By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
A dozen graded stakes are
slated to take place across the country this week, including five important races
at Santa Anita.
The historic Santa Anita
Handicap (G1) is the star of the show, but from a handicapping perspective, I'm
more interested in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1). And from a purely sporting
perspective, you can't beat the San Felipe (G2), which has drawn a deep field
of Kentucky Derby contenders.
We'll make the San Felipe
and the Kilroe Mile the focus of our attention this week:
San Felipe (G2)
This 1 1/16-mile event is
arguably the toughest Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race held so far in 2021.
Five of the seven runners are listed in Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 4, a
testament to the talent they've already displayed this winter.
Handicapping the San Felipe
essentially boils down to one simple question—is #1 Life Is Good (4-5) a superstar in the making? The flashy son of
Into Mischief has gone 2-for-2 for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, wiring a
maiden race at Del Mar before leading all the way to win Santa Anita's one-mile
Sham (G3) by three-quarters of a length.
Some folks have taken a
negative view of Life Is Good's Sham performance. After leading by daylight for
most of the journey, Life Is Good seemed to weaken through the final furlong as
stablemate #3 Medina Spirit (7-2) unleashed
a determined rally to make the finish surprisingly close. Life Is Good isn't
the most relaxed racehorse in training, so it's fair to question whether he can
stretch his speed over 1 1/16 miles against a tough field in the San Felipe.
However, I'm inclined to
take a more optimistic view of Life Is Good's Sham performance. Jockey Mike
Smith didn't ride the son of Into Mischief particularly hard down the stretch, later
telling Santa Anita that Life Is Good was unfocused in his two-turn debut and
not really giving his best. Smith simply encouraged Life Is Good enough to get
the job done, and the colt figures to benefit from the experience and race more
professionally in the San Felipe. In any case, he's been training up a storm in
preparation for his return from a two-month break, and drawing the rail sets
the stage for a straightforward pacesetting journey.
I'll be the first to admit
4-5 is a short price to accept on Life Is Good, but I also believe he might be a
truly special racehorse. I'll pick him on top and hope he contributes to my
goal of picking 50% winners on Unlocking Winners in 2021.
For second place, I'll use
Medina Spirit, who ran an extraordinarily gutsy race to win the 1 1/16-mile
Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita five weeks ago. The son of Protonico had
every reason to quit after carving out fast fractions over a slow track, but
Medina Spirit refused to yield in the homestretch, holding off a pair of late
runners to prevail by a neck. I expect Medina Spirit to revert to tracking
tactics in the San Felipe, setting the stage for a more relaxed trip and
another strong peformance.
Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1)
The local runners look
formidable in this one-mile turf test, with multiple graded stakes winner #1 Smooth Like Strait (4-1) and Thunder
Road (G3) winner #2 Hit the Road (4-1)
looming as obvious contenders for victory. But I'll be surprised if the East
Coast shipper #9 Ride a Comet (7-2)
fails to get the job done for Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse.
A flashy winner of the 2018
Del Mar Derby (G2), Ride a Comet has been an unstoppable beast since returning
from a 25-month layoff in October, producing powerful rallies to win three straight
races. He was particularly impressive in the one-mile Tropical Turf (G3) at
Gulfstream last time out. The early pace was modest, and Ride a Comet was hung
wide throughout while chasing graded stakes winners Casa Creed and Lucullan.
This should have been a
recipe for defeat, but apparently no one told this to Ride a Comet. Unleashing
a relentless late charge, Ride a Comet dashed the final two furlongs in :11.23
and :11.17 (sensational times!) to beat Case Creed by half a length.
If early speed is dominant
on dirt, then turn-of-foot is the secret weapon for success on turf. Ride a
Comet's wicked acceleration is a perfect fit for high-class grass miles, and I don't
think anyone will out-kick the son of Candy Ride down the homestretch of the Kilroe
Mile. At 7-2, he's my best bet of the weekend.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the graded stakes this week?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.