2014 Keeneland Mile Day Stakes Preview

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Image courtesy of Keeneland.

The Fall Stars (#fallstars on twitter) weekend begins on Friday October 3 with the G1 Alcibiades and G3 Phoenix. And it continues with this piece that examines the stakes quintet on Saturday October 4.  It concludes with the G3 Bourbon and G1 Spinster on Sunday October 5. Each of the races previewed, just like yesterday's races, has implications for the Breeders' Cup in their respective divisions. For the Saturday program, three of the races provide the winners automatic berths as "win and you're in" races.  And one of the races also is one of the first races of the year to provide points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby points series.  Oh, and a two-time Horse of the Year on the program.

Unlike in the Spring meet, these races will be contested on the dirt surface as opposed to the polytrack surface. Keeneland changed their main track surface over the summer.

The five stakes and G1 triple make this the richest and perhaps the biggest card of Keeneland's month long October meet.  With local Hawthorne Race Course (opening on Friday October 3) staging a true twilight card on October 4 that starts at 6:00 PM EDT/5:00 PM CDT, you can easily get down on Keeneland before the opener of the twilight card on West 35th.

The simulcast feed of these races (as well as the entire Keeneland card, every racing day) is available on Keeneland's website as well as the Horse Races NOW mobile app.  Audio coverage and analysis are also available on Horse Racing Radio Network from 4:0opm-6:00pm EDT; that audio is available on Sirius 92, XM 92, or the HRRN website.  Television coverage of this card featuring the G1 races (Shadwell Mile, First Lady, Breeders' Futurity) is slated to air from 4:30pm-6:00pm EDT on NBC Sports.

In races carded for turf, selections are made "turf only".  Morning line odds were not available at original publish time.

Updated October 2nd to include morning lines.

Keeneland -- Race 5 -- G3 Woodford Stakes -- 5 1/2 furlongs on turf -- post time 3:25 pm ET

The Woodford began its life in 1997 as the Nureyev Stakes.  The race was upgraded to Grade Three status in 2009.  Former namesake Nureyev was a twice Group 3 winner in France who is better known for his progeny.  Double Breeders' Cup mile Miesque, foundation California sire Unusual Heat, and Breeders' Cup turf winner Theatrical all were sired by Nureyev.  2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown traces directly to Nureyev, as Big Brown's broodmare sire.  In 2003 the race got a name change to Woodford, a county in Kentucky that's part of the Lexington area.  Notable winners include double victor Havelock (2011, 2013), also a graded stakes winner at Arlington.  Illinois-bred Fort Prado claimed the 2007 running. 2008 victor Chamberlain Bridge took the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint two years later.  This race carries a purse of $150,000 and is sponsored by Keeneland Select.  While not an automatic qualifier to the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, runners of this race may still progress to that race in a month.

At Keeneland there are popular tailgates in the parking lots adjacent to the course that rival those of college football games, and a fixture of any tailgate is to bring your grill and enjoy some barbeque.  This race, from the opening bell, could have a pace as hot as a rack of ribs on the grill.  In the Spring complement of this race, the G3 Shakertown, all the speed flinched and MARCHMAN was allowed to coast on an easy lead.  Yet when the pace was faster the next start on Derby Day, he could pull back and stalk from an up-close position.  The form carried through the Spring (second, G3 Jaipur) and summer (third, G3 Parx Dash).  While first of the layoff might have him keen, I think they are too many others who want to roast themselves on the front to make him want to join them.  If the second pick looks familiar, it's that POSITIVE SIDE was second in the Arlington Sprint, second in the G3 Shakertown, third in the G3 TwinSpires Turf Sprint.  He hasn't won since last summer at Indiana going two turns, but he's been nibbling in these races.  And chasing around the likes of MARCHMAN twice, Saint Leon in the Arlington Sprint (who recently won at Indiana Downs), and Undrafted, who was good enough to hit the podium in the UK and recently 3rd at Kentucky Downs.  Maybe one of these races he gets his pace set up and a clean trip, but he appears to be a clunk-up type we can trust to get a piece of the pie but not the whole pie.  However, he will get the pace set up, the hope is for a clean trip if you're endorsing him.  SPRING TO THE SKY brings a three race win streak to the table, having won a grass stakes and an off-grass stakes, both at Saratoga and both at today's distance.  While he's one of the many in here to make the pace quick, he's done his work wire-to-wire in New York.  Last time he bested Dads Caps, and he's a G1 winner that was just nipped on the line in the G1 Vosburgh.  If all the speed flinches he could clear and make others pay, or, be the speed of the speed.  John Velazquez comes in from New York to keep the regular assignment.

