2018 Lexington Stakes Preview

The last few Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks points are up for grabs this weekend.  The only 100-point preps are at Oaklawn: Friday's Fantasy Stakes (G3) for Oaks-bound fillies, and Saturday's Arkansas Derby (G1) for the Derby set.  Keeneland already had its 100-point prep last week, the Blue Grass (G2), but it also offers one final 20-8-4-2 point prep this Saturday for horses on the bubble who want to make one final bid to get in the field.  That race, the Lexington Stakes (G3), forms the focus of this piece.

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 2 in 1988, and has been back down to a Grade 3 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.


Eventual dual Classic winner Risen Star wears down Forty Niner in the 1988 Lexington Stakes for trainer Louie Roussel, still a familiar face at Arlington Park in the summertime.

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 (G2) the year before, and 2006 winner Showing Up showed up to Arlington and annexed the Secretariat Stakes (G1).  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 (G3).

Saturday, April 14: Keeneland Racecourse

Race 9: Lexington Stakes (G3), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:34pm EDT

This race drew a field of twelve, though we expect to see MAGICALMEISTER scratch, since he raced in an allowance at Keeneland on Thursday.  There are two marquee names going into the Lexington Stakes this year, both of whom could theoretically run on the first Saturday in May if they get enough points.  Southwest Stakes (G3) winner MY BOY JACK enters the weekend in 20th place on the Kentucky Derby rankings; if he wins the Lexington, he is safely into the field.  GREYVITOS, in 29th place with just 10 points leading into the Lexington, would need to both win on Saturday and get a few defections in front of him, after being set back most of the spring.

Both of these marquee contenders look to be a short price.  With GREYVITOS having bypassed so much of the Derby trail, this space is not keen to use GREYVITOS here, and will pass on him at a short price.  Instead, we'll watch to see if is the same horse as before.  (And, if so, we'll gladly put GREYVITOS on our "please, please, PLEASE go to the Belmont" list.)  However, we see no way around using MY BOY JACK in some prominent capacity.  Though his affinity for a mile and an eighth and longer was brought into question when his Louisiana Derby rally stalled, he should love the cut back to a mile and a sixteenth for the Lexington.  MY BOY JACK faces softer company in the Lexington that he has been facing (and holding his own against) all winter long, and with BATTLE AT SEA and TELEKINESIS well advised in going, and SEVEN TRUMPETS, GRACIDA, and NAVY ARMED GUARD possible to show speed as well, he should get at least honest fractions to run at late.  And, with rain possible for Saturday?  MY BOY JACK rolled home in the Southwest over a muddy track, so the weather forecast shouldn't deter him.

Make no mistake about it: no multi-race wager is complete without covering MY BOY JACK on top.  But, MY BOY JACK will be the favourite, and perhaps even a heavy one if the public shies away from GREYVITOS the way we are.  Fortunately, there's a credible alternate who should appeal in the win pool: HONOR UP.

HONOR UP is not without his questions, of course.  The Lexington will be his first race against winners, his first race against any horses bred outside New York, and his first race in four months.  But?  Trainer Bill Mott doesn't tend to place horses over their heads, and he just sent last-out maiden winner Hofburg to a second-place finish in the Florida Derby.  With a published worktab stretching back to the beginning of March, and Mott so strong with layoff runners, HONOR UP should be fit.  He has a tracking style that should keep him off the early lead, but should get the jump on MY BOY JACK.  HONOR UP does need to move forward speed-wise, but with four more months to grow into himself, there's some chance he can.  And if the rainy forecast comes?  HONOR UP's mud breeding is solid, and he broke his maiden over dirt rated good.  Finally, the rider is a big positive: he gets the services of Jose Ortiz, who has started the Keeneland meet blazing hot.  Yes, there are a lot of questions with HONOR UP...but between his form last year, his running style, and his connections?  He appeals at a price here.

Among the rest?  PONY UP hails from the red-hot Todd Pletcher barn, gets his "A" rider John Velazquez in the irons, and returns against a fitting class of horses.  PONY UP has the right running style for this race, able to track off the pace and make a well-timed move.  The dirt is a question, as two back in the Holy Bull he was a well-beaten fifth.  But, he did have a solid enough dirt debut, and that second-place finish in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway last out suggests well of his form against horses who are a cut below major Derby prep caliber.  That makes PONY UP a good fit for the Lexington.

Selections:

#4 HONOR UP (12/1)

#12 MY BOY JACK (5/2)

#7 PONY UP (6/1)

Longshot:  #10 ZANESVILLE (20/1) also comes into the Lexington from the Jeff Ruby Steaks.  He finished a credible enough fourth in that, though that also gives him tables to turn on PONY UP, who was second there.  One concern is ZANESVILLE's flat outing at Keeneland last fall, but there are several other reasons to suggest that it may not have been just the track.  Being that he is by Tiznow out of an Unbridled's Song mare, the seven furlongs of his start in Lexington last year was probably too short for him, and both his pedigree and performance suggest that ZANESVILLE is a better, stronger horse at three than he was at two.  He also sent to the lead early there, but since then, he has proven himself to be better coming from a few lengths off the pace.  That looks likely to be the right style for this year's Lexington.  Furthermore, ZANESVILLE is another one who should be unfazed if it rains, as he graduated over the slop at Fair Grounds in December.  ZANESVILLE is not a horse you can take a short price on, but he should be every bit of his morning line here, making him an intriguing longshot to invade the exotics.

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