This weekend, Picks and Ponderings covers four races from three different venues spread out over two pieces this week. The other piece is Nicolle's coverage of Saturday's stakes, the G3 Bold Ruler and the Chelsea Flower at Belmont Park. The four stakes and three venues give this weekend directly preceding the Breeders' Cup a grab-bag feeling, as we have horses that not for ready for the prime time of the Breeders' Cup seeking some stakes glory of their own. One half of this week's pre-Breeders Cup grab bag is here, with a look at the closing day feature from Keeneland, the G2 Fayette Stakes. The second race comes from Santa Anita, where in a week they'll stage the Breeders' Cup. Their feature this week is the G3 Autumn Miss Stakes.
Morning lines for both races, scheduled to take place on Saturday October 25th, were not available at original publish time. Updated October 23rd to include morning lines.
Keeneland -- Race 9 -- G2 Fayette Stakes -- 1 1/18 miles on Dirt -- post time 5:13 pm ET
Keeneland resides in Lexington, Kentucky and in Fayette County, Kenucky. So the Fayette Stakes, the first of the two races to be analyzed in this space, takes its name from a logical location. Sponsored by Hagyard, an equine hospital in Lexington, this races carries a purse of two hundred thousand dollars. A grade two going nine furlongs on the dirt, it often serves as a logical feeder to the G1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Thanksgiving weekend. While it won't lure runners that go in the Breeders' Cup, it still has a solid roll call of winners since first being staged in 1959. Three time winner Royal Harmony (1969-71) holds the most wins, but the shining stars are Gulfstream stakes namesake Old Hat (1965); 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall (1991), 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Blame (2009), worth noting Blame's sire Arch won it in 1998, and two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan (2011).
Typically a top-five trainer at Arlington, Chris Block has done a not-too-shabby job at Keeneland, with two wins and a podium finish. More relevant is that when Block gets Florent Geroux to ride, the team are 7-for-16 (nationally, past 60 days) in the win column. Geroux and Block are the jockey and trainer on reliable G3 type MISTER MARTI GRAS, who was second in his last foray into the G2 level last fall at Hawthorne in the Gold Cup. The thinking is that MISTER MARTI GRAS is getting long in the tooth, with a fifth on Arlington Million Preview Day and a third in the Washington Park. But neither race had pace, and the Washington Park winner cashed a check in a G2 during the Santa Anita fall meet. There will be a honest pace in here from COLTIMUS PRIME, PICK OF THE LITTER, and CALL ME GEORGE. With a first half that will likely be under fifty seconds, the pace will be more favorable. MISTER MARTI GRAS was scratched out of the G3 Sycamore at twelve panels when that course came up marshy. This is also not a G2 Fayette with some killers, and maybe he can steal it. DEPARTING's races at four haven't been as dazzling as at three, but perhaps that's to be expected. After becoming a King of the B-Derbies (Illinois, West Virginia, Super), Oklahoma was one too much and he went on winter vacay, and came off it with a win at Churchill. He comes in off a runner-up finish to Breeders' Cup Classic pre-entrant Cigar Street in the Homecoming Classic last out and was third in the G1 Foster. He makes sense as he won a G2 (the WV Derby), nine furlongs is fine for him, and he'll got some pace to chase down. Still, it may be possible his confidence is a bit rocked. And his reputation as someone whose form at three may not have translated makes him a horse to use more defensively than the one we'll use offensively, MISTER MARTI GRAS. The only three-year-old in the field, COLTIMUS PRIME catches a weight break for his age. Winner of the middle leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales, at Fort Erie, he projects as speed of the speed and recruits James Graham to ride. He won't get an easy lunch on the front end, but he may be the one that hangs around most, given his age. While winning the Prince of Wales amounts to a whoop-te-do (Canada's Triple Crown races are restricted to those bred in Canada), he did earn a stylish figure and perhaps showed he likes dirt more than the polytrack at home base Woodbine. Still, he's not a slouch on the poly, as he exits a runner up placing in a G3 at today's nine panel trip.
