2018 Thanksgiving Handicapping Feast: Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and Golden Rod Stakes

Saturday is the second-to-last day of the fall meet at Churchill Downs.  The card features all two-year-old racing, all day long, and will be anchored by a pair of Grade 2 dirt routes, the Kentucky Jockey Club and the Golden Rod.  They are both points races for next season's three-year-old features in Louisville: the Kentucky Jockey Club offers its top four finishers 10-4-2-1 points toward a potential start in the Kentucky Derby and the Golden Rod offers the same amount of points toward the Kentucky Oaks.

In addition to our preview of Saturday's races, we stick with the graded action at Churchill Downs all weekend long; don't miss our look at the Cardinal Handicap (G3) and the Falls City Handicap (G2) on Thursday, as well as our thoughts on the Mrs. Revere Stakes (G2) and the Clark Handicap (G1) on Friday.  We also look at Friday's Pick 5 at Hawthorne, as a few surprises last Saturday led to a $3,737 carryover into that wager.

Morning lines were not available at original publish time.

Race 9: Golden Rod Stakes (G2), two-year-old fillies, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 4:57pm EST

Taking its name from Kentucky's official flower, the Golden Rod Stakes was inaugurated in 1910, and open to two-year-old males and females through 1927.  Shelved after that, it returned to the calendar in 1962 as a race restricted to juvenile fillies.  It held Grade 3 designation from 1976-1982 and again from 1989-1999; from 2000 through the present day it has been a Grade 2.

So far, just two winners of the Golden Rod Stakes have gone on to win the Kentucky Oaks the next year: Silverbulletday (1998) returned to take the lilies the following May, as did Rachel Alexandra (2008).  One other Oaks winner has hit the board in the Golden Rod: though Monomoy Girl missed by a neck to Road to Victory in 2017, she went on to be the dominant sophomore filly of 2018.  She won the Kentucky Oaks this year, stayed in form through the year, and capped off her season with a comfortable victory against older mares in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) earlier this month.


Rachel Alexandra prevails in the 2008 Golden Rod Stakes.

Silverbulletday is also one of only two Golden Rod winners to go on to a two-year-old filly championship: the other was Gowell (1912), who beat males in the race.  Gowell's running was notable for another reason: third behind her in the Golden Rod finished Donerail.  The following May, Gowell finished third in the Kentucky Derby.  The winner?  Donerail turned the tables at 91/1, still the longest odds for any Kentucky Derby winner in history.

RESTLESS RIDER couldn't reel in wire-to-wire winner Jaywalk in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, but it doesn't look like she is going to have to face another Jaywalk this time around.  The talented daughter of Distorted Humor has found both Churchill Downs and the mile and a sixteenth to her liking.  RESTLESS RIDER has a stalk-and-pounce running style that should be effective in this field of eight where the pace shouldn't crawl, but shouldn't fall apart either.  And, if the track is still a little wet from possible morning rains, she has strong mud influences on both sides of her pedigree.

As for the front-end brigade?  Likely pacesetter BREAK CURFEW won comfortably on debut gong six furlongs at Belmont, and now stretches out to two turns for the first time.  Especially if she gets left alone on the lead, perhaps this fast filly goes coast-to-coast again.  But, this space has some questions about how much BREAK CURFEW actually wants to go two turns.  She is by Into Mischief out of the Indian Charlie mare Cofachiqui.  Into Mischief progeny do not always want longer than a mile; Feted, her three-quarter-brother by Harlan's Holiday (Into Mischief's sire), has been a one-turn horse.

More interesting in the front-end group is the one most likely to get first run on BREAK CURFEW if she doesn't prove to be too keen on two turns: LIORA.  Her first dirt route try came in her third career start, a maiden special weight on October 28.  She stalked just off the pace, took over, and won by nine lengths.  It's no surprise she woke up at two turns on the dirt; after all, LIORA is a Candy Ride half-sister to another quality two-turn dirt horse Wayne Catalano used to have in his barn, multiple graded stakes winner Family Tree.  LIORA has upside to improve even more, second-time route and third off a lay, and she looks the most intriguing candidate to be the one trying hardest to hold off RESTLESS RIDER in the lane.

Selections:

#5 RESTLESS RIDER
#6 LIORA
#8 BREAK CURFEW

Longshot:  #1 GOLD CREDIT cedes experience to the rest of the field, as he comes in off a debut maiden special weight win, and tries two turns for the first time here.  But, it jumps out that she was so well bet on debut, as debutantes from the Ignacio Correas barn so rarely are.  And, she ran to the money -- despite some difficulty early, she came home a length and a half to the good.  She does stretch to two turns for the first time here.  Though that's a question given the top of her pedigree (she is by Goldencents, an Into Mischief son who was a stone-cold miler), the underside of her pedigree bides better.  Dam Past Due (Devil His Due) has produced four other winners, three of whom have been two-turn horses.

