On Track With Johnny D: Keeneland’s Blue Grass and Late Pick 4 Analysis

Wait a minute. This can’t be right. Keeneland and Del Mar racing in the same afternoon?

Oh, that be right, alright. We’re in the COVID 19 twilight zone where anything’s possible. Experience racing ‘As it was meant to be’ while playing ‘Where the Turf Meets the Surf’ all in the same afternoon. Thought you’d never see it? Me, too. But, this year, everything’s cockeyed during this once-in-a-lifetime journey we’d all rather have missed.

Alas, here we are. And, despite all that’s transpired, racing has endured and, in fact, thrived. It certainly has provided sports fans and gamblers with some worthy diversion. Don’t know about you, but I’ve found this upended 2020 racing season entertaining. It’s been a blast, starting when we had just a few tracks in action--introducing fabulous Fonner Park--through the Arkansas Derby card on the first Saturday in May, right up until this weekend when Keeneland, Del Mar, Belmont and others jam the schedule.

With the Belmont Stakes in the books already, sophomore runners continue a march toward the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in September, followed by the Preakness on the first Saturday in October. Tiz the Law currently owns the belt as the undisputed 3-year-old champ. Honor A. P. may have something to say about that. Or maybe another, less exposed runner will emerge to challenge for the title?

Saturday’s Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes doesn’t appear to include anyone that can immediately threaten Tiz the Law’s domination. But, then again, you never know. Did you ever imagine you’d see Keeneland and Del Mar running on the same Saturday? We rest our case.

Here’s one man’s opinion on Saturday’s Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland and the late Pick 4:

Keeneland—Race 9- Toyota Blue Grass—Mile and One-Eighth—Grade 1--$400,000

1. Shivaree Nicks/Velazquez 8-1
Has 11 starts under his girth—10 of them at Gulfstream Park and one at Gulfstream Park West (formerly Calder). This will be his first race outside of Florida. His most recent claim to fame is a four and one-quarter length defeat by top soph Tiz the Law in the Florida Derby at 80.90-1. He’s been no worse than third in his last 7 races—a solid sign of consistency. Other than a maiden win and a close third last out in a $100k optional claimer, the rest of those races came against stakes company, including the Gr. 3 Swale and Gr. 1 Florida Derby. There are some distance questions with him, but he has speed and always has been an overachiever—his sire stands in Florida for a whopping $4k! Best used in lower rungs of exotics.

2. Finnick the Fierce R. Hernandez/J. Ortiz 12-1
Was solid dusted by Art Collector in a $100k optional claimer at Churchill last out. He’s got two wins, but only once has he crossed the finish first. He was moved up via disqualification in an Oaklawn $80k optional claimer. His shining moment came in the Arkansas Derby when third, four and one-half lengths behind Nadal and a length and one-half behind King Guillermo. Can’t really see him winning, so maybe he could be used in the very bottom of expansive exotics.

3. Art Collector Drury/B.J. Hernandez 5-1
He’s on a roll with three consecutive comfortable wins—all at Churchill and stretching from November through June. He was officially disqualified from purse money for the first of those triumphs so, while his record reads 3 for 7, he actually has 4 wins. He owns the highest last out Beyer Speed Figure of anyone in the field and the only triple digit BSF in the race. Last out he easily defeated Shared Sense, who came back Wednesday night to dominate the Indiana Derby, so his form has substance. His running style should have him in the first flight, so he won’t need to make up a ton of ground. All things considered, he’s a dangerous type that must be considered for the win.

4. Mr. Big News Calhoun/Murrill 10-1
The good news for Mr. Big News is that he has improved Beyer Speed Figures in each race since his first out at Keeneland in October. He’ll need another forward move to contend seriously in here, but he hasn’t gone back yet. His running style is a concern because he has no speed. That hasn’t bothered him in two of his last three—a maiden race at Fair Grounds and the Oaklawn Stakes in Hot Springs, both wins. The latter victory upset the applecart at a whopping 46.80-1. There doesn’t seem to be much speed in this race so it could be more difficult for him to close in time.

5. Man in the Can Moquett/Gaffalione 10-1
This is a real step up the class ladder for this determined Arkansas-bred colt. He’s won 4 of 5 starts, 2 of 3 against fellow Arky-breds and an open maiden at Remington and a $75k optional claimer at Churchill. The latter victory came as favorite at a mile and one-eighth—same as today’s distance. Appreciate this guy’s ‘try,’ even though these should be tougher than what he’s faced in the past. He’s a reach, but has a puncher’s chance at nice odds.

