Keeneland Opening Weekend has finally come! One of the premier racing venues, the opening of the Keeneland fall season means that the Breeders Cup is almost here. Also, Belmont Park will be holding a stakes heavy card on Saturday, headlined by the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup. To help you through this weekend’s big races, I have looked at both cards and made selections in each of the stakes races for Friday and Saturday.
Keeneland – October 2nd, 2015
Phoenix Stakes (GIII):
-The first stakes race of the Keeneland fall meet could very well be a Breeders Cup Sprint preview. Runhappy and Work All Week square off, just on opposite sides of the gate. Runhappy drew the rail while Work All Week drew the far outside post. In between these two monster sprinters are Holy Boss and Fast Anna. Holy Boss has been one of the top sprinters in the nation this year while Fast Anna was very impressive last year, but seemed to have lost a step this year. Work All Week won this race last year, en-route to his Breeders Cup Sprint win. He comes here on a win at Moutaineer. However, the youngster Runhappy was a monster in the King’s Bishop and is on a three race win streak (albeit 2 of those in Allowance Optional Claiming races). Going to be tough to get past Runhappy, but Work All Week loves Keeneland and will be the best this day.
W- Work All Week
Alcibiades Stakes (GI):
-A strong field of 2yo fillies try to make their case before the Breeders Cup. Headlining the field is Pocahontas winner Dothraki Queen for Ken McPeek. She will be challenged by the Doug O’Neill shipper Gomo and Adirondack winner Just Wicked. While Dothraki Queen could be giant here, I go for the upset in Lookout Sister. After finishing 5th in the Adirondack, she won the Small Wonder Stakes at Delaware Park going away with a wide trip. I think that she will love this track and will be ready to upset here.
W- Lookout Sister
S- Decked Out
Keeneland – October 3rd, 2015
Woodford Stakes (GIII):
-Undrafted makes his return to the sprinting distance after testing out a mile at Kentucky Downs in this race on Saturday. The Diamond Jubilee winner is hoping to put away this field in preparation for the Breeders Cup Turf Sprint. But there are a few challengers to Undrafted here, like Holy Lute, Havelock, Something Extra, and Shore Runner. Undrafted won’t have the easiest time here, but he is probably the best turf sprinter in the nation and one of the best in the world. Can’t see him losing here.
P- Holy Lute
S- Shore Runner
Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (GII):
-Defending Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Sprint champion Judy the Beauty steps up to a challenge in trying to win her second Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes. Leigh Court won this race last year and is coming off two second place efforts. Being Judy the Beauty would go a long way. Sweet Whiskey has just started up in the FM Sprint division but wants to show that she belongs. My upset horse in this race is Fioretti. She won the Roxelana Stakes at Churchill Downs this past June. She has been working well leading up to this race and I see a good horse in her. She may like this spot.
W- Judy the Beauty
P- Leigh Court
First Lady Stakes (GI):
-One of the most impressive fillies this year has to be Tepin, winner of the Churchill Downs Turf Mile and the Just a Game Stakes. She finished a close second in the Diana and Ballston Spa at Saratoga this past summer. Although she faces an international field here, with two Aidan O’Brien shippers in Easter and Outstanding (who likes the firm ground in the US a lot better than the ground in Europe), Tepin is one of the best fillies in the US and is making her case for Female Turf Horse of the Year. She should win here, but watch out for She’s Not Here; Mike Smith doesn’t ship often, but when he does, he ships to win. Dangerous here.
S- She’s Not Here
Breeders’ Futurity Stakes (GI):
-The two year old boys arrive for the Breeders’ Futurity. Todd Pletcher sends in his son of Uncle Mo, Uncle Vinny. He finished a well beaten 6th in the Tremont to Iroquois winner Cocked and Loaded, before winning by DQ the Sanford Stakes and finishing third in the Hopeful Stakes. But making the transition from New York to Kentucky has not been nice to horses this year, and Uncle Vinny will be trying to make the jump. Wesley Ward sends one out here at home in Sheikh of Sheikhs, a maiden winner at Saratoga. After winning in good time at the Spa, he hopes that his form can translate when he heads to Keeneland. Eoin Harty ships in the other Uncle Mo horse, Uncle Jerry, a winner at Presque Isle Downs in mid-September. Probably not too much of a threat here, but with this being his first race on dirt, definitely worth a play. The Saratoga Special winner Exaggerator for the Desormeauxs is another horse worth a play. The son of Curlin is a threat to win here.
