Keeneland, who already hosted the 100-point Blue Grass Stakes last week, gets back in the Derby prep picture this weekend with the last chance saloon: the Lexington Stakes (G3). The race offers a $200,000 purse as well as 20-8-4-3 points to the top four finishers. It's not enough to get a horse with no points into the big race -- but it is enough to boost a horse on the bubble into the Derby field, and it's also a good opportunity to class-test an up-and-coming horse and see if it makes sense to point them to the Preakness, the Belmont, or other top-class sophomore dirt races through the summer. (The Arkansas Derby is also happening on Saturday; we preview that race in a separate 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 13: Keeneland
Race 9: Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (G3), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 4:34pm CDT
ANOTHERTWISTAFATE will likely go off the favorite, but he has earned that status. Coming into the Sunland Park Derby (G3), he had yet to prove himself on anything but synthetic, and had yet to prove he could win a race without gunning it on the lead. That day, he sat in range, kicked on in the lane, and just missed. That should serve him well, as stretch-out sprinter HAWAIIAN NOISES will be sharp early, and ZENDEN and possibly KNICKS GO will have gas from his outside. Though ANOTHERTWISTAFATE will have to handle a rider change in this, rider Javier Castellano has started the Keeneland meet hotter than anyone else on the grounds, heading into Saturday with 13 wins on the meet already. He should be able to cement a Derby bid for this son of Scat Daddy.
SUENO has been a perpetual underneath type through this year's series of Derby preps, but he has been consistent: second in the Sham (G3), second in the Southwest (G3), and third in the Louisiana Derby. He drew relatively well for this, getting the 3 gate. His stalking style should suit the race well, and the cut back from a mile and an eighth to a mile and a sixteenth should suit him. Though SUENO and trainer Keith Desormeaux are based in California, SUENO's maintenance work between the Louisiana Derby and this race came at Churchill -- a positive indication that he has been pointed for this. Though rider Corey Lanerie started the Keeneland meet cold, he has gotten off the mark, and he has a good enough rapport with SUENO from his last two starts to think that they can stay in form today.
Particularly if speed holds well on Saturday, ZENDEN deserves consideration. A stakes-winning sprinter already, he set the pace in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) last month before being run down late for fourth. He may be fitter for his second try at a mile and a sixteenth, and it was a good enough effort to feel comfortable that ZENDEN isn't merely a Gulfstream Park Horse™. And, two of the three horses who ran him down in Tampa came back to make good account of themselves in their final preps: Tacitus came back to win the Wood, and Win Win Win was the only one to make any real impact from well off the pace in the Blue Grass, rallying for second behind Vekoma. (This space has its questions about the strength of the Blue Grass -- but this is enough form to figure ZENDEN for a Grade 3-quality horse, at least, and the Lexington is decidedly a Grade 3-quality race).
#4 ANOTHERTWISTAFATE (2/1)
#3 SUENO (5/1)
#9 ZENDEN (6/1)
Longshot: #8 OWENDALE (12/1) did little last out in the Risen Star (G2) on February 16, and has been freshened since. He isn't a Derby prospect -- he has zero points so far, so he's not making the starting gate -- but his form before the Risen Star suggests he does belong. His two-back allowance victory was a far better effort, and in that race, he got a nice stalking spot, as opposed to sitting well off the pace in the Risen Star. (Yes, OWENDALE did break his maiden from well off the pace, but his better work has come closer up -- perhaps he rallied and won that maiden at Indiana because he was just too classy for the bunch he was facing.) If rider Florent Geroux, who has been on fire with trainer Brad Cox lately, can get OWENDALE coser to the early pace, he can get back on the track his maiden win set him on, and invade the frame at a price.
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