This Saturday’s featured race at Keeneland is the Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes. The race has been run since 1999, and has always been a seven-furlong sprint for three-year-old fillies over the Keeneland main track. It earned Grade 3 status in 2002, and gained its current Grade 2 designation in 2006.
As with so many of the races at Keeneland, it takes its name not from a horse, but from a place near the racetrack. Raven Run is a nature sanctuary about half an hour’s drive from Keeneland.
To date, the most accomplished winner of the Raven Run has been Informed Decision (2008). This race was the last of her three-year-old career, but she returned the next year to win six of her seven starts, including the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1), and capture the 2009 Eclipse Award for Champion Female Sprinter. Of local interest, Informed Decision also won the Chicago Handicap (G3) in both 2009 and 2010. The 2015 winner also has deep ties to the Chicago circuit: Sarah Sis was trained by Ingrid Mason. She finished second behind Quality Rocks in the 2014 Arlington-Washington Lassie, and also won the Chicago Handicap in 2016.
Sarah Sis wears down Bar of Gold in the 2015 Raven Run Stakes.
Race 9: Lexus Raven Run Stakes (G2), three-year-old fillies, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 5:30pm EDT
AMY’S CHALLENGE faltered in her only try at seven furlongs, but there’s more than enough reason to give her another chance at the trip. When she tried it, it was the end of a tough Oaks prep campaign — an Oaklawn campaign that had her running several races that were tough, torrid, and longer than she ever wanted to go. She had little left for the Eight Belles (G2) on the Oaks undercard, and got a well-deserved break after that. She returned in a turf dash at Canterbury in August, doing everything you’d like to see her do: handling the grass, rating just off the pace, and solidly defeating older allowance horses. Now, AMY’S CHALLENGE returns to the stakes level and to the dirt, and stretches out to seven furlongs. As a horse who covers six furlongs so well and yet can carry her speed well enough to nab a share going two turns, she seems she sort of horse who should stretch out to seven furlongs. It’s also a positive to see Jareth Loveberry in the irons; her rapport with Loveberry has been beyond reproach, and the Canterbury/Remington denizen has already booted a McLean Robertson horse to a money finish at Keeneland this meet. With as well as speed has been holding in seven-furlong races at Keeneland, AMY’S CHALLENGE should get a better chance to prove herself at seven furlongs than she did in the Eight Belles.
MOONSHINE MEMORIES went off the favourite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) last year, off a win in the two-turn Chandelier (G1), but it seems she won the Chandelier on class alone. She has proven during her sophomore year that she is a sprinter, and returns to a suitable race in this. Don’t hold the Prioress (G2) last time out against her: MOONSHINE MEMORIES didn’t get the forward spot she likes after being bumped at the break, and still ran on well at a distance that was perhaps a bit short for her. Now she enlists the riding services of Mike Smith — MOONSHINE MEMORIES is the only horse Smith rides all day, and Smith already has a bit of familiarity with the filly after riding her to a maiden score last year. All in all, she fits this level and distance cozily, and looms a top contender.
KELLY’S HUMOR has been on the shelf since running on for third in the Test (G1) back in August at Saratoga. That’s just as well; the Brad Cox trainee has run well fresh both times in her career when she has gotten the chance, winning her debut at Ellis last summer and then running a good second to Gas Station Sushi in the Beaumont (G3) when making her first start of the year. KELLY’S HUMOR keeps bouncing between seven-furlong races and routes, but she really has found a home at this distance: a win and three money finishes in four starts, including the placing over this same course in the spring. The pace should be honest up front; though Keeneland is kind enough to frontrunners that they still deserve a long look, there is a chance for closers to get involved late, and KELLY’S HUMOR should be kicking on best of any of the off-pace types. Perhaps it gets her all the way there, but no matter what, this true seven-furlong filly should be in for a share.
#1 AMY’S CHALLENGE (8/1)
#9 MOONSHINE MEMORIES (3/1)
#6 KELLY’S HUMOR (6/1)
Longshot: #7 SHE’S PRETTY LUCKY (20/1) has muddled form, because she has tried everything under the sun: sprints and routes, turf and dirt. But, extended sprint horses excel and extended sprint races: and both SHE’S PRETTY LUCKY’s maiden victory last year and her three-other-than victory came going these longer one-turn trips: at seven furlongs and six and a half, respectively. Though both of those came at Churchill (in addition to her two-other-than win, going two turns over that course), she also has good form over the Fair Grounds and Sam Houston dirt, suggesting the Texas-bred may not have to take her course with her. (This will be her first try on the Keeneland main.) SHE’S PRETTY LUCKY has tactical speed, and she hails from an Eddie Kenneally barn that wins at 19% (with positive ROI) coming second off the layoff. All this points to a live longshot in the Raven Run — she will have to run her best, but she doesn’t have to improve much off of what she’s already shown, and she is running her best kind of distance.
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.