Any horses waiting for the last minute to qualify for the Kentucky Derby or the Kentucky Oaks have found that proverbial last minute.
One 100-point Derby prep -- and a perennially live one, at that -- remains this weekend. Paul Mazur takes a look at that race, the Arkansas Derby (GI).
Keeneland, on the other hand, hosts a pair of last-minute 10-4-2-1 point preps. This piece will focus on the Lexington Stakes, scheduled for Saturday, April 16. A separate piece looks at Sunday's Beaumont Stakes, the final 10-point prep for the Kentucky Oaks.
The Lexington Stakes began as a six-furlong sprint for juveniles, but the name was applied to a 1 1/4 mile handicap for three-year-olds between 1938 and 1941. Starting in 1973, Keeneland began running the Calumet Purse, a top-class 1 1/16 mile allowance for sophomores; in 1984, it became an added-money event and renamed the Lexington Stakes. It first earned a grade in 1986, was elevated to a Grade II in 1988, and has been back down to a Grade III since 2011.
In its days as the Calumet Purse, its winners included Master Derby, a son of Illinois-bred Kentucky Derby winner Dust Commander. Though Master Derby only mustered fourth on the first Saturday in May, he proceeded to win the Preakness. To date, the Lexington has produced just one Kentucky Derby winner: Charismatic (1999), winner of both the Derby and the Preakness. 1988 winner Risen Star was a dual classic winner as well; though he finished third in the Derby, the son of Secretariat won both the Preakness and the Belmont. It also produced a Triple Crown spoiler in Touch Gold (1997), who defeated Silver Charm in the Belmont the following June.
Risen Star grinds past Forty Niner to win the 1988 Lexington Stakes.
Though no Illinois-breds have won this race, its winners have included a pair of graded stakes winners at Arlington: 1991 winner Hansel had won the Arlington-Washington Futurity (GII) the year before, and 2006 winner Showing Up showed up to Arlington and annexed the Secretariat Stakes (GI). Back in its Calumet Purse days, it also produced a graded stakes winner at Hawthorne: Sensitive Prince went on to win the 1978 Hawthorne Derby (GIII).
Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Updated April 14 to include morning lines.
Race 9: Lexington Stakes (GIII), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 4:59pm EDT
Bob Baffert shipper COLLECTED stands to get a lot of attention at the windows here. But, the waters get deeper here than they were at Sunland, and the pace scenario gets a lot less favourable. Down in New Mexico, there was little quality pace to keep him honest, and he won the Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes as easily as he wanted. Here, he gets RIKER to deal with up front, in addition to longer shots ONE MORE ROUND and DIRECT MESSAGE. At a short price, take a pass.
Tracking in the next flight should be BIG SQUEEZE, a big threat to spring the upset. This one ships up after a victory in maiden company at Oaklawn, and has stalked the pace in all three of his starts. Chris Landeros, who rode him in both of his Arkansas starts, returns to the irons. BIG SQUEEZE took a clear step forward when stretching from a sprint to a route for the first time, always a good thing to see in a lightly-raced three-year-old pointing to his second two-turn race. He stretches from a flat mile to a mile and a sixteenth here, but the breeding shines for that: BIG SQUEEZE is by Lemon Drop Kid (wakka wakka...) out of Taittinger Rose. Taittinger Rose is a stakes winner at distances as long as nine furlongs, and her Tiznow foal won at a mile and a sixteenth. BIG SQUEEZE should get the distance, stay off the front-end fireworks, and get first run at a nice price.
Two others who deserve a look will likely be rallying from farther back. SYNCHRONY has been laid off since a disappointing sixth in the Southwest Stakes (GIII) on February 15. This son of Tapit broke his maiden easily at Keeneland last fall over a fast track -- the same surface he gets to day -- though that came at seven furlongs, not eight and a half. Distance is the biggest question with Synchrony, as his best races have been between seven furlongs and a mile. However, his one try over this distance was also his only try over a wet track. With a solid series of works leading into this race, his regular rider Shaun Bridgmohan back in the irons, and plenty of pace to chase, SYNCHRONY gets one more shot here. SWIPE has not raced since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (GI) in October, but he has a four-pack of second-to-Nyquist medals. Nyquist's form has, of course, held up nicely this year. Two of those came at a mile and a sixteenth, with SWIPE beaten less than a length. That most recent start came over a fast track at Keeneland, another point in SWIPE's favour today. He has been a regular on the worktab since late February, working long and strong. Off this lay at a short price it is hard to make him the top selection -- but with an off the pace style, and the classiest form lines of the bunch, SWIPE epitomizes the defensive use. If he comes back as good or better at three than he was at two, SWIPE could win this.
#6 BIG SQUEEZE (10/1)
#5 SYNCHRONY (10/1)
#4 SWIPE (9/5)
Longshot: #3 LOMCEVAK's (15/1) one race at Keeneland was not the best, but it was his career debut last October. Over the winter at Fair Grounds, he came into his own. He graduated at second asking, albeit over turf. He also splashed home a daylight winner of an allowance-optional last out, his second try at the one-other-than condition. Though he was fifth in his only try over fast dirt, give him a pass: Candy My Boy walked the dog that day, and LOMCEVAK is a confirmed closer. Here he gets more to chase, his late pace stacks up well with the field, and he keeps his regular rider Jesus Castanon in the irons. Castanon and trainer Jack Frost have won four of their last 12 starts together, with a +$1.13 ROI over those starts, and hit the board with 10 of those 12. Ironclad's win on Wednesday suggests they brought their mojo to the bluegrass, and LOMCEVAK's late running style could set them up to snag a share of this at long odds.
You can take "Picks & Ponderings" with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Hawthorne Race Course. And you can get "Picks and Ponderings" in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking "Create Subscription." It's a FREE service, and you'll never get any unwanted spam.