Picks – Keeneland Opening Day Spring ’19

It’s here! There’s nothing quite like opening day at the Keeneland Spring Meet, especially in 2019. Keeneland typically opens on a Friday, but the historic track is trying something new this year.

Instead of a typical start time of 1:05 p.m., the first post isn’t till 3 p.m., presumably to give people a bit more time to sneak out of work. Since it’s starting a little later, there are only eight races on Thursday’s card, highlighted by the $100,000 Palisades Turf Sprint Stakes as Race 7, which has a post time set for approximately 6:18 p.m.

Following Thursday’s final race, a special edition of Central Bank’s Thursday Night Live will be hosted in the Keeneland Paddock, marking the first time the popular Lexington series will be hosted away from downtown. The weather is looking good, so it should be a perfect day!

HOW BOUT SOME PICKS?

RACE 1 – $60,000 Maiden Special Weight for 2-year-old Fillies going 4.5 Furlongs on the dirt.

The opener features 12 young fillies who will compete for the very first time. These races are a tough race to pick when you have zero past performances to study, so usually I look at their workout times, their trainers and how the trainers perform with first-time starters, their sale price (if they were sold at public auction), and their pedigree.

11 – Nurse Maggie Sue, at odds of 7-2, appears to be the class of the field. Eleven of the 12 fillies in this race were sold at public auction, and Nurse Maggie Sue brought $28,000 at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. The highest price after her was $5,500 for 5 – Sirenic (4-1), which tells you that, about six months ago, Nurse Maggie Sue had the most potential value for prospective buyers of anyone else in this field. She is trained by John Hancock, a familiar face at Keeneland, especially with 2-year-olds. She recorded a sharp, half-mile workout in :46 ⅖ (the fastest of 32 other horses at the distance) over the Keeneland track on March 23, so she looks to be the most fit to win this one.

But for these babies, getting out of the gate is half the battle. Nurse Maggie Sue could be the best filly in this race by far, but if she stumbles or has trouble breaking from the gate, it will be hard to makeup ground in a race that’s just over half a mile in distance. So anything can happen. I would use Nurse Maggie Sue, I also like Sirenic for trainer Wayne Catalano. In addition to those two morning-line favorites, I’ll also mention 2 – Mean Sophia and 8 – Baytown Babe because of decent and recent workouts.

RACE 2 – $29,000 Starter Optional Claiming for Fillies and Mares, 4-year-old and up going about 7 Furlongs on the Dirt. Claiming Price: $20,000.

This is a low-level claiming race, which means any horse in this race can be bought for $20,000 prior to the start of the race. It also means that the owners are willing to part ways with their horse if a buyer wants to pony-up some cash. It is not a high-quality level of racing…compare it to minor league baseball, class A. These horses have raced a lot, but haven’t won a ton. Now’s there chance to shine on Keeneland’s opening day!

Unfortunately, I think the 6-5 favorite, 3 – Honey Bunny will be tough to beat in this one, as she comes fresh off a victory at Oaklawn Park on March 15 against lesser competition. Her speed figures are the strongest of any in this field, and prior to her last victory, she was competing – and performing fairly well – against a higher level of horses.

2 – Zena Rules I believe will get a better price than 3-1 by post time, and she has been competitive at this level in recent starts, recording a pair of runner-up finishes at Fair Grounds this winter. I think she benefits from cutting back in distance, but that jockey Jose Ortiz will have to get her going a little earlier than she’s used to. Finally, 5 – Dance Rhythms should be competitive here, dropping in class and stretching out to seven furlongs. With only six horses in this field, and me picking the three favorites, this wouldn’t be a bad race to sit out, betting-wise.

RACE 3 – $23,000 Maiden Claiming for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/16 miles on the dirt. Claiming Price: $30,000.

This one gives us a full field of older maidens, most of which have had plenty of racing experience. But remember, maiden means that none of these horses have won an actual race yet.

I think with a clean break, 5 – Storm Rider could get out to an early lead and set modest fractions, as there doesn’t appear to be a ton of speed here. He should benefit from stretching out to two turns and might be able to run away with it. 10 – Sassy King could be near the front early as well, and I expect him to have more in the tank late, but will it be enough to catch Storm Rider? I’m not sure. I also like 12 – Lielielie to be making a late run at the leaders to hit the board.

