Grade 1 Plays for Keeneland's Opening Week

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

Four weeks out from the Nov. 5-6 Breeders' Cup at Del Mar, an impressive array of important qualifiers will take place during opening week of the Keeneland fall meet.

No fewer than 10 graded stakes are on the agenda, with nine serving as "Win and You're In" qualifiers to the Breeders' Cup. In anticipation of this action-packed slate, let's handicap three of the week's most prestigious and competitive events:

Alcibiades S. (G1)

A dozen juvenile fillies are slated to race 1 1/16 miles in the Alcibiades, but two appear to rank a cut above the others. #1 Juju's Map (5-2) was breathtaking in a one-mile maiden special weight at Ellis Park last month, leading all the way to effortlessly prevail by 5 3/4 lengths. Meanwhile, #10 Penny Saver (4-1) was a force to reckon with in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight at Churchill Downs two weeks ago, carving out the pace before drawing off to win by 9 1/2 lengths.

A bettor could side with either Juju's Map or Penny Saver and feel just fine about their chances, but I'll place my faith in Penny Saver. The daughter of Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Super Saver is conditioned by hot trainer Kenny McPeek, who has won the Alcibiades five times overall and twice since 2018. Drawing an outside post affords Penny Saver more options for working out a favorable trip than Juju's Map, who may have to commit to the lead while breaking from the rail. Throw in the fact Penny Saver is the higher price on the morning line, and I believe she's an appealing play.

Breeders' Futurity (G1)

If McPeek nabs the Alcibiades with Penny Saver, he'll have a chance to secure a Grade 1 juvenile double courtesy of #6 Rattle N Roll (6-1), who appears poised to outrun expectations in the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Futurity.

Rattle N Roll made a great impression in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight at Churchill Downs last month. The son of Connect wasn't the quickest into stride and found himself racing behind the leaders through slow early fractions of :24.56, :49.38, and 1:14.63. But once Rattle N Roll got going—wow! He rocketed the final five-sixteenths of a mile in a rapid :30.20 to roll past the leaders and win by three lengths.

The slow early pace contributed to a modest final time of 1:44.83, which produced unremarkable Beyer and Brisnet speed figures. But Rattle N Roll did earn an encouraging 103 Brisnet Late Pace rating, so if he gets more pace to work with in the Breeders' Futurity, I'm expecting a big effort. I believe Rattle N Roll has a lot of upside for improvement, stamping the chestnut colt as an appealing win play.

#9 Great Escape (8-1), #13 Classic Causeway (5-1), and even the maiden #8 King Curlin (30-1) are among the runners I'll strong consider for exotic wagers.

Keeneland Turf Mile (G1)

Remember when #10 Order of Australia (7-2) sprung a 73-1 upset in the 2020 Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) at Keeneland? It may have seemed like a fluke at the time, but the Aidan O'Brien trainee has since come back to prove he's a genuine top-level miler.

Not that Order of Australia has been a winning machine since his massive Breeders' Cup upset. To the contrary, he's won only one of his six subsequent starts, claiming the seven-furlong Minstrel S. (G2) in Ireland.

But a couple of recent runs in France stamp Order of Australia as the runner to beat in the Keeneland Turf Mile. First, he finished third in the Prix Jacques le Marois (G1) at Deauville, beaten only two lengths by elite miler Palace Pier and British classic winner Poetic Flare. Then Order of Australia traveled to ParisLongchamp and ran second in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp (G1), beaten only 1 1/4 lengths.

Aidan O'Brien has been hot with North American shippers this season, winning at a 43% rate, and Order of Australia will be ridden at Keeneland by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. If the son of Australia brings his A-game, he can out-kick #4 Space Traveller (6-1), #6 Ivar (5-1), and #11 Diamond Oops (15-1) in the race to the winner's circle.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like during opening week at Keeneland?


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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.

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