#6 MISTER MARTI GRAS (10/1)
#2 DEPARTING (5/2)
#4 COLTIMUS PRIME (12/1)
Longshot: #8 CODE WEST (10/1) comes to Keeneland taking an unusual route. Not often you read Keeneland form and see a horse coming in off a second at Albuquerque. But CODE WEST is, and it was a second last out in a six-figure stakes. Two back he won a listed stakes at Remington. The form on this one seems off and outclassed. But it's closer to muddled: when in Catalano's Monmouth string, he was never at his ideal distance (nine or ten furlongs, being by long winded Lemon Drop Kid). Still, the last two starts were at nine panels and people may remember CODE WEST from the 2013 Kentucky Derby trail and hailing from the strong New Orleans based races that gave Revolutionary, Oxbow, and so on. But as he was then, and as he is now, he's a plodder. If they go too fast early or if no one wants the lead, maybe Shaun Bridgmohan (whose mounts are winning at 25%) can put him in the right position.
Santa Anita -- Race 8 -- G3 Autumn Miss Stakes -- One Mile on Turf -- post time 7:30 pm ET/4:30 pm PT
Once again, we come to a fall stakes race at Santa Anita that, despite the nomination forms, isn't running for the third time. True, it's the third time it has the nameplate of the G3 Autumn Miss Stakes. But before 2010, this race paid honor to the late Harold C. Ramser, Sr. Harold Charles Ramser, Sr was a Los-Angeles based politican born in 1908 who made his mark in oil production throughout the Los Angeles area. After his death in 1989, Ramser's name was attached to this race, formerly known as the Yankee Valor Handicap. First run in 1981 but with some non-runnings, the race became a G3 in 1989, lost the grade after the 1991 running, and re-earned it for the 2008 running. Since 1991 it's been staged at a mile on the turf. Once again it will be at a mile on the turf, for three year old fillies chasing a pot of hundred grand. That first turf running saw Flawlessly, an eventual Hall of Famer, annex the Ramser. Other notable winners include multiple G2 winner Olympic Charmer (1999). For this race, selections are made "turf only" with the rail at publish time set to twenty-four feet from zero.
ZINDAYA is a new face in the crowd, and maybe that works here in a grab-bag field. She ships west for Christophe Clement, and Clement came out here to grab a third (via dead heat) the last time he was here. He brings this sophomore filly that has a two race win streak, breaking the maiden and clearing the N1X condition in New York. Today's race is the first time she's routing, and being by More Than Ready out of a Kris S. mare makes two turns and a mile within her scope. The first-time-route angle also works 26% of the time for the trainer, too. With the rail out twenty-four feet I think that puts a premium on inside forward trips. She may be speed and could clear away from the pack. Once more unto the breach with ON THE BACKSTREETS, who gets a switch in pilots to Joe Talamo and goes second off the layoff. After stalking the pace in the Unzip Me in late September, she turned in a figure that shows she might be able to progress forward second off it, and that's an 18% winning proposition for the trainer. Although this one has three wins on the downhill, she was fourth in the China Doll behind DIVERSY HARBOR (that's the proper Jockey Club spelling of the Chicago landmark and one of those #curlinbabies) at a mile earlier in the year. At a mile she was closer to the pace and I think that puts her in the mix. FAMOUS ALICE returns to the confines of her own age group after trying elders last time in the G1 Rodeo Drive in September (where the Unzip Me was on the undercard). She was only beaten four lengths that day, suggesting she might not stagnate as the year goes on. Moreover, she's going third start off the layoff in this spot. Four of five in the money over the local course (but only one win), but she's been chasing around the likes of Personal Diary and Stellaris in the sophomore ranks, neither of which are here and both of which would be odds on against this crew.
#8 ZINDAYA (6/1)
#2 ON THE BACKSTREETS (6/1)
#4 FAMOUS ALICE (12/1)
Longshot: #9 WONDERFULLY (20/1) gets Perry Ouzts to ride. That is not a typo, as the boot and scoot rider best known as the king of the Ohio tracks gets a ride out here at Santa Anita. Ouzts is also a speed rider, and in a field with no one-way need-the lead speed, maybe he catches the west coast riders snoozing and puts WONDERFULLY on the lead. This might look like disaster, but she's broken slow in her last two starts and catches a rider who does well (maybe too well) engaging horses early. She was on the pace three back in the G1 Belmont Oaks, albeit at a longer ten furlongs. But with a rider that SoCal players may go "Perry Who?", the odds could drift up. It's also the "other" in the field trained by Tom Proctor, the more heralded horse being FAMOUS ALICE. Expect boxcar odds on this one.
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