Don’t forget to activate your power horses for this week’s preps, and if you want a little more of Brian’s handicapping, he talks about the NYRA races every Friday at Horseplayernow.com. He’ll be participating in “Countdown to the Crown” live chats every Friday at 2 pm, accessible from the main page of the site, chatting for an hour about anything and everything for three-year-olds.
Keeneland’s spring centerpiece, the Grade I Blue Grass, brings together a mixed bag of nine with their sights set on advancing to the May 1 Kentucky Derby. Turf, synthetic and dirt form all mesh with the hopes of handling Keeneland’s Polytrack and walking away first with some crucial graded stakes earnings for the Derby. Let’s take a look.
Keeneland: The Grade I, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at 1 1/8 miles
1. Odysseus: That was a pretty remarkable win in the TB Derby considering that he was basically under an all-out drive for the last 6F’s and looked completely beaten in the photo. But don’t forget that Schoolyard Dreams returned to lay an egg in the Wood, and Super Saver didn’t come into the TB Derby brimming with confidence either, so you have to wonder just how good of a race it really was. Still, it was his first foray into the graded ranks and his third win in a row, so you need to give him some props. Lands here after they deemed that he needed another race and some more earnings to get into the Derby, and with this cozy draw, he should be a factor from close range; respecting, but also thinking his win streak ends today.
2. First Dude: He didn’t run poorly in that fifth place finish in the Florida Derby, but he didn’t really ever seem a threat, either. But like his rival next door, he was making his first graded stakes start, so you do have something to build on. The waters get much deeper here as he shifts back to the Polytrack for the first time since running second over the course in his debut last October. He very well could be the controlling speed in a race that has little early foot, so there’s a chance he could get mighty brave turning for home, and it’s nice to see Dominguez take the call again; catch him to cash.
3. Stately Victor: Love his pedigree; he’s by a horse for the ages out of a mare that won the QEII over the local turf course, but he’s yet to live up to mom or pop’s standards on the track. Enters off a wide, closing fifth in a GP turf allowance where he got away dead last in the field of 11, and he’s still looking for his first win since his maiden breaker last September at the Spa. He did finish a commendable sixth in the GI Breeders’ Futurity over the course last October in his very next start, so he knows the surface a bit. On paper he’s a complete outsider, but the Polytrack has a weird way of bringing the good ones back to the competition while elevating the so-so ones at the same time, so with that in mind, the thought here is he runs a career best; upset special.
4. Make Music For Me: Looked great winning his comeback over SA’s turf course in the Pasadena last month, which actually marked his first career win. When last seen in 2009, he was chasing home Derby contender Lookin At Lucky in the GI CashCall, so you know there’s ample talent in this corner. The Pasadena marked a real breakthrough in terms of speed figures, and that’s always a great sign for a 3yo making his first start of the year; obvious contender at underlaid odds.
5. Codoy: Good-looking win in TP’s Battaglia was taken away due to some misbehavior in the stretch, but at least you know he’s in good form. That was his first start of the year, so improvement is likely, but even a lifetime best would leave him decidedly behind many others in here; passing.
6. Pleasant Prince: Simply ran too good to lose in the Florida Derby when nosed out by Ice Box and he sure did reinvent himself this winter down at GP. Returns to the Poly for the second time and he seemed to handle it OK when third against MCL’ers here last October, so that does help ease the worries. Not much pace signed on, but that usually means next to nothing as these races tend to play out like turf affairs where it’s whoever can move fastest late, and we know that’s something this colt is quite capable of; one of the ones.
7. Paddy O’Prado: Stakes winner on turf tries the Poly for the first time, and as we just mentioned, there’s a strong comparison to the two surfaces, so expect him to handle it just fine. Really broke through in his last when he was an impressive winner of GP’s GIII Palm Beach Stakes at today’s 9F’s, and note that he did it by pressing an extremely fast 46 2/3 half-mile, so he should be involved early and often. Not crazy about playing speed in these races, but if he’s able to sit just off First Dude early and kick clear on the far turn, they might never catch him; call for the win.
8. Aikenite: Just never bought into this late-running son of sprinter Yes It’s True simply because he usually arrives well after the verdict has been decided. At home over the course based on his flying second in the Breeders’ Futurity last year, but he’s still trying to get back to that run. With Pletcher calling the shots, you know he’ll take a lot of cash at the windows, too, so you’re going to have to take an underlaid price in a deep field where several others have run faster than he has this year; comfortable playing against.
9. Interactif: Pletcher’s second runner got the worst of it at the draw but has the tactical speed to gain some position into the first turn, so not going to get too overworked about a potentially wide journey. Well-traveled runner is a stakes winner on turf and looked great running second to Sidney’s Candy out west in the GII San Felipe, and that guy just ran off and hid in the SA Derby, so expecting this colt to go off as a solid and deserving favorite. But that doesn’t mean he’s a lock; he’s not any faster than the rest and for all his good work, he is 0-for-2 this year and still searching for his first win since last October. Point being, you need to respect him, but you can lean another way as well; the one to beat but value lies elsewhere.
7. Paddy O’Prado
3. Stately Victor