Keeneland’s opening rite of spring
April 03, 2019 3:00 AM
by Dave Valento
One of horse racing’s most anticipated times of the spring has arrived.
Keeneland opens its 16-day spring meet on Thursday. If your bankroll is anything like mine, a new start is something to look forward to.
Located in Lexington, Kentucky, Keeneland opened in the fall of 1936 and conducted short meets in the spring and fall ever since. The marquee race of the meet is the $1 million Blue Grass Stakes this Saturday. The Grade 2 race is a stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby although you have to go back to Street Sense in 2007 for the last Derby winner that raced in the Blue Grass and Thunder Gulch in 1995 before him.
Many trainers point to this meet similar to the way they point to Del Mar and Saratoga. A handicapper should pay attention to horses working well for trainers who have had success at this Lexington oval.
A Thursday opening day card is new as Keeneland normally begins on Friday. They’ll have a later start time on Thursday, as well. First post is noon Pacific.
You can expect some decent payoffs on Thursday. Here is a live runner in each race:
Race 1: TALK YOU OUT OF IT (No. 3) – The first two-year-old race of the year is wide open. This first timer has worked very slowly at McCutchen Training Center but that is the same method this trainer used to run in the exacta four times out of seven starts with a debut two-year-old at 4.5 furlongs. Those runners who ran first or second did so at 86-1, 50-1, 40-1 and 9-2 (three were here at Keeneland).
Race 2: HONEY BUNNY (No. 3) – Winner of two of her last three starts (both at Oaklawn Park). The loss was a third-place finish at 6-1 at Fair Grounds when she was eight-wide on the turn. She normally likes to come from off the pace, but with the lack of much speed in the race she should be stalking in third early. Having Joel Rosario up adds to the appeal.
Race 3: LIELIELIE (No. 12) – Impossibly difficult maiden claiming race will lead to boxcar payoffs. This 4YO colt is coming in off an eight-month layoff and has worked fantastically at Fair Grounds. The connections claimed him for this $30,000 price so he is at the appropriate level. If he can navigate a trip from the wide post he will be dangerous at a solid price.
Race 4: BRERRY (No. 4) – Another full field of 12 evenly matched optional claimers. Nearly every runner has a chance. This one ships in from Fair Grounds where he was facing better. He was claimed for $5,000 by these connections and he has been pretty good since. He has shown route speed and now cuts back to this 6 1/2-furlong distance, a strong angle. Major rider upgrade.
Race 5: FIREY SPEECH (No. 7) – Just one race in two years and none for 13 months. But this Grade 3 placed runner gets first time Lasix in here and moves back to the grass. The trainer has had three starters at Keeneland (all last year) and two of them ran second at long odds with this rider aboard. Training indicates he’s been eyeing this comeback spot.
Race 6: ULELE (No. 1) – Brad Cox filly has been heavily bet in all four of her starts (winning one). She had excuses in her three losses (sloppy track, steadied, wide posts, tough inside post). She cost $300,000 in 2017 and appears to be talented. Big rider change back to Florent Geroux, who was aboard in her first two starts. She’s worked well since her last start.
Race 7: STRIKE SILVER (No. 11) – First stakes race of the meet is a 14-horse roll of the dice at 5.5 furlongs on the grass. This $275,000 purchase was a neck away from being undefeated in his first three starts. He drew the rail in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint and lost all chance with a troubled trip. Closed from dead last in the Indian Summer at the same distance back in October. Julien Leparoux retains the mount. Better trip likely.
Race 8: IPANEMA BEACH (No. 9) – Private purchase since her last start at Aqueduct where she basically came to a walk. She has some backclass for this level. She picked up checks in both the Grade 2 Golden Rod and the Grade 1 Ashland (over this track). The lone win for this ownership came here last year with this rider up. Comes in with a sharp 4-furlong drill over this track. Wins if she reverts to her previous form.
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