For a blue-eyed boy born and bred in the Bluegrass, it simply gets no better. Saturday in Lexington literally is the tailgater’s dream: A 10-race Keeneland card that features five graded stakes, three Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Races, $2.25 Million in purses and the homecoming for two-time Champion Horse of the Year Wise Dan; followed by an up-and-coming UK Football program seeking a signature win versus a vulnerable South Carolina team that could put the Wildcats in the driver’s seat for their first bowl appearance in the Mark Stoops era.
We’ll start with taking a look at the weather forecast, which is expected to be mostly sunny skies with a high temperature of only 56 degrees, with evening lows getting down to the mid-30’s. Quite a swing from the 80-degree high’s we’ve seen earlier in the week. Keeneland is always about 10-degrees cooler trackside, so fans will be busting out the blazers and scarves for the first time this season. If you’re attending the football match-up in Commonwealth, be sure to wear black, bundle up, and top it off with a solid bourbon-buzz.
If you are ballsy enough to complete the Keeneland/Commonwealth double, there are shuttles available via Lextran that will run from noon until 6:45 p.m. for only $1 each way.
Let’s take a look at the Keeneland card, with a post-time of 1:05 p.m. Eastern:
- RACE 5 (3:25 p.m.) $150,000 Woodford Presented by Keeneland Select (Grade-3): 3 &up, 5 1/2 furlongs (Turf). The Woodford features an 11-horse field highlighted by 3-1 morning-line favorite No Nay Never trained by Wesley Ward, who is coming off a long layoff where he finished second beaten 2 1/2-lengths in the March 1 Swale (G2) at Gulfstream Park. Ward trainees win at a solid 22% coming off layoffs of 46-90 days so No Nay Never should be tough with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith at the reigns. Also looking tough in this one are multiple graded stakes winner Marchman for trainer Bret Calhoun and Spring to the Sky, riding a three-race win streak for trainer Bruce Brown.
- RACE 6 (4:00 p.m.) $200,000 Thoroughbred Club of America (G2): fillies & mares, 3 & up, 6 furlongs. This is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Race, giving the winner an all-expenses paid trip to the Nov. 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita Park. The Thoroughbred Club of America will feature Stonetastic, a run-away winner of the Aug. 30 Prioress (G2) at Saratoga in her last outing by 8 1/2-lengths. She will be the one to beat in this six-furlong contest with morning-line odds of 2-1.
- RACE 7 (4:35 p.m. on NBC Sports Network) $400,000 First Lady (G1): fillies & mares, 3 & up, 1 mile (Turf). This nine-horse field is as solid as they come with five Grade-1 winners in Discreet Marq, Dayatthespa, Somali Lemonade, Centre Court and defending First Lady-winner Better Lucky. Dayatthespa is coming off a 2 1/2-length victory in the Yaddo at Saratoga and is the 3-1 favorite.
- RACE 8 (5:08 p.m. on NBC Sports Network) $500,000 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) 2-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. Not only does this race give the winner an automatic birth in the Nov. 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, it also awards the top four finishers with 10-4-2-and-1 qualifying points toward the 2015 Kentucky Derby. Debut winner Carpe Diem has been made the co-favorite with graded stakes-placed Hashtag Bourbon at odds of 4-1.
- RACE 9 (5:45 p.m. on NBC Sports Network) $1,000,000 Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) 3 & up, 1 mile (Turf). The Shadwell Turf Mile is the first $1 million race at the historic Keeneland Race Course and is a “Win and You’re In” event for the Nov. 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). Wise Dan is the one to beat here having won 10 of his last 11 races, with his only defeat coming in this race last year, which was moved off the turf and run at the 1 1/16-mile distance on the Polytrack and won by Silver Max, who also returns here to defend his title. The other challenger to worry about here is Grade-1 winner Seek Again for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who defeated Silver Max in the Foustardave Handicap (G2) last out at Saratoga. This will be one for the ages.
As for the football match-up, here are a few bullet-points for what to watch for:
- Kentucky (3-1) vs. South Carolina (3-2) – 7:30 p.m. Kick-off at Commonwealth Stadium (on the SEC Network) The Wildcats are coming off of their first SEC victory since 2011, having defeated Vanderbilt 17-7 last Saturday to snap a 17-game conference losing streak. The defense has been a strong point for Kentucky, ranked 13th nationally in points allowed. With the added offensive depth at the Running Back and Wide Receiver positions, Kentucky presents a well-balanced offensive attack led by sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles.
- South Carolina enters Saturday having suffered a 21-20 home loss to Missouri, knocking the Gamecocks out of the top 25 in most polls. The Gamecocks started 2014 with a #9 preseason ranking, and a loss Saturday would be detrimental to the Garnet and Black Attack. South Carolina started the week a 10-point favorite over the Wildcats, but the line most recently has been bet down to five according to CollegeSpun.com.
- The Wildcats will be without freshman running back Stanley “Boom” Williams and freshman receiver Dorian Baker, who have been significant contributors to the Big Blue offense. That said, those two positions are where Kentucky possesses the most depth, and Towles must find a way to exploit this Gamecock defense which has been allowing an average of 33 points per game (97th nationally).
- The Gamecocks will rely on their offense which is averaging 33.4 points per game (56th nationally), led by quarterback Dylan Thompson, who’s thrown for 12 touchdowns on the year and his favorite target Pharaoh Thompson (24 catches, 3 touchdowns this season).
- If Kentucky’s defense really is as good as they’ve shown so far this season and Towles can spread the offense out and stay on the field, the Wildcats could turn Lexington into Upset-City and cap off an epic Saturday in the Bluegrass.
The Cat-Walk starts at 5:15 p.m. at Gate 1 of Commonwealth Stadium, so if you are attending the game, be sure to check that out, wear black and get there early enough to sing the National Anthem with 62,000 of your best friends.