Selections:

#10 MARCHMAN (7/2)

#5 POSITIVE SIDE (12/1)

#11 SPRING TO THE SKY (7/2)

Longshot: #3 NO DISTINCTION (20/1) has only been on the grass twice, once when second as a sophomore to eventual G2 winner Central Banker, and the second time two back when winning an allowance race at Indiana Downs.  Last seen in a six figure race at Mountaineer on West Virginia Derby, he was second to locally based Bet Seattle that day going four and a half panels on the dirt.  His graduation came off wicked-fast splits down at turf-free Oaklawn last year as a sophomore, and those wicked-fast sprints could develop here.  Jockey/trainer team doesn't get together that often, but are three of four in the money (no wins) in the last two months.  The fact the trainer is 4-for-56 going dirt to turf will likely keep the price up.

Keeneland -- Race 6 -- G2 Thoroughbred Club of America (TCA) Stakes -- Six furlongs on Dirt -- post time 4:00 pm ET

Next door to Keeneland is the headquarters of the Thoroughbred Club of America. This organization "is organized to promote, foster, and encourage closer co-operation and better business relations in the Thoroughbred horse industry." Run for the thirty-third time this year, the race first got Grade Three stature in 1988 and was bumped up to Grade Two stature in 2009.  Informed Decision (2009) and Dubai Majesty (2010) and Groupie Doll (2012) all won this race and the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint a month later.   Hall of Famer Safely Kept (1990) won this race then beat open company in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.   Two hundred grand is the purse and the winner gets an automatic berth to the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

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Keeneland records of synthetic performers in dirt past performances. (Photo courtesy Nicolle Neulist.)

With a totally new dirt surface, who handles it and who sputters over it could play into the outcome of the race.  I'm not picking SOUTHERN HONEY because she has 1-1-0-0 record of the surface. That win came over the synthetic, which is now long gone.  And if you're playing Keeneland, beware of this statistical inaccuracy in past performances that may appear through the meet. (This has been a public service of "Picks and Ponderings".)  SOUTHERN HONEY gets the nod because there appears to be a two-ply wicked speed duel on the front end between R FREE ROLL and STONETASTIC, and that plays into her best races.  SOUTHERN HONEY three back in the G3 Winning Colors got to flank wide off quick fractions and wear down the leaders.  Worth noting she beat elders in the Spring, and yet she's a three-year-old who gets weight-for-age.  SOUTHERN HONEY's worst race came two back in the G1 Test, which didn't have the wicked up-front pace duel.  And although the track you see in the morning isn't what you see in the afternoon, she has been working over the local dirt for trainer Rusty Arnold.  While Rusty comes loaded for bear at Keeneland, Paco Lopez comes to Keeneland off a very solid run at Monmouth.  Lopez is half of a team hitting 28% wins/61% in the money in the last two months, and he climbs aboard STONETASTIC. Like our top choice she's a sophomore taking on the elders, but she whistled in the G2 Prioress at today's six panel distance.  Trainer Kelly Breen is the other half of that strong team (that hits the board half the time when shipping, too) figured out STONETASTIC is a sprinter after a meh third on the Gulfstream weeds.  Third off the layoff and never out of the superfecta in her career.  R FREE ROLL has been working down at Gulfstream Park West, the new nameplate of Miami-based Calder Race Course.  R FREE ROLL showed she can win outside of Florida when she won the G2 Honorable Miss last time, and rider-for-hire Mike Smith climbs aboard.  She'll be speed for sure from the inside, but there's no free lunches with STONETASTIC lined up too.  Still, she's picked her spots carefully with a lifetime 17-7-5-2 record.  Like her race two back in a small stakes at Calder (the PPs kick it old school here, kids), a track that no matter the name is a hard surface to go sub :22 first quarter and still finish six panels in 1:10 flat.

