By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
Last Saturday, racing fans were treated to a spectacular day of racing that included ten grade I races at Belmont and Santa Anita. This Saturday, the action continues with six more grade I races at Keeneland, Belmont, and Santa Anita, including the $1,000,000 Shadwell Turf Mile, in which two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan will take on seven rivals in his final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. So without further ado, let’s start handicapping!
First Lady Stakes (gr. I)
Better Lucky won this race last year over a boggy turf course, and while she has done the majority of her racing this year on dirt and Polytrack, she should have little trouble transferring her good form back to the surface over which her biggest accomplishments have come. Dayatthespa, runner-up in last year’s First Lady, won the Yaddo Stakes at Saratoga in August and should provide Better Lucky a stiff challenge, but the filly I like best is Kitten’s Point, who showcased tremendous acceleration when beaten a nose in the Honey Fox Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream in March. She hasn’t run since finishing a close seventh in the Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland in April, but ran well off a long layoff earlier this year and has trained well for her return. And of course, she’s a daughter of the leading turf sire Kitten’s Joy—and during the last two years, that has been a major positive in its own right!
Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I)
Four of the twelve horses entered in this race made their last starts in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs, including Hashtag Bourbon, who finished third with a troubled trip after winning the Mountaineer Juvenile Stakes one start prior. But while Hashtag Bourbon’s trouble was eye-catching as he remained caught in traffic on the turn and well into the homestretch, I didn’t like the way he failed to rally when finally in the clear, and I’m not sure that he's as good around two turns as he is around one.
The colt I like is Bold Conquest, who was beaten a head in the Iroquois after racing very wide and putting in a strong run on the final turn. As a son of Curlin out of a Distorted Humor mare, he should have no trouble with the distance of the Breeders' Futurity, and having drawn post six, he shouldn’t get caught as wide this time around. I’ll take him to win over Carpe Diem, a Todd Pletcher-trained son of Giant’s Causeway that "seized the day" to win his debut by 2 ½ lengths sprinting 5 ½ furlongs at Saratoga.
Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. I)
Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan will be facing quite a challenge in his second start since coming back from colic surgery. The seven-year-old gelding has won all three of his starts this year, but by the combined margin of less than a length, and the three horses that have finished closest to him in each race—Kaigun, Seek Again, and Optimizer—are back to challenge Wise Dan again. Also in the race is Silver Max, who beat Wise Dan in this race last year when heavy rains led to the race being taken off the grass.
Given the narrow margins by which Wise Dan has won his three starts this year, it’s tempting to try and beat him in the Shadwell Turf Mile. But Wise Dan has been training very well for this race, with a pair of bullet workouts since winning the Bernard Baruch, and should be able to work out an ideal outside stalking trip from post six. I expect him to run much better on Saturday than he did at Saratoga, and while he may not win by a lot, I do believe he’ll win.
Frizette Stakes (gr. I)
Condo Commando could not have been much more impressive romping to a 13 ¼-length victory in the Spinaway Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, but the sloppy conditions may have contributed to her romp, and her final furlong in :13.99 seconds does not inspire confidence in her ability to stretch out another furlong. Since she’s the 2-1 favorite on the morning line, I’ll take a shot with Wonder Gal, who encountered some significant traffic in the Adirondack Stakes (gr. II) when finishing third behind Cavorting (who is also in the Frizette) and Angela Renee (who came back to win the grade I Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita.) Her pedigree suggests that a one-turn mile is within her capabilities, and she should offer good odds as a 6-1 shot on the morning line. I would also give Ring Knocker a look off two good runner-up efforts in maiden special weight company. The addition of Lasix and a good post draw should help her chances.
Champagne Stakes (gr. I)
On paper, this race looks like a battle between Daredevil and El Kabeir, who broke their maidens by 6 ¼ and 10 ¾ lengths, respectively, at Belmont and Saratoga. Of the pair, I prefer El Kabeir, who won over seven furlongs with a stronger Beyer speed figure, but I believe that I Spent It can beat them both. The colt broke his maiden in July sprinting five furlongs at Belmont, then romped by 2 ¾ lengths in the Saratoga Special Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga. In his most recent start, the seven-furlong Hopeful Stakes (gr. I), I Spent It found himself in a three-horse battle for the lead through a blazing :44.81 half-mile fraction. This was a much different kind of trip than I Spent It had experienced in his first two starts, and under the circumstances, I thought he ran well to finish a distant second behind Competitive Edge. A return to pace-stalking tactics should see I Spent It rebound with a sharper performance, and he definitely offers value as a 6-1 shot on the morning line.
Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes (gr. I)
The remarkable Secret Circle, winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) and first or second in all ten of his career starts, returns to the races for the first time since February and looks primed for a big effort. He’s been training very impressively for this race, most recently breezing five furlongs in a bullet :59 flat at Santa Anita, and ran very well off a long layoff in an allowance race last October. He should give a good account of himself on Saturday, but I’ll side with Goldencents for the top spot. The reigning Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) winner was as impressive as could be winning the seven-furlong Pat O’Brien Stakes (gr. II) at Del Mar in track-record time, and while six furlongs may not be his best distance, he should be able to work out a good trip stalking the speedy Ankeny Hill.
Who do you like this weekend?