Keeneland: The $1 million GII Blue Grass at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 10-40-20-10)
by Brian Nadeau
#1 Zing Zang (30-1): Deep, deep closer heads north in a last-chance effort to make the Kentucky Derby after failing to make a late impact in a trio of preps this winter at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park, respectively, and will really need to hurry if he’s to do so here. Son of Tapit just hasn’t progressed from that solid MSW win at FG to end his 2017 season, and while it’s never smart to ignore Asmussen in a Triple Crown prep, this colt is in too deep with his style, in a race where the pace doesn’t look overly heated on paper; can’t endorse.
#2 Sporting Chance (10-1): Tactical son of Tiznow is still trying to find his form this year for Lukas, after winning Saratoga’s GI Hopeful in September and then suffering a minor injury shortly thereafter that forced him to miss the rest of his 2-year-old season. His form as a 3-year-old has been solid, if unspectacular, as he was a troubled third in a start you know he needed in OP’s GIII Southwest two back and a wide fifth in their GII Rebel last time. The good news, if you still believe, is that the price will be right today, he makes the third of his form cycle, and, as important as anything, he’s likely going to trip out beautifully just off the cheap speed to his outside, which will enable him first run off the far turn, so you can’t fault anyone giving him one last try; hardly impossible.
#3 California Night (30-1): Longshot figures to be in front for as long as he can take them, as he just wired going a one-turn mile in an optional-claimer at Aqueduct and has shown in all three starts that he wants to motor early. Midnight Lute colt goes for a Maker barn that is king in these here parts, and as mentioned, the pace looks on the slow side in here, but still, it’s tough to see this one lasting past the far turn; know him early, unlikely late.
#4 Kanthaka (10-1): California invader was a distant third when caught up in the wake of the epic battle between Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie in last month’s GII San Felipe at Santa Anita, but losing to those two monsters, while trying two turns for the first time, is hardly anything to be disgraced about. Hollendorfer wisely left California with this son of Jimmy Creed, and while he’s still a bit suspect going two turns, there’s little doubt that he exits by far the best prep so far, which has to be worth something in this field, which isn’t exactly brimming with potential Derby heavy-hitters. He also figures a lot closer early today, as not only will the pace be slower than the San Felipe, but he drew a perfect ground-saving post, and while the price won’t be anywhere close to the incorrect ML, he should still offer a hint of value in a race there for the taking; upset special.
#5 Quip (6-1): SCRATCHED, will run in next Saturday’s GI Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park (check out the race preview here next Friday).
#6 Marconi (15-1): One-paced plodder from Pletcher is a $2 million son of Tapit who has yet to come close to repaying that hefty price tag, with a claim-to-fame being a slow 3rd in Aqueduct’s GIII Withers at this trip in February. To be fair, he had no chance when 5th in the merry-go-round that was Gulfstream Park’s GII Fountain of Youth when last seen, and he is in with a group today that has the type of form that could net a small slice with some improvement, but you have to ask yourself if it’s coming after four starts that have basically been the same on paper without the hint of a move forward; not seeing it.
#7 Blended Citizen (15-1): Recent winner of the GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks over the Polytrack at Turfway Park will try to punch his Derby ticket on the real stuff today, and if you view him off his three starts on conventional dirt to start his career, you won’t be running to the window. Son of Proud Citizen is clearly a different horse now than he was then, and O’Neill knows how to spot his stock, too, but off those three dreadful dirt runs, it’s tough to think he can make a dent in here; making him prove it.
#8 Gotta Go (30-1): Pricey son of Shanghai Bobby cost 250k as a yearling and has rewarded his owners with a stakes win at Churchill Downs last year and a second-place finish in GP’s GIII Swale in February, but both those runs were at one turn, and judging by his middling sixth in the FOY, you get the impression that two turns is stretching him mighty thin. It’s a good sign to see Wilkes forge on, and there does appear to be some talent here, but it will likely show itself again when he cuts back a bit; passing.