Selections:

#6 SOUTHERN HONEY (5/1)

#5 STONETASTIC (2/1)

#3 R FREE ROLL (5/2)

Longshot: Remember the long-ago days of last year when the G2 Presque Isle Downs Masters on Tapeta provided clues to this race?  With Keeneland's new dirt surface, performances on the Erie, PA synthetic are apt to be discarded as runners go away from synthetic to dirt.  Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater in this case. #4 NORTHERN PASSION (15/1)  has only once been away from a synthetic or a dirt surface, but that was long-ago in the 2011 Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies and she was three wide on the first turn.  This Mark Casse trainee has since been on the grass and synthetics ever since, so either Casse didn't get the surface change memo or he's looking at the First Samurai-Giant's Causeway sire line that likes dirt or the fact the only dirt race was so long ago and it's worth another try.  Worth noting her closing rally could be well served (like it was in the Whimsical) if the two fast fillies get frisky on the front.

Keeneland -- Race 7 -- G1 First Lady -- One Mile on Turf -- post time 4:35pm ET, to air live on NBC Sports.

First staged in 1998, the First Lady spent its first seven runnings at the distance of 1 3/16 miles.  In 2005, the raced to the mile distance it holds to this day.  In 2000, Winstar Farm took on sponsorship and gave the race a new name, the Galaxy Stakes.  In 2006, the race reverted back to the First Lady nameplate.  Graded in 2000 with new sponsors, it was elevated to Grade Two the following year in 2001 and 2007 became a Grade One.  The Grade One First Lady carries a $400,000 purse.  Both Intercontinental (2005) and Forever Together (2008) turned the First Lady-Breeders Cup Filly and Mare turf victory double.  2011 winner and locally based Never Retreat won Canada's Horse of the Year in 2012. While not an win-and-you're in, it still serves to provide Breeders' Cup clues.

Time for a spin on the Female Turf wheel.  I think Rosario gave a bad ride last time on FILIMBI in the G2 Ballston Spa at Saratoga, not putting her on the pace when the race slowed down in the intermediate stages.  That put FILIMBI out of her element, to be near a slow pace, as opposed to wanting a more vigorous pace.  With ISTANFORD and DAYATTHESPA wanting their names called early, there should be the quicker pace she wants.  Second four back to SOMALI LEMONADE over this course, it's another Rosario/Mott production with solid works since the Ballston Spa clunker.  I think her closing rally gets set up by the honest pace at worst and Rosario won't want to let her get caught in a paceless race like last time.  Let's give a home-team shoutout to ISTANFORD, who beat the boys at Arlington this Spring in the G3 Arlington Classic and later won the G2 San Clemente.  Shipping back east after Del Mar two stakes wins (including the G2), she'll likely be on the engine and take these as far as she can as fast as she can.  Not thrilled on the rider switch to Robby Albarado in this spot, but she is getting a weight allowance for being three.  Also been turning in quality works out west, and trainer Mike Stidham does know his way around a good sophomore turfer.  SOMALI LEMONADE was wide into the first turn last time in the G1 Beverly D. on the northwest side.  SOMALI LEMONADE was only beaten 2 1/4 lengths that day at Arlington, and second place finisher Stephanie's Kitten (who she beat in the G1 Diana) annexed the G1 Flower Bowl last week.  However, that race served to indict the female turf division as a middling and slow group, given the Beverly D. winner pointing for next week's sophomore only QEII.  Yet SOMALI LEMONADE does shorten back to a mile after the nine and a half panels of the Beverly D., and her wins this year (including the Diana) were in two-turn mile-category races like today's.

