Keeneland expert picks: Saturday, April 6, 2024

April 4th, 2024

The Blue Grass S. (G1) is the main feature on Saturday’s 11-race card. Mage’s full-brother Dornoch goes head to head with Sierra Leone, who was beaten just a nose by Dornoch in the Remsen S. (G2) last winter.

Four more exciting stakes precede the Blue Grass. Let’s get to handicapping Saturday’s card!

Race 1: 1 1/16 miles, maiden special weight, 3yos

#6 Eusebius (10-1) — Stretched out to 1 1/8 miles in third career start and finished second but can improve with blinkers added and returning off a nearly two-month layoff. Bullet workout March 29. Flavien Prat (29% winner with routes) inherits the mount. Michael McCarthy is 6-for-9 paired with Prat in the last two months.

#7 Batten Down (5-2)  — Beaten a neck when nailed at the wire last out in a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight. The cutback to 1 1/16 miles can trigger a win. Bill Mott a 19% winner with shippers, and Junior Alvarado (20% winner with routes) picks up the mount. Posted 89 and 87 BRIS figures in two career starts.

#5 Elephants Ear (9-2) — Vino Rosso colt finished third on debut in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight. Kenny McPeek wins at a 17% rate with horses making their second start at a route distance and a 14% rate with shippers. Brian Hernandez is up and has won at a 22% rate paired with McPeek the last 60 days.

#3 El Magnifico (6-1) — Steve Asmussen runner is 0-for-7 but has finished in the money in two of three tries at today’s distance. Ran into Todd Pletcher runner Antiquarian last out and finished third on a sloppy track. Comes off a nearly two-month layoff and will regain Tyler Gaffalione. Posted 96 BRIS figure in first start after transferring to Asmussen’s barn back in November in lone start under Gaffalione.

Race 2: 6 furlongs, allowance optional claimer, 3yos

Not a fan of the all button, though you could make an argument for any of the runners in this seven-horse field. Let’s try to narrow it down…

#6 Pirate (9-2) — Returning off a seven-month layoff for Todd Pletcher and has a number of sharp workouts in March. Races on Lasix for the first time (24% winning move for Pletcher), and Irad Ortiz Jr. regains the mount — he won on debut with this Omaha Beach colt in a 5 1/2-furlong sprint at Saratoga. Only other start was a third by 1 1/2 lengths to longshot Nutella Fella in the Hopeful (G1). Next-out Champagne (G1) winner Timberlake finished second and later won the Rebel (G2).

#4 Scatify (4-5) — Troubled trip last out in the San Felipe (G2) facing a small field; finished last of four by 37 lengths. Won on debut at today’s distance at Los Alamitos, then stretched out to a mile in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) but was outkicked by Nysos and finished far back in third. John Sadler is a 25% winner going from a route to a sprint and a 15% winner first-time Lasix. Jose Ortiz picks up the mount. Sharp workouts in March.

#2 Billal (10-1) — Street Sense colt is just 1-for-5 for his career with two third-place finishes. Had the lead at the second call before fading to fourth in the seven-furlong Swale S. last out at Gulfstream and recorded an 87 BRIS figure (tied for the highest last race speed rating among the field). Drops in class today. Broke maiden in seven-furlong maiden special weight, which he won by 3 1/4 lengths. Trainer Bill Mott is a 21% winner with horses racing on Lasix the first time and a 19% winner off layoffs of 46-90 days. Regular rider Junior Alvarado stays in the saddle.

#3 Bledsoe (8-1) — One of two in the field for Wesley Ward; comes off a six-month layoff and will race on Lasix the first time, plus he’s taking blinkers off (29% winning move for Ward). Tyler Gaffalione named to ride. Three-year-old gelding drops in class off sixth in Indian Summer S. on turf. Lone start on dirt was on debut at 4 1/2 furlongs on Keeneland’s main track, where he won by 1 1/2 lengths over 10 rivals.

Race 3: 7 furlongs, maiden special weight, 3yos

First-time starters make up a majority of the field. Let’s see if we can narrow it down…

#3 Carnitine (8-1) — Uncle Mo gelding put in ultra-fast workouts. Had the fastest timed workout at four furlongs on March 29 at Keeneland and ran the best 5F time on March 22 at the track. Eddie Kenneally is a 14% winner at the maiden special weight level, and Uncle Mo’s first-time starters win at a 14% clip. Dam is by Flatter and has one winner from one starter. Luis Saez is a 19% winner with sprints. 

