by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now and Capital OTB TV.
Keeneland: The GI, $1 million Blue Grass at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points 100-40-20-10)
#1 Looking for a Kiss (50-1): Gigantic longshot will make his first start for Tomlinson after two modest runs for Romans and will need a monumental jump in his form to even get a piece of this, as both career runs have been in slow times in Florida. Dad Lookin At Lucky was a dual champion who relished two turns, which is what this colt will try for the first time today, so maybe he wakes up a bit, but that seems like a huge ask for a runner that was a distant second in an optional claimer at Tampa Bay Downs when last seen in March. There’s speed here, and he drew well, so expect him to be forwardly placed the first time by, but he won’t be anywhere near that position when they hit the line the second time; easy toss.
#2 Donegal Moon (5-1): Dangerous runner from Pletcher was an afterthought in this barn over the winter, as he didn’t do much running in a trio of graded stakes, but then he went to Parx last month for an N1X and a confidence boost, and not only did he win, but he did it by 13 1/2 lengths and ran a huge number in the process, so, if nothing else, you know he enters feeling like a new horse. Of course, beating four hapless rivals at Parx at 1-2 is nothing like beating a decent GI field here, but don’t overlook the fact the he’s 2-1-1-0 over this strip, drew well and will offer a nice price, too. Son of Malibu Moon still has to show he can play with graded stakes foes, but if there’s ever a time to give him a look, it’s today, especially since the gut says he’ll be more in the 8-1 range; very playable.
#3 Cherry Wine (12-1): One of two deep closers from Romans will be at the mercy of the pace, but there is seemingly enough gas signed on here to aid his late run, as several of these want to be on or near the early lead. Son of Paddy O’Prado got a great ride last time when he threaded his way through the field from 13th to be 4th in the GII Rebel at Oaklawn Park last month, which built on two romping wins in his previous two starts, and improvement off that effort gives him a puncher’s chance in a race that looks there for the taking. The post works, too, as he’ll be able to save all the ground, but as we’ve seen twice this winter with Mo Tom in Louisiana (with today’s jockey Lanerie aboard), when you have no speed at all and have to pass the entire field to get there, it’s not a great risk/reward scenario; not biting.
#4 Zulu (5-2): The second of three from Pletcher is clearly the most well regarded, as he gave then-top dog Mohaymen a brief struggle off the far turn before relenting in the lane when second in Gulfstream Park’s GII Fountain of Youth when last seen in February. And you have to give this son of Bernardini credit, too, as that was not only his first stakes start, but also his first going two turns and first over a fast track, after a pair of sprints to kick off his career, so he not only passed a lot of hurdles, but he’s got a ton of upside off just three starts, too. But on the negative side, we all saw how Mohaymen came unglued in Gulfstream’s Florida Derby last week, and this colt’s effort did have a “someone had to be second” feel to it in the Fountain of Youth, so yeah, while he hits hard, he’s hardly a lock at what figures as a very underlaid price; looms somewhere in the mix at false odds.
#5 Crescent Drive (20-1): Stretch-running son of Flower Alley picks a mighty ambitious spot to make his dirt debut, after a trio of Polytrack runs as a 2-year-old at Woodbine for Banach and a turf run in his first start of the year and first start for Amoss in a minor stakes at Sam Houston in February. Blinkers go on today, with the hopes of getting a little more tactical speed early on, and Amoss is 28% with a giant $4.82 ROI with runners going turf-to-dirt, not to mention that this colt turned in a wicked five-furlong bullet drill on the main track at Fair Grounds in mid-March, so there are more than a few positive angles at play here. But with all that being said, this is a tall ask for a colt that has never run on the real stuff in the afternoon; taking a wait and see approach.
#6 Brody’s Cause (4-1): The second from Romans is a carbon copy of the first, in that he has no speed and will need not only to pass the majority of the field, but also to hope that every hole opens up during his late run as well. Son of Giant’s Causeway came to the national spotlight when he drew off late in the mud in the local GI Breeders’ Futurity over the track, then proved that was no fluke in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile a month later when he was a fine third, so obviously you know he loves this place. But that juvenile form seems like a long, long time ago when you look at his sophomore debut, a no-show seventh in the GII Tampa Bay Derby last month. Sure, he needed that start, but wasn’t he supposed to pass more than a few if he was a bigger, meaner, stronger version of the horse we saw at 2, and one who has Kentucky Derby designs this year? Willing to take a strong stand again in all the slots.
#7 Laoban (12-1): Potential pacesetter rode the rails of one of the most intense inside speed biases in recent memory over Aqueduct’s inner dirt to a sharp second to the highly rated (but very slow) Shagaf in their GIII Gotham last month, and, while he’s still a maiden, he’s in the starting gate for this year’s Derby if it were run today. Son of Uncle Mo hasn’t shied away from some big dances for Guillot, as he was third in the GIII Sham at Santa Anita in January, so the fact that he’s run in two stakes as a maiden speaks of his trainer’s confidence. The worry here is that there are a lot of others that have his style, and it’s not like he’s ever shown he can stalk and win, so while he does have the talent to compete with this group, this doesn’t seem like the right spot to break through; know him early, not sure about late.