Selections:

#1 FILIMBI (7/2)

#4 ISTANFORD (8/1)

#8 SOMALI LEMONADE (9/2)

Longshot: ISTANFORD assures they won't go :25/:50 for the opening half in the G1 First Lady. Yet this could be a race where the speed goes too fast early.  Presenting #2 KITTEN'S POINT (15/1) as the beneficiary.  Two back she was a nose behind CENTRE COURT in the G2 Honey Fox, but the CENTRE COURT of then is better than now.  KITTEN'S POINT was closing on the hard courses of Gulfstream that favored front speed, and was only beaten three lengths in the G1 Jenny Wiley over these weeds.  A Kitten's Joy offspring not owned by the Ramseys, but instead by Augustin Stable and put in the hands of Graham Motion, who's been having a solid year of his own.  She'll need the pace to quick and contested, but she does have experience over this course (2nd in the Jessamine as a juvenile).  The works, and Motion hitting the podium half the time off layoffs, indicate she'll be ready.

Keeneland -- Race 8 -- G1 Claiborne Breeders' Futurity -- 1 1/16 Miles on Dirt -- post time 5:08pm ET, to air live on NBC Sports.

Like Friday's G3 Phoenix Stakes, this race began at the Kentucky Association track.  First run in 1910, it moved to upstate Latonia, the first of two venues near Cincinnati to have that on the front gate, then came to Keeneland in 1938.  The race moved to Churchill during the travel restrictions of World War II, and came back home to Keeneland thereafter.  Given a Grade Three rank when races were first graded in 1973, it ascended to Grade Two two years after and has been a Grade One since 2004.  Since 1981, the race has been at two turns, and in prior years would be a long sprint of six or seven furlongs.  Two winners, Tasso (1985) and Boston Harbor (1996) won this race and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.  The honor roll of winners also includes Triple Crown winner Whirlaway (1940), Hall of Famer Round Table (1956), Gulfstream stakes namesake (and Derby winner) Swale (1983) and Arlington stakes fixture Polar Expedition (1993).  The race carries a purse of a half million dollars, is sponsored by Claiborne Farms, and offers the winner a free pass to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.  It also is a Kentucky Derby points race, with the 1-2-3-4 finishers receiving 10-4-2-1 points towards the following year's Kentucky Derby.

Winner at Churchill at seven panels first out of the box, TOUGH CUSTOMER wheels back in less than two weeks to try this G1.  He pressed off fractions that for seven panels could be seen here in this G1 thanks to the presence of stretchouts and confirmed pace presences going second time two turns.  The pedigree gets a seal of approval (by Giant's Causeway out of an Arch mare) for two turns, and he's trained by Wayne Catalano, the same Catalano that traditionally is a force at Arlington but now running multiple strings including at Churchill, where he was leading trainer in the September meet.  Even more, he and rider Shaun Bridgmohan won three times in the four times they teamed up during the last two weeks of Churchill.  First time around two turns for this juvenile, and that's a solid proposition for Catalano (wins about a fourth of the time). While it's the first time routing for TOUGH CUSTOMER, it will be second time for BOLD CONQUEST.  Beaten a neck last time going two turns in the G3 Iroquois at Churchill, this Asmussen trainee won with a pressing trip second time out at the Spa.  Taken to Churchill he closed off the slow (for a juvenile race) pace and just missed to Lucky Player.  One of the #curlinbabies, the Napravnik/Asmussen team has been flammable the last two months and the figures are trending up.  CARPE DIEM is another one of those stretching out to two turns, but this one is a Velazquez/Pletcher production.  Winner on debut going five and a half at the Spa, the pedigree here is okay as well as he's also by Giant's Causeway.  Shows three solid maintenance-styled post-race works on Belmont's training track, and his race on figures matches up to TOUGH CUSTOMER.  However, Pletcher in a two year old race at Keeneland is a money magnet and it will be hard to obtain a square price.  Still, if this becomes a carousel juvenile race and he gets the lead, he may be hard to reel in.

Selections:

#1 TOUGH CUSTOMER (6/1)

#6 BOLD CONQUEST (9/2)

#5 CARPE DIEM (4/1)

Longshot: One for the home team as #9 IKE WALKER (8/1) is the longshot to watch in this space.  A graduate second time out at seven panels, he was fifth in the G3 Arlington-Washington Futurity last time. In the graded event he went wide on the synthetic that day and didn't hit the podium.  Yet he did run a race on figures as good as or better than the seven panel graded race in Arlington Heights.  Perhaps IKE WALKER will like the dirt as opposed to the synthetic under his hooves, as he sports a solid work over the Keeneland dirt.  Trainer Stidham is going with a natural distance progression on this son of Bellamy Road out of an unraced Hold That Tiger mare (so dirt should be okay and two turns should be okay), and the two sprints to route angle has a 26% win rate for trainer Stidham.

