Picks and Plays on Thanksgiving Weekend

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! On this busy weekend of racing—arguably the last really big weekend of the year—there's graded stakes action from coast to coast and lots of high-class action to analyze.

But since we're already happily trekking down to the Road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby, I'll limit my focus this week to the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 1, both of which should offer a lot of appealing options for bettors. Let's dig in!

Will Blue Steel Upset the Kentucky Jockey Club?

While I wish that I could pound my fist on the table and declare with complete confidence that one horse is absolutely going to win Saturday's Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs, I'm afraid my real feelings about the race are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Indeed, perhaps it would be better if I hid under the table and reluctantly offered up an opinion (and only an opinion!) on a colt who might, maybe outrun his odds.

In this wide-open "Road to the Kentucky Derby" prep race that attracted a full field of fourteen plus two also-eligibles, I'm tempted to play against the expected favorites #13 Knicks Go and #1 Signalman. They're clearly the established class of the field by virtue of finishing first and second in the Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) and second and third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), but in my mind that doesn't necessarily stamp them as "can't lose" propositions in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. After all, they're coming back just three weeks after the Juvenile—a tough race against a large field—and their post position draws on Saturday are less than ideal.

Instead, I'm drawn to the chances of #6 Blue Steel, who hails from the barn of Dale Romans, the all-time leading trainer at Churchill Downs. Blue Steel brought a promising reputation to his debut on September 15th at Churchill Downs, starting as the 2.20-1 favorite, and while he disappointed on the day—fading to finish eighth of twelve—he didn't remain a maiden for long. Quite to the contrary, on October 28th he contested a seven-furlong maiden race at Churchill and crushed nine rivals in an eye-catching performance, setting a quick pace before pulling away to win by five lengths.

As a son of Will Take Charge out of a Candy Ride mare, Blue Steel is bred to improve while running longer distances, and as a January foal he has a slight maturity advantage over the majority of his Kentucky Jockey Club rivals, which could give him a subtle edge on Saturday. Drawing post position six should afford him plenty of options to work out a good trip either setting or stalking the pace, and best of all, Blue Steel should offer a decent price in the wagering. I'll take a chance with him to upset Knicks Go and Signalman.

My second-best longshot play? Well, how about #9 Current, who has kept good company on turf while winning the Bourbon Stakes (gr. III) and finishing a solid seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I). The Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes will mark his dirt debut, but as a son of Curlin, the surface switch shouldn't be a major issue. Like Blue Steel, Current could offer a bit of value in the wagering, and how often can you get a nice price on a graded stakes-winning two-year-old racing for the team of trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Javier Castellano?

A "Roadster" for the "Road" to the Derby?

Granted, November is probably too early to be betting on the outcome of the 2019 Kentucky Derby... but since the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 1 kicks off today, and since it's fun to have an early wager on a Derby contender even if it probably won't pay off (or even offer particularly good value), I've gone over the field looking for a longshot and have picked out the one colt that I plan to bet.

Let me put it this way—if you're going to embark on the "road" to the Kentucky Derby, you're going to need a fast horse, and based strictly on name you probably can't go wrong with #18 Roadster, who certainly sounds like a fast horse. And fortunately, his racing credentials extend beyond just his name!

Trainer Bob Baffert pegged Roadster as one of his best two-year-olds early in the summer, and the son of Quality Road delivered on those lofty expectations with an eye-catching debut victory at Del Mar. Yes, his 4 ¼-length margin of victory was impressive, as were his Beyer and BRIS speed figures. But what I loved about Roadster's performance was the visual impression he made—he relaxed nicely early on while breaking from post one, then rallied smoothly into contention on the turn and pulled away with authority in the homestretch.

Roadster was a bit disappointing in his next start, which is saying something since "disappointing" for Roadster was a third-place finish in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I), beaten just two lengths by the future Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner and early Kentucky Derby favorite Game Winner. After the race, Roadster had surgery to correct a minor breathing issue and was given time off, but he's expected to gear back up soon for the winter prep season, and if he comes back as good or better than when he left off—and I see no reason why he won't—his 30-1 morning line odds in the Kentucky Derby future wager pool could start to look very attractive indeed.

Now it's your turn! Which horses are you planning to bet this weekend?


Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!


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.

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