#8 Twizz (30-1): The likely speed of the speed picks a mighty ambitious spot to try two turns and winners for the first time after running off to a wire-to-wire MSW win at Fair Grounds last month in the mud for Maker. Son of Twirling Candy has set sub :46 splits in his last two, so you know he’s going today, and with Saint Ballado at the bottom of his pedigree, this distance is within his scope. But that’s about where the positives end, since, unless this turns into your dad’s Keeneland of the 90s, he’s not going to be around at the finish; pop and stop seems forthcoming.
#9 Goats Town (20-1): The second maiden in the field isn’t nearly as accomplished as Laoban, as he’s yet to run in a graded stakes and instead was second once and third three times this winter at Oaklawn. Calumet homebred son of Dublin goes for a Lukas barn that has made a history of running horses where they don’t belong, yet coming out on top, but this is doesn’t look like a spot where the legend will grow. If you’re a fan of this barn, you’ll get a Hall of Famer at a big price, and this colt has the right stalking style to make a dent, but let’s wait until he’s back with friends before backing; tough to endorse.
#10 American Dubai (20-1): Stalker didn’t fire a lick in the Rebel, when he was 13th-of-14, which was somewhat surprising as it came on the heels of a fine third in Oaklawn’s GIII Southwest two back, though at least Richards forges on and tries again, which says he hasn’t lost hope just yet. Son of E Dubai is eligible to trip out nicely here, as he should be close to the speed and get first run on the closers, a tactic that worked nicely in the Southwest. The worry is that he needs to bounce back off a real drubbing, while meeting several who are in good form and going the right way, neither of which applies to him; not seeing it.
#11 Cards of Stone (20-1): The third from Pletcher will venture outside the New York-bred ranks for the first time after running off the screen in an optional claimer over the inner dirt at Aqueduct in March, and while the figure he earned that day puts him in contention here, and he did beat a next-out winner, this is a giant step up in class. Son of one-turn sprinter Bustin Stones also got loose on an uncontested lead that day, and this 9-furlong trip today is really supposed to stretch his rubber band mighty thin, so with a pace scenario that isn’t to his liking he’s that much tougher to trust. Pletcher homers will get their guy at a rare big price in a 3-year-old graded stakes, but this seems like much too tough of an assignment; needs softer to threaten.
#12 Zapperini (30-1): Lightly raced Ghostzapper colt will make his first start since running a middling fifth in Fair Grounds’ GII Risen Star in February and will need a major form reversal to be a factor here. If you’re searching for positives, it is a good sign that Foley swings for the fences, and this runner does have a style that should allow him to pass a few with the way the race is shaping up, and Gun Runner, who won the Risen Star, came back to air in the GII Louisiana Derby in his next start. But that still doesn’t offset the fact that he’s about 15 lengths behind these on paper, and really has no reason showing in his form to think he’s improving much today; overmatched.
#13 Star Hill (10-1): Price player has quietly come to hand this year for local hero Arnold and that third last time in the Tampa Bay Derby wasn’t that bad, as it was his first start against winners and at two turns, so he could move forward again today. Elusive Quality colt has a nice stalking gear, too, which is the right kind of trip you want to pull in here, though he does run the risk of being wide into the first turn off this disadvantageous draw. There’s something to be said for these 3-year-olds that can improve overnight, and he exits a rare Triple Crown prep where the top pair (Destin and Outwork for Pletcher) actually ran fast, so if you’re shopping around, then this might be where you check out; price players have their hero.
#14 My Man Sam (10-1): First things first: anyone who thinks they’re getting 10-1 on a Brown-trained runner that is ridden by Leparoux at Keeneland might want to resubmit their bid for the Brooklyn Bridge, as there’s a rumor it’s going up for sale again later this month. Now, with that being said, you would still think you’re eligible to get about 9-2 on this son of Trappe Shot, who has a ton of upside and has looked dynamite in his last two—since stretching out to two turns—as he blew the doors off an MSW field two-back at Aqueduct then chased home heavy hitter and perfect trip winner Matt King Coal (who has a big chance of winning their GI Wood Memorial today) in an optional claimer there last month. Closer showed last time that he doesn’t need to drop out the back to win, plus he’s still improving with a ton of upside after just three starts, has run fast and seemingly gets all the best of it in terms of race flow here as well; mows them all down in the lane.
#15 Pinson (30-1) (AE): The first of two on the also-eligible list fits the “We just want to be involved in the big party” mantra for local legend Ramsey, who has won countless owner’s titles here over the years but would be bringing a water pistol to a gun fight, should this colt start. Tactical son of Majestic Warrior is going to be wide every step of the way if he does run for Maker, and that’s not a good spot to be in, especially with a rapid pace shaping up. If nothing else, he did improve in a big way last time in his MSW win at Fair Grounds, but this just isn’t the spot to face winners off a 39-1 shocker; here’s hoping he stays in the barn.
#16 Hint of Roses (30-1) (AE): The second of the AEs would be the third maiden to start should he get two scratches and draw into the field, and he’s a lot like his stablemate next door, as he’s a Ramsey-owned, Maker-trained rank outsider. Son of Tapit is cut out to be a nice horse, but up to now he’s done nothing in his first five starts to suggest he can play here, especially when you consider that he didn’t really do much running until getting to the lawn in his last two. Respect these connections, and their willingness to give it the ol’ college try, but this has “F” written all over it; tabbing for a grass run later in the meet.
#14 My Man Sam
#2 Donegal Moon
#13 Star Hill