Keeneland -- Race 9 -- G1 Shadwell Turf Mile -- One Mile on Turf -- post time 5:45 pm ET, to air live on NBC Sports.

The day's (and the Keeneland meet's) richest race is the G1 Shadwell Turf Mile, which carries a purse of a million dollars.  The winner of this race gets a free spot in the Breeders' Cup Mile, as one of the "win and you're in" races.  First run in 1986, the race shifted to a grassy mile in 1994 after starting its life at nine furlongs.  Given Grade Three rank in 1988, it ascended to Grade Two rank in 1998, and finally to the present Grade One status in 2001.  Only two horses, Steinlen (1989) and WISE DAN (2012) won this race and then won the Breeders' Cup Mile.  Other notable victors include Gio Ponti, winner of this race in 2010 and 2011.  The 2013 running is most notable for being washed off the turf and not contested at a mile, becoming a Shadwell Turf Mile contested not on turf and not a mile even though the name was applied to it.

Here's that two-time horse of the year that was mentioned earlier.  After his summertime ailments, WISE DAN returned last time in the G2 Bernard Baruch at Saratoga, taking down that Spa race as the 4-5 favorite while also showing himself no worse for wear.  Three for three on the year, with a win in the Springtime complement of this race - the G1 Maker's Mile - and the G1 Turf Classic over at Churchill.  He does meet defending champion SILVER MAX, but last year's race was that kooky affair that (all together now) was not on the turf and not at a mile.  There should be pace from SILVER MAX and TWO NOTCH ROAD and the two contesting the pace (because the former has a limited passing gear) seems likely.  Even though this is a prep, look for LoPresti to want a quality race from his charge before going on to the Breeders' Cup Mile.  Worth noting he won this race two years back.  SEEK AGAIN's win in the G2 Fourstardave at Saratoga gave some valid answers to the "What has Wise Dan beaten?" question that trolls up every now and then given the top choice's reluctance to stray beyond sod miles.  SEEK AGAIN used a nifty rail rally at the Spa, and this one was on the podium three back over today's course.  Third in a false-paced Manhattan, that race looks more like a clunker given the honest pace that looks to unfold.  A Rosario/Mott production, this team has in the past two months been quite hot with a 35% win/65% in the money strike rate.  SILVER MAX won't mind the condition of the course, as he won last year at the Spa on yielding ground.  And he is the defending champion.  But that win in last year's Shadwell...oh you know the drill...came because he got the lead, WISE DAN was six wide, and wet polytracks can play like carousels that favor frontrunners.  Still, he's classy enough as speed to take down races like the G2 Firecracker.  If he doesn't throw out the parachute like he did at Saratoga, he could a piece of the pie.  Two bullet works lead me to think the Fourstardave was just a bad day at the office and not the start of his form going downhill.

Selections:

#6 WISE DAN (4/5)

#8 SEEK AGAIN (7/2)

#4 SILVER MAX (9/2)

Longshot: #3 GRAND ARCH (12/1) was a neck behind SEEK AGAIN two back in the Fourstardave before getting beaten on the square by Trade Storm's late kick last time in the G1 Woodbine Mile.   He started his year with a podium finish in an N3X allowance over the Keeneland weeds, and annexed a Grade Two in Canada as well.  The fifth in the Woodbine Mile was at one turn last time, and one argument is the race proved he's not of the level of Trade Storm, who won this year's Woodbine Mile and among the many in the "Second to Wise Dan in a Turf Stakes Club" through a 2013 Woodbine Mile badge that includes fellow runners OPTIMIZER (Baruch), KAIGUN (Maker's Mile), and SEEK AGAIN (Turf Classic). However, GRAND ARCH had to rally wide at Woodbine on a day when the rail was the place to be, and that's the only time in his career he failed to hit the board.  Another plus point is that he's three for three in the money over the Keeneland weeds and will go third off the layoff.

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