J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
ready for a fantastic weekend of competitive racing? The lineup of stakes races
scheduled for this Saturday is impressive, making it difficult to choose a
single race to handicap. Therefore, we'll turn our attention to a trio of races
this weekend that I believe offer the possibility for mild upset winners. Let's
Lyphard Stakes at Penn National
there are plenty of horses to consider in this 8.5-furlong turf race for
fillies and mares, I have to side with Pink
Elephant if she goes off at anywhere near her 10-1 morning line odds. A
six-year-old mare with 21 starts under her belt, Pink Elephant is 2-for-15 at
all tracks except the Penn National turf course, where she is 3-for-6. That
record might be even better if Pink Elephant hadn't clipped heels and lost her
rider while making a move in last year's Lyphard Stakes.
taking time off during the winter, Pink Elephant returned to action in the
one-mile Dahlia Stakes on April 22nd at Laurel Park. Reserved near
the back of the pack, Pink Elephant had little chance to win after the leaders
carved out slow fractions and finished in a quick :23.59 over a yielding turf
course, so Pink Elephant deserves a lot of credit for gaining three lengths in
the final quarter-mile to finish fourth, beaten just two lengths. Another filly
that was compromised by the fast finishing fractions-third-place finisher
Cambodia-came right back to win the Gallorette Stakes (gr. III) at Pimlico.
return to the Penn National turf course should help Pink Elephant's chances,
and a slightly better setup while dropping in class might be all she needs to
prevail at a solid price.
Mountainview Stakes at Penn National
small but talented field of six older males will line up to contest this
nine-furlong race on the Penn National main track, with the morning line
favorite being the veteran seven-year-old gelding Page McKenney. In 27 starts on dirt, Page McKenney has finished in
the exacta 21 times and has missed the trifecta just three times-in other
words, he's a picture of consistency.
said, while Page McKenney is 2-for-3 this year (with a track bias contributing
to his one defeat), his speed figures have been lower since his return from a
tendon injury suffered last year, and at 9-5 on the morning line, I think he
will be an underlay compared to his chances of winning.
I'm tempted to take a shot with Matt
King Coal. This lightly-raced four-year old colt showed promise early in
his career, but was sidelined following a fourth-place finish in the Wood
Memorial (gr. I) and didn't get a chance to compete in the major stakes races
of the spring and summer. However, he's come back strong in 2017, winning two
straight races at Laurel Park (including the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial
Stakes) before finishing second by a neck in the Charles Town Classic (gr. II).
In the latter race, contested over a sloppy, sealed track that was very tiring,
Matt King Coal was the only horse that raced anywhere near the early lead to be
involved at the finish, as fellow pacesetters Stanford and Cautious Giant faded
to finish well back.
can make a case that nine furlongs is a bit beyond Matt King Coal's best
distance, but I do believe his Charles Town Classic effort was even better than
it appears. Also, while he's run well on wet tracks, it's worth noting that he's
0-for-4 on sealed tracks and 4-for-4 on tracks rated good or better. If the
track comes up fast on Saturday, I believe Matt King Coal will be the horse to
Pennine Ridge Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont
obvious choice in this nine-furlong turf race for three-year-olds is Good Samaritan. Trained by Bill Mott,
the son of Harlan's Holiday won the Summer Stakes (gr. II) at Woodbine last
year and finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I) while
enduring a troubled trip. Following a six-month layoff, Good Samaritan returned
to action in the American Turf Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs, where he
finished second by a length after rallying very wide from off the pace over a
course labeled "good," which he might not have relished as much as firm turf.
while Good Samaritan might be the most likely winner, I wouldn't overlook the
chances of Oscar Performance. The
son of Kitten's Joy rattled off three straight wins in impressive fashion last
year, including a victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (where he finished
1 ½ lengths in front of Good Samaritan), but he hasn't been as sharp in two
starts this year. In his seasonal debut, he ran fifth in the Transylvania
Stakes (gr. III) after a slow start left him off the pace and racing
uncomfortably inside of horses; under the circumstances, his three-length defeat
wasn't bad, but he followed that effort with a last-place finish in the
American Turf Stakes, beaten 15 lengths after setting the early pace.
not sure why Oscar Performance failed to fire in the American Turf, but it's
clear that he ran well below his best form that day. The American Turf marked
his first race on Lasix, but he'll race without that medication in the Pennine
Ridge. Perhaps Oscar Performance simply peaked as a two-year-old and won't
rebound to his best form, but generally speaking the progeny of Kitten's Joy
get better with age, and it might be premature to write off Oscar Performance
so early in the season. He's 4-1 on the morning line, but I wouldn't be
surprised if he goes off at a bit higher. If he does, I think he's worth a
it's your turn! Who do you like in the stakes races this weekend?
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.