6. Hard Lighting A. Delgado/Bejarano 50-1
This colt steps up the ladder two races removed from a maiden score in the Gulfstream slop. Beyer Speed Figs are headed in the right direction, but another advance is needed in here.

7. Swiss Skydiver McPeek/M. Smith 3-1
This 3-year-old filly has knocked out three consecutive decisive graded stakes victories—Gr. 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks, Gr. 3 Oaklawn Park Fantasy and Gr. 2 Santa Anita Oaks. Instead of continuing against her own sex toward a start in the coveted Kentucky Oaks, her connections have decided to match her against this collection of males in the Blue Grass. If successful, she would become the first filly to win this race that originated in 1937. On paper, she appears to fit. She’s got enough speed to be close to what should be a reasonable pace and her winning spirit is unquestioned. She also enjoys a five-pound sex allowance. She must be respected but 3-year-old females facing soph males on dirt is a clear uphill challenge.

8. Basin Asmussen/R. Santana 8-1
This guy’s soph season has been a bit of a disappointment. After winning the Gr. 1 Hopeful in dominating fashion in September, ‘hopes’ were high for this guy. Unfortunately, he just hasn’t made that much of an improvement since then. He was third in the Gr. 2 Rebel and second in the Gr. 1 Arkansas Derby, but was well back in both events. He lost decisively to #4 Mr. Big News in the Oaklawn Stakes two races back. He’s like several in here with a chance to round out exotics, but not a win candidate.

9. Attachment Rate Romans/L. Saez 20-1
He’s been on the board in four of five 2020 races. That’s got to count for something. Off since May when fourth, beaten five lengths by the injure Maxfield, his only triumph came at a mile in the Gulfstream slop. He’d need a real turnaround.

10. Rushie McCarthy/Castellano 5-1
Here’s a colt that’s a bit interesting. He’s improved Beyer Speed Figures with each of five starts, finished third behind Honor A.P. and Authentic in the Gr. 1 Santa Anita Derby, and is saddled by a young, hot conditioner and ridden by a Hall of Famer. He has won two of five and was a distant runner-up to the highly regarded Charlatan. He need only repeat his last and he figures to be around at the finish of this. His post is no bargain, but he’s got speed to contend early. Worth a long look in here.

11. Hunt the Front Zito/Lanerie 30-1
This son of Revolutionary must come from far back. He enters this race off an Oaklawn Park maiden victory followed by a poor first level allowance/optional claiming try. Pass on him.

12. Enforceable M. Casse/Rosario 10-1
Tough post for any runner but trainer Mark Casse has the right pilot in Joel Rosario. This son of Tapit comes from far back and will need lots of breaks not to lose ground off the turn. He has faced graded stakes foes in his last five starts and won the Gr. 3 Lecomte and was second in the Gr. 2 Risen Star, so he’s not a toss from exotics consideration.

13. Tiesto Mott/Prat 15-1
He moves from turf to dirt after all four lifetime starts on the green stuff. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also drawn the dreaded 13 hole for this Gr. 2 test. Jockey Flavien Prat and trainer Bill Mott are solid connections but, like #12 Enforceable, he’ll need the trip of a lifetime to neutralize this starting post. 13-hole and first-time dirt are enough to chase me away.

Bottom Line: #7 Miss Sky Diver seems a logical play in here and probably will be a single for many in multi-leg exotics. However, she is a filly acting against colts and that’s always a challenge. #3 Art Collector could continue his hot streak. #5 Man in the Can has built his rep against lesser but done it well. Rounding out the remainder of the trifecta will involve a number of runners that are hard-trying types that seem just a cut below the top three.

$.50 Trifecta ($18 Total)
First: #3, #5, #7
Second: #3, #5, #7
Third: #1, #3, #4, #5, #7, #8, #10, #12

$.50 Trifecta ($63 Total)
First: #3, #5, #7
Second: #1, #3, #4, #5, #7, #8, #10, #12
Third: #1, #3, #4, #5, #7, #8, #10, #12

Keeneland Late Pick 4 Analysis

7th Race—Central Bank Ashland—Grade 1—$400,000-- Fillies Three Years Old—One Mile and One Sixteenth

2. Venetian Harbor has two wins and two seconds in four starts. She’s the fastest in the race. Last out she was defeated by Blue Grass contender Swiss Skydiver in the Gr. 3 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park. ‘Harbor set torrid fractions that afternoon and probably won’t need to go nearly as fast early in here. She’s the one to beat.