#6 Discreet Mischief (6-5) — Brad Cox runner flashed a 95 BRIS figure on debut when second in a six-furlong maiden special weight on a sloppy track at Fair Grounds. Florent Geroux stays aboard and strikes at a 33% rate in sprints. Cox is a 28% winner second career start.

#12 Counter Attack (6-1) — First-time starter for Steve Asmussen by Gun Runner (17% sire win rate with first-time starters). Three-year-old is out of a Flatter mare who has two winners from two starters. Tyler Gaffalione (19% winner with N/A types) named to ride.

#2 Bookie Brent (12-1) — Goldencents colt is a first-time starter for Phil Bauer, a 24% winner with horses debuting at the maiden special weight level. Gabriel Saez named to ride. Sharp five-furlong workout on March 29. Dam has two winners from two starters, and damsire has an 18% win percentage with first-time starters.

Race 4: 6 furlongs, allowance optional claimer, 4yos

#1 Miles Ahead (6-5) — Fourth in the King Cotton S. last out to Skelly over a sloppy track but should get a fast track today while dropping in class. Two back, Miles Ahead recorded a 103 BRIS figure at today’s distance when winning by 4 1/2 lengths, and he owns a 19-9-4-1 record at six furlongs. Regular rider Joe Talamo retains the mount.

#4 Night Time (9-2) — Switches back to dirt after racing on all-weather in last four. William Morey is a 26% winner with the surface switch and a 17% winner at allowance level. Tyler Gaffalione will regain the mount and won with Night Time in a seven-furlong allowance optional claimer at Keeneland back in October.

#2 Surveillance (3-1) — Finished fourth in the Whitmore (G3) last out and drops down in class. Won two back at Fair Grounds in a six-furlong allowance optional claimer with a 95 BRIS figure. James Graham sticks with the seven-year-old gelding, who is 0-for-2 at Keeneland. Trainer Keith Desormeaux is a 17% winner with shippers.

Race 5: 1 3/16 miles, 3yos

AE #14 El Rezeen (6-1) — If he makes the field, he’s got a shot second off the layoff for Todd Pletcher. Closed to finish fourth by 2 1/2 lengths last out in first turf try. English Channel colt is out of a Kitten’s Joy mare and races on Lasix a second time (27% winning move for Pletcher). Irad Ortiz Jr. named to ride.

#10 Stop the Press (4-1) — missed by a neck last out in first turf start. Recorded an 83 BRIS figure in the effort and can improve off a two-month layoff for Shug McGaughey (17% winner in maiden special weights). Flavien Prat named to ride and strikes at a 22% rate on turf. Sharp four-furlong workout March 31.

#9 Artempus (7-2) — Finished second in both career starts and now makes first start since transferring to Todd Pletcher’s barn. The Kitten’s Joy grandson posted an 87 BRIS figure last out when a half-length second in a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight at Gulfstream. Pletcher removes the blinkers and will keep Javier Castellano aboard.

#2 White Palomino (6-1) — Chad Brown trainee came home third on debut in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight at Gulfstream and was 1 1/2 lengths behind Artempus, who finished second. Brown is a 25% winner with second career starts and wins at a 24% rate off layoffs of 46-90 days. Jose Ortiz will stay in the saddle.

Race 6: 7 furlongs, Commonwealth (G3), 4yos and up

#4 Raise Cain (3-1) — Was no factor last out in the Malibu (G1) in December but can rebound off a three-month layoff and a return to Keeneland, where he’s 2-for-4. The Violence colt also has two wins from three tries at seven furlongs, and he won two back at Keeneland in the Perryville S. with a 101 BRIS figure. He’ll regain the rider from that victory, Luis Saez, who’s a 19% winner with sprints. Sharp recent workouts at Keeneland in March.

#2 Wico (4-1)  — Wesley Ward trainee won three back at Keeneland in an allowance while registering a career-best 100 BRIS figure, then stretched out to a mile and had the lead turning for home but was bested entering the final sixteenth. Ward is a 30% winner second off the layoff, and Irad Ortiz Jr. will pick up the mount.