RACE 4 – $20,000 Starter Optional Claiming for 4-year-olds and up going 6.5 Furlongs on the Dirt. Claiming Price: $10,000.

Another low-level claiming race of lower quality horses, but a full field of 12 is always good for bettors.

9 – Taruca makes a significant drop in class and should be tough in this field. 13 – Lewys Vaporizer also has a shot should he draw in. Taruca has been running respectably versus better competition and should have what it takes to get the job done here. 12 – El Jake O might have a chance to get out to an early lead and hang on to hit the board.

2 – Turner Time is the morning-line favorite at 3-1, having won his last three starts, but I don’t think this sets up that well for him. I see him being kept off the pace, and I’m not sure he’ll have enough left to catch up…but I’ve been wrong before.

RACE 5 – $83,000 Allowance for 4-year-olds and up going 1 mile on the turf.

This looks to be a fun one, as half of the field has placed in a significant stakes race in their career…

2 – Instilled Regard makes his 4-year-old debut after finishing a respectable fourth in the Kentucky Derby a year ago. His last start marked his debut on turf in the Grade-1 Hollywood Derby, where he ran third beaten by 3 ¼ lengths. He’s clearly the class of this field, and Thursday’s race should serve as a good tune-up for him before jumping back into stakes competition soon.

With the scratches of 10 – Cuestion de Tiempo and 11 – Sellwood, I’ll say 8 – Say the Word and 13 – Admission Office are the best choices to hit the board behind Instilled Regard.

I will say this race lacks speed. Is there a chance Brian Hernandez Jr. could send 12 – Misspent Youth to the lead early and never look back? It’s tough…but if you’re stretching to beat the favorite…it could happen?

RACE 6 – $81,000 Allowance Optional Claiming for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/16 miles on the dirt. Claiming price: $75,000.

Another solid field featuring a handful of stakes horses looking to take their talents to the next level; and it’s wide open.

Looking for value, 6 – Mo Gayle is enticing at 12-1 on the morning line. She’s lightly raced and has a lot of potential to improve with added distance. The favorite, 1 – Ulele, is a tough, consistent runner with a solid pedigree. Speaking of pedigrees, 7 – Enliven is out of multiple Grade-1 winning mare It’s Tricky, and should benefit from dropping down to allowance-level company here. I also like 12 – Kettle Valley as another long shot worthy of consideration, looking to progress trying dirt for the first time after a respectable third-place effort last out at Gulfstream.

RACE 7 – $100,000 PALISADES TURF SPRINT. For 3-year-olds going 5.5 Furlongs on the Turf.

The featured race is a new addition to the Keeneland spring meet that drew a full field of 14 3-year-olds looking to add some black type their resumes.

The favorite at 2-1 is the undefeated winner of last November’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs, 12 – Bulletin. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the son of City Zip will make his 3-year-old debut Saturday with morning-line odds of 2-1. But don’t expect him to win this one with ease. Trainer Wesley Ward sends 9 – Abyssian, a winner of his last two starts by a combined 13 ¾ lengths. His most recent score came in an optional-claiming event at Gulfstream Park going five furlongs on the turf.

6 – Real News should also be competitive here. The Al Stall trainee came from off the pace in his last start to nose out 5 – Vogt at the wire in an optional claiming event at Fair Grounds. I also noted that Real News’ time for the 5 ½ furlong event was ⅖ of a second faster than Bulletin’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint victory back in November. Will that be a factor? Who knows…This looks to be a tough race for all, but a fun one for bettors.

RACE 8 – $23,000 Claiming for Fillies and Mares, 3-year-olds and up going 7 Furlongs on the Dirt. Claiming Price: $20,000.

In the Thursday finale, the first two morning-line choices 6 – Five Star Factor and 8 – Tolly Ho were scratched. With that, I’m looking at 13 – Go Stellaire as a potential long shot play who can get to the lead early, and it’s worth noting she won a similar race at this distance at Keeneland last April. I think you should be able to draw a line through 9 – Impanema Beach‘s last start; she’ll be comptetive here (and likely the new favorite after the scratches). 7 – Miss Harry is another one who may be able to contest the lead early and hang on late.

That does it for opening day. Best of luck to all!

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