5. Tonalist’s Shape has won an outstanding six of seven races, including the Gr. 3 Forward Gal and Gr. 2 Davona Dale, both at Gulfstream. She didn’t do well against Swiss Skydiver in the Gr. 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks when wide throughout for her only defeat.

6. Speech probably is the most interesting of the possible upsetters in here. She seems to be developing nicely for trainer Michael McCarthy, has enough speed to be within striking distance of #2 Venetian Harbor and never has been off the board in six tries—one win, four seconds and one third. She has two bullet half-mile works for this off a second in the Santa Anita Oaks, four lengths behind Swiss Skydiver.

8th Race—Coolmore Jenny Wiley—Grade 1--$350,000—For Fillies and Mares, Four Years Old and Upward—One Mile and One-Sixteenth on Turf

4. Rushing Fall is the one to beat in here. She’s won nine of 12, four of five on Keeneland turf and is three for four at the distance! She’s got speed, so she’ll be in the race from the start. She’s trained by Chad Brown, who also has #7 Altea in here, and is ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano. Drawbacks? There is other speed in the race, so she’s got to avoid that trap. Other than that, she appears, as always, very tough.

6. Jolie Olimpica should add some early speed to the mix. She has two turf wins at five and one-half furlongs at Santa Anita to her credit this year. She set the pace in the Gr. 2 Chula Vista but was gunned down by talented Keeper of the Stars. Perhaps, Hall of Fame connections--trainer Richard Mandella and jockey Mike Smith--have learned a thing or two about relaxing this 4-year-old Brazilian-bred and raced filly. If so, she could be a threat in here.

8. Toinette always must be considered a legitimate contender. Like Rushing Fall, she’s 5-years-old and is game as ever with eight wins in 12 starts--one for one over Keeneland turf and two for two at the distance. Flavien Prat rides for Hall of Fame conditioner Neil Drysdale.

Race 9-Toyota Blue Grass (See Above)

Race 10—Allowance--$79,000—Fillies and Mares Three Years Old and Upward Which Have Never Won $10,000 Twice Other Than Maiden, Claiming or Starter Or Which Have Never Won Three Races—One Mile and Three Sixteenths on Turf

1. Summer in Saratoga has a pair of 2020 wins in as many tries and has a win over the Keeneland turf course. Her last score came going a mile on turf at Churchill from the difficult 10 hole out of 10 runners. She’s a bit below the others in the speed figure department, so she’s a reach that’s worth honorable mention.

3. Romantic Pursuit fired a big effort last out and just missed by a head in a Churchill allowance turf race. She also was second in the Gr. 3 Very One at Gulfstream before that. She’s a hard-trying 4-year-old filly—nine of 12 starts in the money--and she has a win and a second at the distance. She must be included in whatever one does in here.

6. Kuora makes her first US start in here for very capable but low-profile trainer Ignacio Correas. She’s three for three in her native Peru against males at the Group 3 level. Now, it’s nearly impossible to tell how good (or bad) those fields might have been, but two of her races had 16-runner fields. Kuora has trained reasonably well for this with a seven-furlong breeze and a bullet four-furlong Keeneland turf blowout July 4. There are no superstars in this race, so give this one a second look on the come.

7. Mighty Scarlett also starts for Ignacio Correas and she has some things to like. While she’s been stuck in this condition for a while, she does have a Keeneland turf course win and two wins at the distance to her credit. Those count for something.

9. Delta’s Kingdom is a reach in here, but she’s a bit interesting off her one-for-one Keeneland turf course record and a fair recent effort—her first out since November. She raced closer than usual to a slow early pace and then faded late. That often is a great prep effort for next out.

$1 Pick 4 ($15)
7th #2
8th #4
9th #3, #5, #7
10th #1, #3, #6, #7, #9

$.50 Pick 4 ($45)
7th #2, #6
8th #4, #6, #8
9th #3, #5, #7
10th #1, #3, #6, #7, #9

Take care of each other. Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Keeneland’s Blue Grass and Late Pick 4 Analysis

On Track with Johnny D |