By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
There's no shortage of high-class racing action scheduled
across the world this weekend. There's the Investec Derby (Eng-I) in England,
the Yasuda Kinen (Jpn-I) in Japan, plus 35 assorted stakes races throughout
North America... we won't run out of entertaining races to watch and wager on!
Let's take a look at two races this week, starting with
the Penn Mile Stakes (gr. II) at Penn National.
Mile Stakes (gr. II)
Nine accomplished three-year-olds have been entered in
this one-mile turf test, including five stakes winners and two runners that
have placed at the stakes level. Yet despite the quality of the field, in my
opinion one horse stands out as the most likely winner, and that horse is Forty Under.
Trained by Jeremiah Englehart, Forty Under showed a lot
of promise as a two-year-old, winning his turf debut at Saratoga with a
pace-pressing trip before rallying from mid-pack to score a determined victory
against a quality field in the Pilgrim Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont Park. The
runner-up was the future graded stakes winner Somelikeithotbrown.
Forty Under was subsequently beaten in the Breeders' Cup
Juvenile Turf (gr. I), but he didn't run badly by any means, pressing the pace before
weakening only slightly down the lane to finish sixth by 4 ¼ lengths. He
actually finished less than a length behind the future Preakness Stakes (gr. I)
winner War of Will.
After taking a couple of months off, Forty Under returned
to serious training in January and breezed steadily leading up to the April 20th
Woodhaven Stakes going 1 1/16 miles at Aqueduct. At first glance, Forty Under's
runner-up effort appears uninspiring—he was beaten four lengths—but the pace of
the race tell a different story. Over a yielding turf course, the front-running
Clint Maroon was able to secure an uncontested lead through very slow fractions
of :25.69, :51.17, and 1:15.98. Just as Forty Under was trying to rally from
off the pace, Clint Maroon accelerated the final five-sixteenths of a mile in
:29.81 seconds, a move Forty Under simply couldn't match, though give Forty Under
credit for leaving the pace-tracking Empire of War 5 ¾ lengths behind in third
So extreme was the slow early/fast late race shape that
RacingFlow.com assigned the Woodhaven a Closer Favorability Ratio (CFR) of 1 on
their 1-to-100 scale, ranking the Woodhaven among the top 1% of speed-favoring
Forty Under almost can't help but get a better setup in
the Penn Mile, especially with A
Thread of Blue, Real News,
and even Empire of War expected
to vie for the early lead. An honest pace might be all Forty Under needs to
rebound, and if you also figure he'll take a step forward in his second start
of the season, his 7-2 morning line odds start to look quite enticing. He'll be
my pick to win on Saturday.
You'll be in for a treat if you can convince yourself to
wake up at 2:40 a.m. EDT on the morning of June 2nd. That's when the
Yasuda Kinen (Jpn-I) will be run at Tokyo Racecourse in Japan, with super filly
Almond Eye looming as the favorite
in a large field.
Almond Eye has been nothing less than sensational dating
back to her maiden victory in October 2017. The daughter of Lord Kanaloa has
won seven straight races and five straight Group 1 events, sweeping the Japan
Filly Triple Crown before dominating the 2,400-meter Japan Cup (Jpn-I) in the
world-record time of 2:20.60. In her 2019 debut, she traveled to Dubai for the
1,800-meter Dubai Turf (UAE-I) and unleashed a sweeping rally from off the pace
to win in decisive fashion.
As a big fan of Almond Eye, I'll be rooting for her
continued success in the Yasuda Kinen. But could she possibly be vulnerable to
an upset? Although Almond Eye is 3-for-3 over the 1,600-meter distance of the
Yasuda Kinen, she's been most impressive running longer distances and hasn't
contested a race this short since winning the Oka Sho (Jpn-I) in April 2018.
There were also some concerns about Almond Eye's
condition following the Dubai Turf; apparently, the trip took enough out of Almond
Eye that her connections scrapped plans to contest the Prix de l'Arc de
Triomphe (Fr-I) in France this fall.
Almond Eye's abundant talent might still be enough to get
the job done in the Yasuda Kinen, but in Danon
Premium, she'll be facing a formidable challenger. The son of Deep Impact
is 6-for-7, with his lone defeat coming in the 2018 Tokyo Yushun (Japan Derby,
Jpn-I) after he missed his prep run with a bruised hoof.
Like Almond Eye, Danon Premium is 3-for-3 going 1,600
meters, and on April 21st he had little difficulty prevailing in the
Milers Cup (Jpn-II) at Kyoto, tracking the pace before accelerating through the
final 600 meters in :32.20 (and the final 400 meters in :21.40) to prevail by 1
That's not the first time Danon Premium has shown a strong
turn-of-foot—as a two-year-old, he won the 1,600 meter Asahi Hai Futurity
(Jpn-I) by 3 ½ lengths over the future Group 1 winner Stelvio while sprinting
the final 600 meters in :33.60. With his early speed, Danon Premium might
secure a tactical advantage over Almond Eye during the early stages of the Yasuda
Kinen and get the jump on the super filly turning for home. From there, we
should be in for a thrilling finish.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the major races
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.