#9 Tiz Mischief (30-1): Longshot was a game second, beaten just a head, in CD’s GII Jockey Club to end his 2yo season, but little has gone right in two starts this year, as he was a well-beaten third by Audible in GP’s GII Holy Bull and looked even worse when fifth in the GII Tampa Bay Derby, so he’s got his work cut out for him today. Son of Into Mischief is the first of two for Romans, and this barn has enjoyed plenty of success in this race over the years, but off his form as a 3yo, it’s tough to think he adds to the ledger; no thanks.
#10 Free Drop Billy (5-1): Romans’ second will be overbet off a painfully slow GI win here in the Breeders’ Futurity last fall, in what was a terribly weak field, and off his form this year, which shows a “someone had to be second” to subsequent GI Florida Derby winner Audible in the Holy Bull and a stinker when a distant third as the heavy favorite in Aqueduct’s GIII Gotham last time. If nothing else, you know this son of Union Rags likes the local oval, and the Holy Bull run wasn’t bad at all, so maybe getting back to two turns will help him find his best form. It’s also a good sign to see Irad here, and this colt is tactical enough to sit a good trip, but at this point, off his recent form, there’s just no reason to take this short of a price when others inspire a lot more; taking a strong stand against.
#11 Good Magic (2-1): The reigning 2yo champion was pretty abysmal when a one-paced and distant third in the Fountain of Youth, when he was all-in entering the far turn yet couldn’t make up any ground on Promises Fulfilled and Strike Power, who were both beaten a football field in the Florida Derby last week. Brown has regrouped with this son of Curlin and said all the right things since, and this spot is clearly his for the taking, but, aside from that romp in the BC Juvenile at Santa Anita, he’s really not a lot faster than some of the 20-1’s in here on paper, so you’re allowed to still view him with some skepticism. You have to think he’ll run better than the FOY effort, and he’s clearly the best of what is a suspect group on paper, but taking a short price on these types just isn’t a recipe for success at the betting windows; trying to beat on top at underlaid odds.
#12 Flameaway (6-1): Versatile son of Scat Daddy showed last time, when he was a closing second in the Tampa Bay Derby, that his Sam F. Davis win two back in Tampa was no fluke, while also showing he’s not a need-the-lead type, either. Casse has done a nice job in this corner, getting a perceived turf/synthetic specialist to run with some big boys on the main track, and if he had his mind on business last time, which wasn’t really the case until it was too late, he may well have won and been a much shorter price today. The post is no bargain, and he may be wide the entire way, but he will offer value and his form this year is as good, if not better, than any of these; won’t fault anyone looking this way.
#13 Machismo (20-1): Price player showed a new dimension when he rallied late in the FOY to be fourth, which is somewhat significant as very few passed anyone in a race where the top three dominated from the start. Son of More Than Ready is plenty speedy enough to get position into the first turn from this wide draw, and, when you consider that his last was not only his first start against winners, but first at two turns too, there’s something to work with here to be sure. The worry is that his connections—trainer Quartarolo and jockey Radosevich—are complete unknowns in a spot like this, and the latter hasn’t ridden a winner all year, so from a wide draw in a GII Kentucky Derby prep, that’s asking an awful lot; mid-pack finish seems likely.
#14 Arawak (30-1): The second from O’Neill will make his first start for his new barn after being a bit of a Polytrack stalwart for Ward, which includes a third-place run in the Jeff Ruby last time. Son of Uncle Mo is sure bred for the real stuff, though, and did win his career debut sprinting in the slop at Belmont Park last May, but from a terrible draw, while trying some graded stakes winners at their own game, he’s in way over his head; tough to tout.
#15 AE Determinant (20-1): Casse’s second will draw in, should they choose, with the defection of Quip, though he will be making his main track debut and first start against winners off an MSW turf win at GP last time, so he’s really taking all the worst of it here. On a positive note, he is a son of Tapit, so the main track is surely within his scope, but if he could handle it, you would think a barn that has the Kentucky Derby as its top priority would have tried him over the dirt by this time; deserved longshot.
#11 Good Magic
#2 Sporting Chance