2016 Bewitch Stakes Preview

Last week, open company got a chance to go three turns on the Keeneland grass in the Elkhorn.  On Keeneland's closing day (Friday, April 29), the long-winded fillies and mares get their day in the mile and a half Bewitch Stakes.

This race, being run for the 55th time this year, takes its name from Hall of Fame inductee Bewitch.  Bewitch was a durable sort, very good for a very long time.  She won stakes races from her juvenile year all the way through age six.  Those performances included ten stakes wins on the Chicago circuit, both at Arlington Park and Washington Park.  Those wins included two races that we still see in some form today, the Arlington Lassie (1947) and the Modesty Stakes (1948).

Bewitch's longevity makes the varied formats of the race named in her honour all the more fitting.  The Bewitch was originally a dirt race for two-year-old fillies: four furlongs starting in 1962, and extended to four and a half in 1965.  Starting in 1979, it became a 1 1/16 mile race for the older distaff division.  Starting in 1986, it was run on the turf; that year, it was extended to 1 1/8 miles.  It has been run under its current conditions, 1 1/2 miles on the grass, since 1995.  First named a Grade III in 1982, it has held that designation ever since.

The biggest star among its winners so far is Hall of Fame inductee Bold 'n Determined (1981).  A winner of six Grade I races in 1980, including the Kentucky Oaks, the Neil Drysdale trainee closed out her career with a win in the Bewitch.  From a more local perspective, several Bewitch winners have also won graded stakes at Arlington.  Upperline (2012) won a pair: the 2010 Arlington Oaks (GIII) and the 2012 Arlington Matron (GIII).  Gaily Gaily (1989) also twice tasted graded stakes glory at Arlington; she won the Modesty Handicap (GIII) in both 1989 and 1990.  Angara (2005) won Arlington's most prestigious Distaff turf race, the Grade I Beverly D, later the same year she won the Bewitch.  Heatherten (1984) won the Arlington Matron the next year.  And, Communique (2008) won the Modesty the same year she won the Bewitch.

Upperline, a two-time graded stakes winner at Arlington, posts a comfortable victory in the 2012 Bewitch Stakes.

In addition to the Kentucky bluegrass, Picks and Ponderings also flies south this weekend.  Paul Mazur goes to Gulfstream to preview the Grade III Miami Mile.

The Bewitch Stakes, as with all races during Keeneland's meet, will be streamed live on the track's website, as well as on the Horse Races Now mobile app.

Morning lines were unavailable at original publish time.  Edited Wednesday, April 27 to add morning lines.

Race 9: Bewitch Stakes (GIII), four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one half miles on the turf, post time 5:30pm EST

Yes, we know Chad Brown is having a cold spring at Keeneland so far.  But, this race is devoid of speed, and his long-winded German-bred OLORDA is primed to steal it, the same way she stole The Very One (GIII) at Gulfstream last month.  A few in this field have shown the tendency to stalk, but no one else has shown the desire to send to the front.  It came as a surprise to see OLORDA and Julien Leparoux grab the bull by the horns last out -- but knowing she could do that, it will be no surprise to see her and Leparoux take this gate to wire.  Though there is no rain in the forecast for Friday, there is some earlier in the week.  Though OLORDA's stateside victory came over firm turf at Gulfstream, she won a French Group III over turf rated soft.  In other words, some cut in the ground should not hurt this filly in the least.  She has also gotten a chance to accustom herself to the grass at Keeneland, with her last three drills all coming over the local grass.

Beyond OLORDA being such a standout on pace, tiny gradations separate much of the rest of the field.  In multi-race wagers, this seems a race in which to either single OLORDA, or prepare to go extremely deep.

Among the rest, AL'S GAL interests at what stands to be a solid price.  She chased OLORDA around last out in the Very One, but rallied well for fourth behind the Chad Brown Brigade.  Though she came from the caboose that day, AL'S GAL has had previous races in which she has tracked a bit closer to the pace.  This daughter of English Channel also has a solid record at Keeneland: two seconds in two tries.  She also races well with a bit of give in the ground, including a win two back over turf rated good.  AL'S GAL gets a rider change to Javier Castellano, who has been winning at a 21% clip at Keeneland this fall.  Trainer Mike Maker has also been making excellent account of himself: 10 wins in 34 starts (29%) going into the final racing week.  He spots his runners shrewdly, and has a live one with AL'S GAL.  Another trainer who sends out solid horses at solid prices, Victoria Oliver, has PERSONAL DIARY as one of her entries here.  Oliver has been winning at a 27% clip this meet, and one of those wins came when PERSONAL DIARY captured a mile and a half allowance earlier in the meet.  It was her first start at the distance, and she dug in well enough late to make this race a perfectly logical next step.  PERSONAL DIARY has generally good form at Keeneland, hitting the board in four of her six tries, including a third-place finish in the 2014 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (GI).  That race came over soft going, and that last-out win came over good turf, suggesting PERSONAL DIARY will be well set if some give remains in the ground.  The biggest knock on her is the same as with most of the field -- that she is a confirmed off-pace type -- but she does not have to rally from the clouds, and should not leave herself far too much to do too late.  Finally, it is never a bad thing to see Florent Geroux go (very) long on the turf: consider his work with The Pizza Man, as well as his work last year in getting 40/1 longshot Maria Maria home for third in this very race last year.


#8 OLORDA (4/1)

#12 AL'S GAL (8/1)


Longshot:  We have already visited the Victoria Oliver barn once, but we come right back there for our longshot, a horse who has made a career of outrunning her odds: 2014 Hatoof Stakes winner #4 ANNULMENT (12/1).  She comes in first off a winter layoff -- but, she won first off a similarly long winter layoff last year, and has a long and progressive worktab leading into this start.  She also appeals from a standpoint of pace: she is a versatile sort who has done well laying relatively close to the pace, or rallying from farther off.  In a field full of midpack-to-closing types, it would be no surprise to see ANNULMENT get first run.  She also has solid Keeneland form.  ANNULMENT has two wins in five starts over the course, and has shown an affinity for less-than-firm going both at Keeneland and elsewhere.  There are enough little suggestions that ANNULMENT will outrun her odds once again.


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