A massive opening Saturday at Keeneland awaits with five graded stakes races on tap, including three of the Grade 1 variety. The sensational 11-race card has something for everyone, and I will take a close look at the action on the main oval with some spot plays.
The Keeneland dirt surface was favorable to front-end speed during the spring meeting, both in sprint and route races, but horses from off the pace had a measure of success as well.
In the sprint runs, deeper closers fared better than those who tracked the pace from the start, while pace pressers and stalkers earned some victories more so than horses coming from the back of the pack when going long.
Dirt racing at Keeneland
The opener is a loaded six-furlong dash for juvenile fillies with a dozen on board. Specially (#10) (5-1) debuts for conditioner Mark Casse, and the filly brought a hefty sum of $475,000 at auction this spring. The Tapiture lass is a half-sister to Belmont S. (G1) third Joevia, who broke his maiden at first asking going five furlongs. Specially will have a contested pace to run into turning for home.
Beach Flower (#1) (6-1) was a 10-length allowance winner the last time she raced on the dirt at Keeneland. The capable Mac Robertson pupil was a stakes heroine on the turf most recently and should appreciate the move back to this surface. Orlando Mojica has the call and will be saving ground along the backside.
Maiden special event event at 1 1/16 miles for the boys attracted an overflow field of 14 in a competitive contest. Second-time starter Portos (#3) (4-1) earned a 100 BRIS Late Pace number on debut going nine panels at Saratoga. The Pletcher pupil has posted four strong morning drills in the interim, and I love that Jose Ortiz lands atop the son of Tapit. I expect Portos to be involved much sooner on Saturday.
I tabbed Wheat King (#3) (12-1) for success in his debut run and he delivered, and I will come right back with what I think is a nice prospect. Chiefswood homebred was forwardly placed throughout in his first offering, but I envision him closing from off the pace in a field with an abundance of pace to the outside. Declan Carroll retains the mount.
Thoroughbred Club of America (G2) shows a fine group of filly and mare sprinters. A decent portion of similar recent dashes have been won either in wire-to-wire fashion, or from one-run closers. Dawn the Destroyer (#5) (8-1) fits the description of the latter. The McLaughlin trainee was a clear second behind the superb Come Dancing in the Ballerina (G1) most recently, and the five-year-old could sit a dream trip behind a fleet field.
A strong field of juveniles will contest the $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity (G1). I expect the push-button Ajaaweed (#8) (3-1) to always be in range while making his stakes bow. Curlin colt was sharp going a one-turn mile at Belmont last out, and he should thrive with added ground today while never too far back early on.
Further Lane (#5) (4-1) will be unveiled in the finale for conditioner Brad Cox. $170,000 daughter of Lea has been training like a filly that will come flying out of the gate, led by her bullet half-mile move at Churchill Downs most recently. The March foal is a wire-to-wire candidate if she runs to her drills under Castellano.
Keeneland dirt racing image by Coady Photo/Keeneland