P- Sheikh of Sheikhs
S- Uncle Vinny
Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (GI):
-As if the Keeneland stakes races couldn’t get hard enough this race is impossible to handicap. I think I would have better luck guessing at the winner than handicapping it. But I will handicap this race anyway. The outside of this field is definitely the strongest, with posts 7 through 13 going to Grand Tito, Skyring, Bobby’s Kitten, The Pizza Man, Jack Milton, Tourist, and Seek Again. Any of these horses can win. My choice here is going to be on the inside though with Grand Arch. He had an impressive win in the Fourstardave and finished second in this race last year. I think he is such a better horse than he was last year. I will be using Seek Again and Dutch Connection underneath.
W- Grand Arch
P- Seek Again
S- Dutch Connection
Belmont Park – October 3rd, 2015
Kelso Handicap (GII):
-The first graded stakes race of the day at Belmont Park drew a pretty decent field. Many of the horses that would be here went for the richer Grade I in the Shadwell Turf Mile. But still an exciting field led by Breeders Cup Classic hopeful Honor Code. Coming out of wins in the Met Mile and the Whitney, this son of A.P. Indy would love to go into the Breeders Cup Classic off of 3 straight wins. In his way are Tamarkuz, Red Vine, and Appealing Tale. But Todd Pletcher thinks that Mylute has a good shot in here and I don’t doubt it. He scratched Mylute out of the Lukas Classic for a reason, and that was top run here. I give him a chance in this race.
W- Honor Code
Flower Bowl (GI):
-The ladies head onto the turf for a Breeders Cup prep in this Grade I race. Stephanie’s Kitten is the 9/5 ML choice but draws the rail. But David Wachman sends Ribblesdale winner Curvy overseas to try to snatch this race up. I think those two are much the best in this field and one of them could run away with the race. However, if it does end up raining, watch out for Rosalind.
P- Stephanie’s Kitten
S- Danza Cavallo
Frizette Stakes (GI):
-The last blooming 2yo fillies square off here. The morning line favorite, Width, has a fantastic pedigree being by Blame out of a Pulpit mare. What is not to like about this horse for Claiborne Farms and Jose Ortiz? Shipping over seas is Nemoralia for Jeremy Noseda. A last out winner has a lot of talent and against this field she should have a great shot at winning.
S- Where’s the D
Champagne Stakes (GI):
-Is there any discussion on who will win this race? Ralis is currently the best 2yo racing in NY and should run away with this race. I’ll give Tale of S’avall a chance here as well as Ready Dancer, but I just can’t see anyone beating Ralis.
P- Tale of S’avall
S- Ready Dancer
Hill Prince Stakes (GIII):
-A surprisingly big field for the Hill Prince stakes compared to other turf races of the day yields a very good betting race. Since it isn’t one of the major stakes of the weekend, I won’t labor you with detailed analysis of the race but Royal Albert Hall isn’t a horse to sleep on here. Neither is Nonna’s Boy. Both are very live horses even though at a huge price. Courtier is a classy horse and one to watch out for.
P- Nonna’s Boy
S- Royal Albert Hall
Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (GI):
-It’s is time for the biggest race of the Belmont Fall Festival… and a 6 horse field. Kinda disappointing. Coach Inge is a strong front runner and Effinex is a tough horse to stop once he gets moving. Both are huge threats to stop Tonalist from getting another win at Belmont Park. Constitution is still trying to come back into form this season while Wicked Strong hasn’t gotten going just yet. And the Illinois shipper Looks to Spare coming to where the money is, but doesn’t look like a realistic shot in here. Not giving Tonalist the win here though. Just think he hasn’t been his best yet.
P- Coach Inge
Enjoy the races from this weekend and look out for my coverage of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe tomorrow.