By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Originally, three Road to
the Kentucky Derby qualifiers were slated to take place this Saturday. But the
postponement of Aqueduct's $250,000 Withers S. (G3) due to cold weather leaves
the $250,000 Holy Bull S. (G3) at Gulfstream Park and the $200,000 Robert B.
Lewis S. (G3) at Santa Anita as the highlights of the weekend action.
Let's check out both races:
Holy Bull S. (G3)
The 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull
has come up a little light this year; there isn't a single stakes winner in the
field. But that means a competitive race is shaping up.
Among the eight entrants, my
preference is for #4 Cyclone Mischief (2-1).
The son of four-time leading sire Into Mischief trounced a 1 1/16-mile maiden
special weight at Keeneland last fall and followed up with a game effort in the
Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Racing 1 1/16
miles at Churchill Downs, Cyclone Mischief pressed the pace and led into
midstretch before weakening late to finish seventh, beaten only 2 3/4 lengths
by next-out Lecomte S. (G3) winner Instant Coffee.
Cyclone Mischief bounced
back nicely in a $75,000 allowance optional claimer at Gulfstream Park last
month, employing pace-tracking tactics to smash his rivals by 5 3/4 lengths. This
Saturday, I envision Cyclone Mischief working a perfect trip stalking #6 Legacy Isle before taking command to
secure his first stakes win.
Speaking of Legacy Isle, he's
a logical choice for second place. He crossed the wire first in the one-mile
Mucho Macho Man S. at Gulfstream last month, only to be disqualified to second
place for interfering with the runner-up. Legacy Isle survived a hot pace in
the Mucho Macho Man and may escape with an easier lead in the Holy Bull,
opening the door for another sharp performance.
We can't ignore #8 Rocket Can (7-2) either. The Bill
Mott trainee struggled in his first two starts sprinting, but thrived when
stretching out over 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs, winning a maiden special
weight and finishing second in a $100,000 allowance optional claimer. The
winner of the latter race, Confidence Game, returned to finish third in the
1st: Cyclone Mischief
2nd: Legacy Isle
3rd: Rocket Can
Robert B. Lewis S. (G3)
They say there are no
certainties in horse racing, but we can say with 100% certainty that trainer
Bob Baffert will win the Robert B. Lewis for the fifth year in a row. The Hall
of Fame conditioner trains all four entrants in the 1 1/16-mile prize.
At first glance, it's
tempting to side with #2 Newgate,
who has run reasonably well in a steady string of high-profile graded stakes.
The Del Mar debut winner ran fourth in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) behind
multiple Grade 1 winner Cave Rock, fifth in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) behind
champion two-year-old male Forte, second in the Bob Hope S. (G3) behind three-time
graded stakes winner Havnameltdown, and second by a neck in the Sham S. (G3)
against stablemate Reincarnate.
But Newgate hasn't visited
the winner's circle in a while, and he failed to run down Reincarnate even
after receiving a favorable pace setup in the Sham. Since Newgate has shown a
tendency to settle for minor awards, I'm going to take a shot against him with #1 Arabian Lion.
Arabian Lion wired his debut
sprinting six furlongs at Santa Anita and subsequently ran a gallant race in a
$100,000 allowance optional claimer dashing seven furlongs at Keeneland.
Despite racing wider than the ground-saving winner Giant Mischief (subsequent
runner-up in the Remington Springboard Mile S.), Arabian Lion battled on gamely
to finish second by three-quarters of a length. The final time was quick, and
Arabian Lion pulled 17 1/2 lengths clear of the third-place finisher.
It's a little concerning
that Arabian Lion misfired in his stakes and route debut, finishing last of
five in the 1 1/16-mile Los Alamitos Futurity (G2). But that effort marked such
a sharp regression from Arabian Lion's previous form that I'm tempted to draw a
line through the effort and assume something went wrong. Arabian Lion has
trained strongly since then (most recently clocking a bullet five furlongs in
:58 4/5 at Santa Anita) and retains the services of Hall of Fame jockey John
Velazquez, so I'm optimistic Arabian Lion will bounce back with a big run on
runner-up in a fast 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Santa Anita last
month, is another logical contender. Yes, he's a maiden, but Worcester has
squared off against some capable rivals, including his graded stakes-placed
stablemates Hejazi and Faustin. As a son of Empire Maker, Worcester has the
pedigree to shine while stretching out around two turns.
1st: Arabian Lion
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in this week's Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifiers?
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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.