The annual prestigious fall meeting began yesterday in Lexington under warm, sunny skies and it would be welcome news for the industry if such a high class session helps reverse spiraling handle trends that have dominated the racing landscape in 2008.
Nine of the 19 stakes at this three-week session will be offered this weekend, eight of them graded. Because of the relatively early running of this year’s Breeders’ Cup Championships, Oct. 24 and 25, the meet has been front-loaded to accommodate horsemen requiring a final prep for the big dance.
Of the nine stakes offered opening weekend, five will be run this afternoon including the G1 Breeders’ Futurity and Shadwell Turf Mile.
The former has been a useful predictor of success in subsequent events and as an indicator of potential three-year-old form. In terms of the Breeders Cup Juvenile, however, perhaps last year’s Futurity as indication of Juvenile form was skewed by the slop of Monmouth Park. While all synthetic tracks are not created equal, the shift from Polytrack to Pro-Ride just might work three weeks hence.
From a handicapping perspective, Advice and Terrain have an edge despite each having a wide draw in the mile and a sixteenth two-turner. Early favorite Advice comes from top connections, Todd Pletcher saddling the Chapel Royal colt for Winstar Farm.
Following an eight-length maiden breaker at a mile, Advice was beaten a neck in the roughly run G3 Arlington-Washington Futurity at the same distance. While his pedigree is on the short side--from the Hennessey mare, World of Wisdom--his apparent class and synthetic prowess should get him at least this far.
In the wagering, Terrain is the better value. Placed first at Arlington via disqualification in a highly controversial ruling, the Sky Mesa gelding has the benefit of three-race experience and a slightly better pedigree for the route; from the Forty Niner mare, Minery. Owning both tactical speed and kick, he looks to win this for Al Stall and Jamie Theriot.
The Shadwell Turf Mile is even more difficult, so inscrutable, in fact, that we’d only consider wagering on three of the 13 entered: Thorn Song (4-1), Rahy’s Attorney (5-1) and Karelian (20-1).
Highly competitive figures notwithstanding, Thorn Song to this point has not been pointing to the Breeders’ Cup. Additionally, his record at the distance, 2-for-3, over firm and yielding ground, the presence of Robby Albarado and with a cozy inside draw, Dale Romans will have him focused: This is his Breeders’ Cup.
Of course, many handicappers are anxious to see whether Rahy’s Attorney’s recent victory in the G1 Woodbine Mile was an aberration or a true bill. One thing for certain is that it was very fast on the Equiform performance-figure scale.
Even though, in our view, turf horses have less of a tendency to react negatively to big efforts, his Woodbine figure has bounce written all over it. At early line odds, unlikely at post time, he’d be worth a wager. But at half the price, his wide draw makes him a poor risk.
There are three other added-money events comprising today’s $150,000 guaranteed Pick Six: the G3 Phoenix Sprint Stakes, the listed Woodford Stakes, and the G3 Thoroughbred Club of America, in which formerly undefeated speedster Indyanne (7-2) will try to get back on track beneath new rider Albarado. Wild Gams, last year’s TCA winner, would be better value at anything approaching early line 6-1 odds.
Keeneland, with its two short boutique meets is, of course, a huge force in American thoroughbred racing, the large purses made available by selling some of the world’s best bloodstock out the back door.
Considering that Keeneland was once so stodgy and arrogant to consider racecallers a superfluous extravagance, they’ve certainly come a long way. In fact, Keeneland is among the nation’s leaders in horseplayer service and innovation.
Trakkus is the best system ever invented as an aid to trip-handicapping observers. The organization recently begun special classes to help deal with the vagaries of synthetic track handicapping, and are trying to cultivate new fans via an expansion of fractional wagering, something the entire industry could learn from. Keeneland even experiments with lower takeout rates from time to time. Imagine that.
Enjoy the current meet as a prelude to Breeders’ Cup, betting all the Dime Supers, Fifty-Cent trifectas and Pick Fours--with guarantee provisions attached--and $1 Super Fives you can afford. It’s not often when one can support the proactivity of racetrack management.