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Saturday, April 11, 2015

2:07 KEE 4th Race – #5 FINAL REDEMPTION is a filly who showed much promise last summer and fall. She traveled to four racetracks in four starts and acquitted herself well at every one. This will be her 2015 debut, but trainer Graham Motion sends them out fit and ready and will give a leg-up to his go-to guy, jockey Rajiv Maragh.

2:38 KEE 5th Race – With a total lack of any early speed entered in the Ben Ali (G3), #5 PROTONICO looks like a top contender. The son of Giant’s Causeway had something go amiss in the Donn (G1) when he was eased in his last start. He’s been in steady training since then and has posted two recent “best of the day” breezes – one at Palm Beach Downs and one here at Keeneland on April 5. The Todd Pletcher trainee should be forwardly placed and out of trouble. After a win in the Left Bank Stakes at Belmont Park, trainer Kenny McPeek got a little ambitious with #4 GOLDEN TICKET, running him in the Kelso (G2) and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) to no avail. Wisely given a break after those two debacles, the son of Speightstown returned to the races in the Razorback (G3) at Oaklawn and produced a solid, closing, third-place finish. He posted a bullet five-furlong drill in Arkansas prepping for this race, indicating one of his better efforts could be forthcoming. A horse that knows how to win races, #3 FARHAAN seems to get better with age. He does his best work fresh and won his last start off a four-month vacation, earning a whopping 107 Brisnet speed figure at Saratoga. He’s a tough one to leave off your ticket, especially since his regular rider, Irad Ortiz, Jr. is here to ride for Kiaran McLaughlin.

3:40 KEE 7th Race – With two of the major contenders, #1 Richies Party Girl and #2 Jewel of a Cat mired down on the inside – not the place to be in these Keeneland turf sprints - #11 FREE AS A BIRD looks like the one to beat in the Giant’s Causeway Stakes. The Hard Spun mare has won her last six starts, so this isn’t a revelation. She ran second beaten less than a length in this event last year, the last race she didn’t win, and won the Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes over the course at the fall meeting. The mare that beat her last year, #4 AGELESS, suits up again. The daughter of Successful Appeal has been off since November’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) where she was beaten a scant three-quarters of a length by the ultra-talented Bobby’s Kitten. If she is ready off the bench, this could be a great match-up. Trainer Michael Stidham and jockey Florent Geroux have done an excellent job with #8 KATIE’S EYES. The daughter of Leroidesanimaux has won her last two – both turf sprints at Fair Grounds. If the course is on the soft side from the recent rains, she could be the speed filly to fear.

4:13 KEE 8th Race – Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey is not known for popping with his first-time starters, but sometimes the Phipps-breds he conditions win anyway. #4 PLAYTIME, by Street Cry from the magnificent racemare Storm Flag Flying has been working quite well for her debut. Her April 6 gate drill at Keeneland was especially noteworthy and she might be a rose among thorns. A filly that fits the race profile is #10 FLYING JIBE. Her start on January 31 at Fair Grounds would win most events at this level and her speed will be more advantageous in Lexington than it was in New Orleans. #11 BON HEIR ran well at Oaklawn Park in her latest on March 18. Any further improvement by the Kellyn Gorder-trained miss would put her right there at the wire.

4:46 KEE 9th Race – There are lots of things to like about #4 BALL DANCING in the Jenny Wiley (G1). She has been keeping the best of company, suffering narrow defeats to Crown Queen and Stephanie’s Kitten – two of the American distaff turf division’s best. The daughter of Exchange Rate hails from the barn of Chad Brown. She gets a very positive rider switch to Javier Castellano and she has run well over the Keeneland green. #3 FILIMBI is very capable but it seems as if she is her own worst enemy, often getting into more trouble than Lindsay Lohan. A clean trip would certainly aid her cause, but it is anybody’s guess if that will happen on this tricky turf course. The Juddmonte filly posted a nifty :35 3/5 blowout for this event, galloping out in :48 flat. #5 HARD NOT TO LIKE is the defending champion. This field is much tougher than last year’s, when she was in the care of trainer Michael Matz, so the daughter of Hard Spun will need her running shoes on to take the trophy back to the Christophe Clement barn today.

5:18 KEE 10th Race – The Coolmore Lexington (G3) is a true handicapping puzzle with the only two Triple Crown nominees not really Kentucky Derby (G1) material. #1 DIVINING ROD is the most accomplished entrant in the field, having run second to the puzzling Ocean Knight in the Sam F. Davis (G3) and third behind major Triple Crown contender Carpe Diem in The Tampa Bay Derby (G2). The son of Tapit, from the barn of up and coming trainer Arnaud Delacour, gets a jockey switch to Julien Leparoux for this race and that enhances his chances. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sends #6 FAME AND POWER to Kentucky off an easy maiden-breaker around one turn at Santa Anita. With excellent speed and two bullet workouts the son of First Defence could take these a long ways. Graham Motion will saddle #7 DONWORTH, another who just broke his maiden. It seems like a curious spot but there are not many conditioned allowance races with a $250,000 purse and some big black type. Nobody would faint if the son of Tiznow won this race.