#7 Here Mi Song (9-2) — Another horse for the course, Here Mi Song has two wins and two second-place finishes from four starts at Keeneland. He won the Commonwealth last year as an 11-1 longshot and earned another stakes win at Ellis Park in July. Last out, he raced on Turfway’s all-weather, and trainer William Stinson has a +2.27 ROI with horses making the surface switch. Alex Archard will stick with the six-year-old.

#9 Minnesota Ready (5-2) — Morning-line favorite posted a huge 104 BRIS figure when winning the 5 1/2-furlong Colonel Power last out but has shown a lack of consistency in his career. The five-year-old gelding has a second and a third from two starts at Keeneland. He’ll pick up Tyler Gaffalione and has a pair of bullet workouts in late March.

Race 7: one mile (turf), Appalachian S. (G2), 3yo fillies

#5 Kairyu (9-2) — First three career starts were in Ireland and now ships to U.S. for first start with Cherie DeVaux, a 33% winner with horses making their first start with the trainer. Was 12th of 14 last out racing on all-weather at Dundalk but won first two starts easily when running 5 and 6 1/2 furlongs on turf.

#6 Austere (10-1) — Came home fifth by 1 3/4 lengths in Florida Oaks (G3) last out; was a two-length fifth two back in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). Brendan Walsh a 23% winner second start off a layoff, and Tyler Gaffalione retains the mount. Sharp pair of recent workouts.

#10 Pounce (3-1) — Rallied to win Herecomesthebride last out at a mile; Two back, the Lookin At Lucky daughter wired a 7 1/2-furlong allowance optional claimer by 2 1/4 lengths. Mark Casse an 18% winner with horses that won their last race; Javier Castellano retains the mount. 93 BRIS figure earned two back is tied with the highest speed figure at today’s distance.

#1 Poolside with Slim (8-1) — Tried turf for the first time in third career start after racing on all-weather in first two. Had the lead in the stretch but got caught and finished fourth by 1 1/4 lengths racing 1 1/16 miles. Cutback in distance can help. Recorded 93 BRIS figure last out, higher than the par winning figure for today’s race conditions. Rusty Arnold a 14% winner in graded stakes and 11% winner with a positive ROI in second career turf starts. Brian Hernandez picks up the mount.

#4 Grecian Goddess (10-1) — Posted 82 BRIS figure when getting up to win by a nose in one-mile maiden special weight at Tampa Bay Downs on debut in January. Transferred to barn of Chad Brown and will make second career start coming off a two-month layoff. Flavien Prat (22% winner on turf) aboard.

Race 8: 7 furlongs, Madison (G1), fillies and mares 4yo and up

#8 Vahva (2-1) — Won the Raven Run (G2) last out in October at Keeneland, where she beat post-time favorite Alva Starr, who re-opposes here. The Gun Runner filly is on a two-win streak and is 3-for-4 from the distance. Irad Ortiz Jr. hops aboard in place of John Velazquez. Cherie DeVaux a 21% winner with horses coming off layoffs of more than 90 days. Should get another hot pace to run into.

#2 Red Carpet Ready (7-2) — Posted a 100 BRIS figure when winning the 6 1/2-furlong Hurricane Bertie (G3) coming off an eight-month layoff. Luis Saez will retain the mount and is 2-for-2 when racing with the Oscar Performance filly at today’s distance. Rusty Arnold a 14% winner second off the layoff but just a 7% winner (from 83 starts) with horses that won their last race. Sharp recent workouts.

#3 Hot and Sultry (8-1) — Intriguing five-year-old who wired the Grade 3 Chilukki by eight lengths three back, but returned off a layoff and finished fifth in next two starts. Speed figures dropped off significantly recently while stretching out to 1 1/16 miles, but Norm Casse is a 31% winner third start off a layoff, and Ricardo Santana Jr. rides. Cutback in distance should help early runner.

