by Joe Kristufek
With Churchill Downs coming off perhaps their strongest spring meet in history, the horses based in Kentucky should perform even better than they have in years past. Chances are, in many cases, they won’t get the respect they deserve. There is value to be had.
That’s what I’m here for.
For the entirety of the Saratoga meet, I will provide “scouting reports” for the Kentucky-based horses – good, bad and indifferent.
Derby Memories (#3) (6-1)
Off a 21-month layoff, this four-year-old son of Curlin returned to make just the second start of his career on June 23 at Churchill Downs. Off four lengths slow over a yielding turf mile, he was held up inside and raced evenly thereafter. I thought it was a solid enough race for the maiden $50,000 claiming level, and he now drops in for $20,000 and moves over to the dirt. Nine furlongs should suit well and I wouldn’t be surprised if he outperformed his odds.
Lord Simba (#8) (4-1)
Claimed for $16,000 two back out of a third-place run behind a pair of next out winners, this lightly-race six-year-old returned to score a sharp win at the same level. Super live on the tote since the moment the betting opened, he got the same perfect pressing trip that he enjoyed in the race prior, but this time he sealed the deal against a collectively softer group. Former Grade 3 winner appears to be headed in the right direction and the slight class drop for a high percentage barn certainly makes sense.
Kahramani (#4) (5-1)
A consistent performer, often at lower levels, virtually his entire career, he was most recently fourth in an oddly run race at Churchill. The winner got away with soft fractions and ran his best race in ages. This guy got the perfect spying trip behind that pacesetter and failed to go on. He’s been off seven weeks, and chances are seven furlongs isn’t his best game anyway.
Mylastfirstkiss (#8) (12-1)
Purchased for $250,000 as an Ocala March two-year-old in training, this daughter of Flatter was a live 5-1 on the tote in her first and only start on June 21. Off slowly, she lost roughly six lengths at the start and was never a factor behind Frank’s Rockette, perhaps the most impressive two-year-old winner of the entire spring meet at Churchill. Tough to gauge the quality of what she’s facing here but we also have no line on how good this gal is. A dart throw if you’re against the others.
Keep Quiet (#7) (3-1)
One might question his heart off three consecutive narrow defeats, but the reality is, he does try really hard. In his only start of the Churchill meet on May 24, he stalked a fast pace while three-wide throughout. Hung four-wide off the turn, he led late and dug in gamely, only to be bested late by the legit Space Mountain, who had the benefit of closing into a hot pace. Claimed for $50,000 out of that race, he returns at the same level for Steve Asmussen, and he does own a win and second from two starts over the Saratoga green.
Dontblamerocket (#9) (6-1)
Exits the same race at the top choice and finished 1 1/4 lengths behind him. He enjoyed a ground-saving trip that day, split rivals late and then evened out a bit. Late runner did have the advantage of being able to close into a hot pace that day, and the flow might be against him this time around, making him more of an underneath type to me.
Hay Dakota (#11) (9-2)
Second best in a very average $40,000 turf claimer at Churchill on May 1, this veteran six-year-old won on the claim and rise off a seven-week break last out. Chasing into an honest pace from the pocket as the lukewarm favorite, he eased out cleanly, got the jump on the late runners and held firmly safe. It was an advantageous trip for sure, and now he’s asked to break from an extreme outside post against a tougher field.
Dubby Dubbie (#8) (12-1)
His romping win over a wonky November turf at Churchill was a complete farce, and after being purchased privately in advance in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1), he’s been completely exposed. Don’t be fooled by his $548,256 career bankroll as $350,000 of it was “earned” for finishing eighth in that race. He’s failed to seriously threaten in four starts since and now takes a needed drop off a brief freshening. Problem is, he’s still in too tough.
RACE 9 – Forbidden Apple Stakes (G3)
Hembree (#3) (8-1)
His race at Churchill came two starts back, but he’s very worth mentioning in this space. The upset winner in the Opening Verse was allowed to hear his feet rattle on the lead, and this guy closed from the back of the pack to edge the classy Ballagh Rocks for second. He just missed in his follow-up start in the Poker Stakes (G3) at an overlaid 12-1 and appears to be better than he’s ever been.
March to the Arch (#5) (6-1)
Two things about the Wise Dan Stakes (G2) at Churchill on June 15: 1) It was a deep and contentious race 2) It was not Grade 2 caliber. A hot pace up front set the table for this four-year-old gelded son of Arch to run down a 70-1 shot. Admission Office, who might be one of the best turf horses in North America by year’s end, finished a much-the-best third as the favorite. As a four-year-old, March to the Arch might still have some upside, but in my mind he might look slightly better on paper than he actually is.
First Premio (#2 ) (10-1)
Mark Casse’s other runner also exits the Wise Dan. A clean trip while stalking hot fractions, he actually put a head in front briefly in the stretch, but he couldn’t kick with the top four finishers late. He is what he is and it isn’t likely good enough to get the job done here.
PHOTO: New clubhouse at Saratoga Race Course (c) Horsephotos.com