5:50 KEE 11th Race – Keeneland’s Director of Sales, Geoffrey Russell, never lets a Dynaformer slip through the cracks on the Keeneland turf course. The late sire is represented by #8 DANISH DYNAFORMER, who hails from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield. The Triple Crown nominee has developed slowly, but his last race was his best and there is enough speed entered to set up his closing charge. #5 BALDONNEL has a long string of workouts, including a nifty half-mile from the gate at Keeneland on April 5. The Kentucky-bred, Irish-raced shipper from the Chad Brown stable should be ready to roll in his American debut. Budding Canadian star #6 NIPIGON tries grass for the first time after distinguishing himself on the polytrack at Woodbine. The Rachel Halden trainee hasn’t run since late November, but he’s been working well at Payson Park all winter. It is interesting that his regular rider, Steve Bahen, came to Lexington for this race.

Oaklawn Park

4:56 OP 7th Race – Trainer Todd Pletcher has done a nice job finishing what Kellyn Gorder started with #1 RACE DAY. The son of supersire Tapit has always shown ability, but he is on the brink of becoming a star. A victory in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) would certainly seal the deal. #4 CARVE had a very wide trip versus Race Day in the Razorback (G3). The son of First Samurai has posted two bullet drills since and looks ready to roll. He’s also the beneficiary of a three-pound weight shift. #2 SAMMY MANDEVILLE has really blossomed this winter at Santa Anita. His last race was freakishly good and puts the son of Rock Hard Ten in the hunt with these. Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux adds to his appeal.

5:32 OP 8th Race – Two speedy fillies square off in the aptly-named Instant Racing Stakes. #5 PROMISE ME SILVER has yet to taste defeat. She’s reeled off six victories in-a-row, five of them stakes. #3 INDIAN BRAVA is also undefeated. The daughter of Bernardini earned a Brisnet speed figure competitive with Promise Me Silver in her last start, an allowance affair here on March 14. This promises to be a great matchup.

6:05 OP 9th Race – Odd to throw a maiden race in with all these stakes and then place it so the press corps doesn’t have a chance to catch their breath before the Arkansas Derby (G1). #9 WEST VILLAGE ran well enough in his first start to draw the services of Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. The Wayne Catalano trainee raced greenly that day and should benefit from the experience. There are no Secretariats in here. #8 HOTTAP has been a major disappointment. Almost a half-million dollar yearling, he’s had six starts without winning. He looked like he was ready to win last time out, but hung like a rat in the final furlong. He might need to be gelded. Usually not a big fan of maidens that run for a tag and then go back to special weights, but #1 BATTLEBACK JOHN has improved in every start. He’s going to be a big number and might be a nifty trifecta tool.

6:41 OP 10th Race – When you own a racetrack, you can name a stakes after your favorite horse. That’s why we have the Northern Spur Stakes every year at Charles Cella’s Oaklawn Park. Maidens in stakes are rarely a wise bet, but every once in a while… #8 WOLF MAN ROCKET stretches out here after two very solid maiden sprints. The son of Mineshaft is bred to run long and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, the King of Oaklawn Park, has found a cherry spot here. #6 HOLIDAY MAN looks like the horse to beat. He seems on the upswing for trainer Steve Asmussen, who thought enough of him to nominate him to the Triple Crown.

7:18 OP 11th Race – Private clocker Gary Young, who is very talented at his craft and a savvy horseplayer was quoted as saying that #6 AMERICAN PHAROAH is the next Seattle Slew. That is tremendously impressive praise. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has also been effusive about the son of Pioneerof the Nile. They both can’t be wrong. Big comeback. Easy, sparkling workouts. Little to beat. 1-2 on the morning line.

7:47 OP 12th Race#3 PERFECTLY AT HOME is bred to run all day and into the night. It seems that he was claimed just for this race by sharp trainer Karl Broberg, who wins with 28% of his recent acquisitions. He’ll probably be a square price and is absolutely the horse to beat with stable go-to-guy Luis Quinonez in the irons this afternoon. #8 BARAT owns the best marathon figure in this unique nightcap. He shoulders top weight, but looks very solid. #6 MY TIP isn’t really bred to get the trip, but his running style should help him some.

“Here’s hoping the next ticket you buy is a winning one.”   Dick Riley