49.26 and 1:14.54, but followed that up with a final five-sixteenths in :30.07, which enabled him to draw clear and score by 7 ½ lengths. The short turnaround is a valid concern, but don’t forget that Pletcher brought Winning Cause back on two weeks of rest to win the 2013 Lexington, so I’m not too worried.
Solitary Ranger and Poker Player both ran poorly last time out when ninth and tenth, respectively, in the Spiral Stakes (gr. III) at Turfway Park, but both colts are graded stakes winners on Polytrack and could rebound sharply on Saturday. I will also have my eye on Ami’s Holiday, winner of the Grey Stakes (gr. III) at Woodbine last October. The Lexington will mark his seasonal debut, so he may not be 100% fit, but a victory would place him 21st on the Kentucky Derby points list—possibly enough to get him into the field.
Who do you like this weekend?