By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Our quest to pick 50%
winners in 2021 took a hit last week when our plays in three major Kentucky
Derby preps all fell to defeat. As a result, we enter the second weekend of
April with an 11-for-26 (42%) record—not bad, but not quite our goal.
Essentially, we need a
4-for-4 week to catch back up. A 100% strike rate across four races isn't easy
to produce (unless you dig for 1-10 favorites at small tracks), but we'll
nevertheless chase this lofty goal with a series of carefully-chosen spot plays
at Keeneland and Oaklawn Park.
Keeneland, Race 10: Jenny Wiley (G1)
Few performances impressed
me as much last year as the romping victory posted by #2 Tamahere (5-2) in the one-mile Sands Point (G2) at Belmont Park.
Making her U.S. debut for four-time champion trainer Chad Brown, Tamahere
settled back in seventh place early on, then unleashed a breathtaking rally to
swoop past her rivals and dominate by two lengths.
From a visual standpoint,
this was a spectacular effort. Tamahere crushed her opposition under hardly any
urging at all, and she finished legitimately fast on the clock, sprinting the third
quarter in :23.75 and the final quarter in :23.14.
misfired when finishing sixth in the Matriarch (G1) over a very firm turf
course at Del Mar, but she was only beaten 2 1/2 lengths against a deep field.
She's since been freshened and pointed specifically toward the Jenny Wiley, a
race Brown has won three times in a row and four times overall. With rain in
the forecast for Saturday at Keeneland, Tamahere should encounter a turf course
with some give to it, a benefit since Tamahere's final start in her native
France produced a 7 1/2-length romp over soft turf in the Prix la Sorellina
For all these reasons, I'm
expecting big things from Tamahere in the Jenny Wiley. If she's as talented as
I suspect she might be, I think she'll deliver an eye-catching performance.
Oaklawn Park, Race 4: Maiden Special Weight
Did you know Hall of Fame
trainer Bob Baffert went 3-for-3 saddling sophomores in maiden special weight
sprints at Oaklawn last year? One was a first-time starter, but the other two (future
graded stakes performers Ragtime Blues and Merneith) entered off runner-up efforts
on the California circuit, which is exactly the profile presented by Baffert's #8 Following Sea (2-1) in Saturday's
fourth race at Oaklawn.
A son of Runhappy out of a
Speightstown mare, Following Sea ran a solid race in his debut at Santa Anita
last month. Favored at 9-10, the Spendthrift Farm homebred advanced from fifth
place into hot fractions of :21.75 and :44.94, then battled on to cross the
wire second behind stablemate Defunded, who came back to finish fourth in the
Santa Anita Derby (G1).
This was a solid debut, and
one that stamps Following Sea as the horse to beat at Oaklawn. Ultra-hot jockey
Joel Rosario (a 57% winner when teaming up with Baffert over the last two
months) takes the mount, and Following Sea has drawn well in post eight,
setting the stage for a clean trip. I believe Following Sea will be difficult
(or impossible?) to defeat, so 2-1 would be a great price.
Oaklawn Park, Race 6: Carousel Stakes
Five-time stakes winner #4 Frank's Rockette (7-5) is certainly
more accomplished than #5 Edgeway
(9-5), who has yet to succeed at the stakes level. But although their
respective resumes suggest Frank's Rockette is the horse to beat in this
six-furlong sprint for fillies and mares, I suspect Edgeway may be the more
After all, Frank's Rockette
finished just a neck ahead of Edgeway when they ran 2-3 in the Purple Martin
Stakes at Oaklawn last year, and I would argue Edgeway has improved
significantly since then. After all, the daughter of capable sprinter/miler Competitive
Edge recently returned from a long layoff to post an impressive victory in a
six-furlong allowance race at Santa Anita. After tracking fast fractions of
:21.93 and :44.99, Edgeway confidently took command and pulled clear under a
hand ride to win by three lengths.
Frank's Rockette likewise
enters 2021 in promising form, having tracked a fast pace to win the
six-furlong American Beauty Stakes at Oaklawn in comfortable fashion. But Frank's
Rockette's is set to carry top weight of 124 pounds in the Carousel, conceding five
pounds to Edgeway. The latter has been training strongly for her second run of
the season and has the advantage of starting outside her key rival, so my money
is riding on Edgeway to secure her first stakes triumph.
Oaklawn Park, Race 9: Arkansas Derby (G1)
In this compact six-horse
field, I find it difficult to make a case against morning line favorite #5 Concert Tour (1-1). What's not to
like? He's versatile, capable of winning on the lead or while stalking the
pace. He's beaten tough competition, winning two graded stakes. He's proven at
Oaklawn, having crushed the Rebel (G2) by 4 1/4 lengths under a hand ride. He's
trained by Bob Baffert, who has won the Arkansas Derby three times since 2012.
And he's drawn perfectly in post position five, setting the stage for another
clean trip under hot jockey Joel Rosario.
In short, I expect Concert
Tour to post another sharp victory in the Arkansas Derby, and I won't play
against him. However, I will get a little creative with the horse I emphasize
Four of Concert Tour's five
Arkansas Derby rivals are exiting the Rebel: #3 Hozier (3-1), who rallied up the rail to finish second; #1 Super Stock (6-1), who came running
belatedly to gain fourth place; #2 Caddo
River (7-2), who faded to fifth after fighting his rider from a
pace-tracking position; and #4 Get Her
Number (6-1), who ran into trouble while finishing seventh.
Of the four, I prefer the
chances of Get Her Number, who defeated future stakes winners Rombauer and
Spielberg in the American Pharoah (G1) last fall. In my opinion, Get Her Number
ran a deceptively good race in the Rebel. Making his first start off a 5
1/2-month layoff, the Peter Miller trainee was rallying nicely around the far
turn and appeared capable of challenging for a top three-finish until things
went wrong at the top of the stretch. When Caddo River ducked outward and
bumped eventual third-place finish Big Lake, the latter also came out and knocked
Get Her Number badly off stride.
It was only after this
incident that Get Her Number faltered to finish seventh, so I'm inclined to
draw a line through his poor showing. With a clean trip in his second start of
the season, Get Her Number can outrun expectations and round out the Arkansas
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like 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.