Race 9: 5 1/2 furlongs (turf), Shakertown (G2), 3yos and up

#6 Arzak (4-1) — Won last two starts at 5 1/2 furlongs, including an upset win of the Woodford (G2) at Keeneland in October. Cut back to five furlongs in Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) and finished a two-length sixth. Returns off five-month layoff for Michael Trombetta and has posted several sharp workouts. Irad Ortiz Jr. picks up the mount. Not This Time six-year-old owns 7-2-1-1 record at distance and has one win from one start at Keeneland. 

#2 Sosua Summer (12-1) — Summer Front five-year-old moves up in class after winning the 5 1/2-furlong Duncan F. Kenner S. at Fair Grounds. Recorded a 98 BRIS figure, the highest last race speed rating, and owns a 7-4-2-1 record at the distance. Bill Mott is a 22% winner in graded stakes and a 19% winner off layoffs of 46-90 days. Luis Saez stays in the saddle.

#4 Beer Can Man (8-1) — Phil D’Amato trainee is 6-for-12 racing 5 1/2 furlongs on turf but 0-for-2 at Keeneland. Was a two-length third to Arzak in Woodford. D’Amato is a 21% winner off layoffs of 90 or more days, and Flavien Prat regains the mount.

Race 10: 1 1/8 miles, Blue Grass S. (G1), 3yos

#6 Just a Touch (7-2) — Brad Cox runner failed as the favorite in the one-mile Gotham (G3) in his second career start, finishing a two-length second to Deterministic. The longer distance should suit him as a Justify colt out of a Tapit mare. 3yo recorded identical 97 BRIS figures in two career starts and has looked sharp in workouts. The leading trainer at Keeneland last spring and fall won the 2021 edition of the Blue Grass with Essential Quality. Just a Touch could be his second winner. Stablemate Encino a good play underneath in exotics.

#10 Sierra Leone (2-1) — My top Kentucky Derby contender at the moment, but second choice in the Blue Grass. Partially because of price, partially because of track bias. Early speed types were winning at the highest percentage in 9F dirt races last meet, but Sierra Leone has the closing kick to rally late regardless of early pace fractions. Comes off a nearly two-month layoff for Chad Brown. Blinkers improved his focus last out when winning the Risen Star. Lone loss is a nose second to Dornoch in the Remsen. Brown has two wins in the Blue Grass — in 2022 with Zandon and 2018 with Dornoch’s sire, Good Magic.

#4 Dornoch (3-1) – Finished second in first two career starts, but now on a three-win streak, including his 6 1/2-length maiden score at Keeneland last October. I keep fading the full-brother to Mage in the big races, and he inevitably wins. Had it easy in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth last out after a handful of top contenders scratched. Danny Gargan a 19% winner second off a layoff and in graded stakes. Luis Saez retains the mount.

Race 11: 1 1/16 miles (turf), allowance, 4yos and up

#5 Master Piece (7-2) — A number of early speed types could create the perfect pace setup for Master Piece to close late and get up for the win. The eight-year-old won two back in the 1 3/8-mile Red Smith (G2) at Aqueduct and has one win and a second from two tries at 1 1/16 miles. Richard Dutrow is a 26% winner with horses coming off layoffs of 46-90 days and an 18% winner with shippers. Irad Ortiz picks up the mount. Finished last of 12 by six lengths in 1 1/8-mile Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) behind a modest pace, but clocked a 96 BRIS figure, the highest last race speed rating among the field.

#4 Dominican Pioneer (4-1) — Another class-dropper who will vie for the early lead. The Pioneerof the Nile five-year-old finished fifth by.3 1/4 lengths in the 1 1/8-mile River City (G3) last out after setting the early pace. Has one win from three starts at the distance, which he achieved in an allowance at Keeneland in October 2022. Regains the rider (Gerardo Corrales) from that race. Wesley Ward a 24% winner at allowance level and 27% winner off layoffs of more than 90 days. Bullet work on March 28. 

#3 Running Bee (8-5) — Does best when on the early lead. English Channel five-year-old stalked the pace last out in the Tampa Bay (G3) before gaining a lead in the stretch but was outfinished by half a length. The Chad Brown trainee has posted three straight 89 BRIS figures, six points lower than the average winning speed figure for today’s race conditions, but he’s getting Tyler Gaffalione back in the saddle. The pair won four back at Keeneland in gate-to-wire fashion in a 1 1/8-mile allowance.