Race 11: Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2), two-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:56pm EST

The Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes began its life in 1920, taking its name from the entity that operated Churchill Downs at the time.  It has been run each year except for a gap for World War II, from 1939-1945, and has been run at Churchill except for 1931-33, when it was contested at Latonia Race Track.

Five winners of the Kentucky Derby also won the Kentucky Jockey Club the year before.  Super Saver (2009) was the most recent KJC winner to go on to win on the First Saturday in May; the others include Reigh Count (1927), Clyde Van Dusen (1928), Twenty Grand (1930), and Cannonade (1973).

Five champion two-year-old males have won the Kentucky Jockey Club, all relatively early in its history.  The aforementioned Reigh Count was one; the others include Wise Counsellor (1923), Master Charlie (1924), Double Jay (1946), and Hasty Road (1953).  Interestingly enough, the Kentucky Jockey Club winners' roll features just as many two-year-old filly champions as the Golden Rod: Mata Hari (1933) and Nellie Flag (1934).

Though this race covers two turns, the biggest star to emerge from last year's Kentucky Jockey Club has found his best at one turn: Promises Fulfilled, who finished third behind Enticed, emerged as one of the top sprinters of the year.  He beat older horses in the Phoenix (G2) at Keeneland, and finished third behind Roy H in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) earlier this month.


Promises Fulfilled, a half-brother to 2015 Arlington-Washington Lassie winner Marquee Miss, runs on for third behind Enticed in the 2017 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

KNICKS GO won't be the massive price he was in his last two starts -- but, on the other hand, we know more about him now than we did then.  The Breeders' Futurity was his first dirt route and his first start with Lasix; Albin Jimenez sent him to the front at 70/1 and stole the race.  It could easily have been a fluke, a prevailing opinion reflected by his 40/1 odds in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1).  Things didn't look good for KNICKS GO early, between his outside post, his bad start, and the fact that he didn't get the lead.  Astonishingly, he settled to stalk the pace, fought to wrest the lead from pacesetter Complexity, and kept on a game second best behind Game Winner.  Why is it worth looking at those lines in such detail here?  Because, this isn't your average "if you missed the wedding, don't go to the funeral" situation.  KNICKS GO has proven he can handle a parking lot draw.  He has proven he doesn't need the lead - a positive, as so many in this field have shown early initiative.  He has proven he doesn't need it easy.  He has proven he can handle the Churchill track.  He is a genuine, good horse, and he will be tough to beat in the Kentucky Jockey Club.

CURRENT looks like his toughest competition.  He tries dirt for the first time in this, but the flaxen-maned chestnut could not be better bred for two turns on the dirt.  After all, he is a Curlin half-brother to Weep No More, who won the Ashland (G1) when she was three.  Toss the last race; not only wasn't his trip the best, but the Breeder's Cup Juvenile Turf was run in a bog.  The mile and a sixteenth distance suits CURRENT beautifully, and he also has the versatility to sit near the pace or rally from well off it.  (Barring a pronounced speed bias, the latter style seems more likely.)  The one concern is that John Velazquez instead rides the other Pletcher, KING FOR A DAY.  But, KING FOR A DAY hasn't yet proven he can seal the deal from off the pace, and CURRENT has a bit more seasoning.

Beyond them, it is about time to start looking at the newer faces -- sure, SIGNALMAN could run on for a piece once again, but even with a relatively honest pace it's hard to see him getting all the way there.  For another horse with at least some win chance?  Let's look to a horse who blossomed in his first try going two turns on the dirt: ROILAND.  ROILAND showed some talent in Indiana, winning his five-furlong debut and missing by a neck in his first try against winners.  Let off at 28/1 in a one-other-than on opening day of the Churchill meet, the Tom Amoss trainee kicked on down the lane and mowed them all down.  He should get plenty to chase again this time, over a course he has already shown he likes.  And, if the track is still a little wet from morning rains?  ROILAND is a Successful Appeal baby, and Successful Appeals love the mud.

Selections:

#13 KNICKS GO
#9 CURRENT
#10 ROILAND

Longshot:  He needs a little scratch magic, but if #16 KENTUCKY ALLSTAR draws into the field from two-deep on the Also Eligible list, don't sleep on him.  This is a class test for him, as he is stepping up from a maiden victory at Indiana Grand.  But, he did it the right way, sitting kindly a few lengths off the pace, and getting past even though that pace was slow.  This time around, KENTUCKY ALLSTAR likely gets an even stronger pace, so he can put his late interest to better use.  He needs to move forward, but with only two starts underneath him, he has every right to.  And, like ROILAND, KENTUCKY ALLSTAR is another who has another layer of appeal if the ground is still a bit wet from the morning; that victory at Indiana Grand came over a good track.

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