Keeneland: The GII, $1 million Blue Grass at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 100-40-20-10)
#1 Somelikeithotbrown (10-1): Turf/Poly specialist has been a terror for Maker since a no-show debut sprinting in the slop at Saratoga and will now try to take his graded stakes form to real stuff in the hopes of qualifying for the Derby. Son of Big Brown is bred for this, and you’re allowed to be forgiving of his lone dirt try, plus this inside draw and his tactical speed will help him sit a nice trip, though he’s still facing an uphill battle playing the other’s game; thinking he needs his surface to make a real dent.
#2 Vekoma (9-5): Deserving stiff favorite ran well in his seasonal debut in Gulfstream Park’s GII Fountain of Youth last month, when he got run off his feet a bit but kept on nicely late to be third behind a pair of closers in a race that featured a suicidal early pace. Son of Candy Ride should be a lot tighter today for Weaver, and note that the run last time was his first at two turns after a 2-for-2 juvenile campaign that ended with a win in Aqueduct’s GIII Nashua. Tactical sort is another that drew well and meets no world-beaters and a much easier field today, so the rest of these better have their running shoes on to beat him; figures a bit too tough for these.
#3 Signalman (5-1): Tricky read made headlines when he won a sloppy renewal of Churchill Downs’ GII Kentucky Jockey Club to end his 2-year-old campaign, then didn’t make a late dent in his first start of the year when seventh in the FOY, even though this stretch-runner got an ideal pace scenario. Still, you had to figure McPeek didn’t have him cranked that day, and this bargain son of General Quarters showed a lot of talent at 2, which included a third-place run in the BC Juvenile at Santa Anita, so you’re allowed to expect better here. The worry is that the KJC hasn’t exactly been a key race this year, and it was a bit disappointing to see him so flat in Florida considering the race flow, so if he’s for you, you better demand a price if you’re coming along; mixed signals here.
#4 Market King (20-1): Lukas charge will likely be the inside speed, as he was ahead early in the faster (and better) division of Oaklawn Park’s GII Rebel last month, and while he was no match for heavyweights Omaha Beach and Game Winner, he did well to finish a distant third in what was his stakes debut. Into Mischief colt is bred for this longer trip, and he really came to hand in his last three at OP for a trainer that usually keeps them good once he gets them there, and that initial stakes try last time did yield positive results in a spot in which little thought he belonged. And don’t forget, the Coach has pulled off crazier upsets with lesser, and this colt catches a field without a ton of early pace and only the chalk to fear, so if you’re looking to blow up the board, you could do a lot worse; may get brave on the engine.
#5 Chess Chief (30-1): The first of two from Stewart was up in time to register a slow MSW win at Fair Grounds in his last start, for a barn that has been known to hit the board in a Triple Crown prep with a big longshot, though this son of Into Mischief will have to improve many lengths to even finish midpack with this stiff class rise; way overmatched.
#6 Dream Maker (12-1): Rousing FG optional-claiming winner two back might have been exposed in the GII Tampa Bay Derby last month, as he was 10th of 11, though he did have some trouble in a roughly-run race won by Tacitus, who is entered in today’s GII Wood Memorial at Aqueduct (see race preview here), so check out the results of that one to get a better gauge. The less accomplished of the two Casses entered is bred to be a runner, as he’s a son of Tapit, and that win was something to behold, but he hasn’t been close in his three stakes starts, suggesting that he’s just not this kind; tough to endorse.
#7 Admire (15-1): Price player is the more accomplished of Romans’ two runners and is owned by the Albaughs, who have had considerable success in Kentucky with their 3yos over the past few years, so it might be worth taking another look here, especially since he was a better-than-it-looked seventh in the Tampa Bay Derby. Son of Cairo Prince was also a close fifth to Tax (another Wood heavy-hitter) in Aqueduct’s GIII Withers two back, and note his CD MSW win came at today’s distance, making him the only one here with a tally at 9 furlongs on dirt (‘Brown has one on turf and Poly). Versatile sort should be close to what looks a modest pace, and the price will be a good one here, too, so while he’s not the most likely winner, there are plenty of reasons to think he fires a lifetime-best shot here; using.
#8 Win Win Win (7-2): The perceived main danger to the chalk closed nicely in Tampa to be third in what was his two-turn debut and will garner a lot of support here, though that was a derby that contained a suicidal early pace and was won by a deep closer, so his late run was flattered a bit. Still, this son of Hat Trick (Jpn) stepped up to the challenge in what was also his graded stakes debut, while letting everyone know that his facile win in Tampa’s Pasco two-back was no fluke. Trombetta may be a relative newcomer to the Triple Crown Trail, but he does know how to condition a nice horse, and this colt seems to have a future, so there’s no reason he can’t bite off a big piece here; clearly in the mix.
#9 Sir Winston (15-1): The more likely of the two Casses closed from well back in Tampa to register a non-threatening fifth a month after he beat Admire by a half-length when fourth in the Withers, so he’s got some merit to him. Stretch-running son of Awesome Again has seems to have lost his speed in his two dirt runs after a juvenile campaign on the Polytrack at Woodbine, and his style doesn’t seem ideal for today’s race flow, so he may get a piece, but it’s likely a smaller one; using underneath, if at all.
#10 Lucky Lee 20-1): Flatter colt couldn’t answer the bell for John Servis in the Withers, when a distant and disappointing seventh after a pair of rousing wins going two turns at Parx. If you’re looking for an excuse, he did break a bit slow that day, which took him out of his role as an expected pace player, but even an alert beginning here likely won’t be enough to make a major impact; in way too deep.
#11 So Alive (15-1): Pletcher longshot was a distant third in the GIII Sam Davis at Tampa and has yet to run remotely fast enough to compete in a race like this, let alone win it. Fans get their guy at a big price, and there’s little denying that this barn has been on quite a prep race roll in the past month after seemingly being left for dead, but this son of Super Saver looks way out of his element here; not seeing it.
#12 Parsimony (20-1): Rebel eighth-place finisher chased and tired and finished 5 1/2 lengths behind ‘King, and while O’Neill merits respect, this son of Dominus doesn’t look much better than the 78-1 he was last time; next.
#13 Moonster (30-1): Huge longshot has been well-beaten in all of his stakes engagements on dirt, though he did improve when a closing third to ‘Brown in Turfway Park’s GIII Jeff Ruby last time, but this son of Malibu Moon still looks way outclassed and much further down the line than his Romans’-trained stablemate; easy toss.
#14 Aquadini (30-1): Stewart’s second stepped up and was a good second in a FG AOC last time, speeding off on the lead before tiring in deep stretch in a race that made a few speed figure friends. Son of Bernardini took all the worst of it from this draw, so he’ll need to be used early, which won’t help his chances, and this is a big ask, but he showed in his MSW romp at FG two back that he can rate and fire, so he’s another potential exotics bomber and not impossible; fringe player.
#4 Market King
#8 Win Win Win