Head to Head: Handicap the 2022 Kentucky Jockey Club

Head to Head: Handicap the 2022 Kentucky Jockey Club
Photo: Jenny Doyle / Eclipse Sportswire

Churchill's Stars of Tomorrow part duex showcases a dozen races for 2-year-olds, featuring the $400,000 Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, which offers a scale of 10-4-3-2-1 qualifying points towards the 2023 Kentucky Derby.

Instant Coffee, who was fourth in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) last out, has been installed as the tepid morning line favorite over Iroquois (G3) winner Curly Jack, who was a disappointing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) earlier in the month. The pair will face seven rivals.

Super Saver was the last colt to pull off the Kentucky Jockey Club-Kentucky Derby double in 2009 and 2010. In fact, Super Saver is the only Kentucky Jockey Club winner to even finish in the Top 4 in the Kentucky Derby since 1993, when Wild Gale finished third.

The Kentucky Jockey Club is carded as race 11 of 12 with a 5:56 p.m. EST post time. The track should be fast.

Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power and I examine the contenders, pretenders, and live long shots.
 

Laurie

Ashley

1.   Curly Jack (3-1)

The Iroquois (G3) winner Curly Jack will try to regain some of the luster he lost with a dozen-length defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The Amoss trainee has tactical speed, and while his Brisnet speed ratings aren’t top-tier, he fits with this group. Exotics.

 

Curly Jack has had a hit or miss career so far. He ran well in his debut, the Juvenile at Ellis Park, and the Iroquois (G3), but he left a bit to be desired in the Sanford (G3) and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). While his Brisnet speed ratings aren’t the best of the crop, he is undefeated at Churchill Downs. The return to a favored track should suit him well. Contender.

 

2.   Western Ghent (20-1)

Western Ghent made it to the winner’s circle once in seven starts, a $75,000 maiden claiming event at Saratoga. Last month, he staggered across the Street Sense Stakes finish line 41 lengths behind the winner. ‘nuff said. Pass.

 

Western Ghent has not shown any reason why he should be in this race, but leave it to D. Wayne Lukas to swing for the fences when he should be bunting. This son of American Pharoah has hit the board just twice in seven starts, neither of those coming in his two races at Churchill Downs. Pass.

 

3.   Denington (12-1)

Denington looked good, splashing his way to a 1 3/4 length victory in his second start around two turns here last month. For much of the race, he rated in fifth place in the clear and needed little more than a hand ride to take command in the stretch and turn back the second-place horse. Gun Runner’s son shows a good/bad cycle in his four starts; however, perhaps the pretty gray colt just needed time to mature. He hails from the family of veteran handicap horse Rail Trip and Belmont Stakes hero Palace Malice. Ken McPeek won last year’s Kentucky Jockey Club with last-out maiden winner Smile Happy, and during the previous three years, the trainer has enjoyed a 27 percent win and 47 percent in the money rate with the last-out maiden winner to stakes angle. Despite all of the positives, Denington ran a career-best rating in his last start, a 14-point jump, and could regress. I’ll regretfully pass.

 

Denington seems to do his best running when he’s on or closely pressing the pace. In his two bad races, he was 2 1/2-lengths or more behind the pacesetter, while in his two good races, he either set the pace or was within 1 1/2-length of the leader. Personally, I like that all four career races have been at either a mile or 1 1/16-mile. His two prior Churchill races were mediocre and then good, giving him a 2: 1-0-0 record under the Twin Spires. Trainer Kenny McPeek and jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. are striking together at a 19 percent win rate currently. As a son of Gun Runner, I think this colt will mature with time. For today, I would use him underneath, if I choose to play him.

4.   Gigante (12-1)

Steve Asmussen hopes to shake things up for Gigante, switching him back to dirt after a dismal tenth-place finish in the Bourbon (G2). Not This Time’s son won his second start with a 103 late-pace rating on dirt, so perhaps the surface change and jock switch to Corey Lanerie will do him good. Corey paired with Smile Happy to win this race last year. The only drawback is that he’s facing a much tougher crowd than at Colonial. Pass.

 

Gigante’s lone start on the dirt was a win at Colonial. He also captured the Kitten’s Joy on the turf at Colonial. Unfortunately, his other two turf were rather dismal. Returning to dirt will likely be beneficial for the son of Not This Time, and trainer Steve Asmussen has been winning at a 20 percent clip with turf-to-dirt runners. While he may improve with the switch in surface, Gigante will likely find this field tougher than the one he faced at Colonial. Pass.

 

5.   Red Route One (7-2)

Red Route One made a credible switch to dirt in the Breeders’ Futurity, rallying to finish third. While Gun Runner’s son wasn’t in the same league as Forte, it was a reasonable effort. Unfortunately, the Asmussen trainee couldn’t carry that form into the Street Sense Stakes, where he finished a distant fifth over a sloppy track. Red Route Run’s full brother Red Run is a multiple-stakes winner on turf. Their dam is a full sister to 2014 Champion Filly Untapable and a half to Grade 1 winner Paddy O’Prado, who was very capable on turf and dirt. I’m drawing a line through Red Route One’s Street Sense performance. A jock switch to the meet’s leading rider Tyler Gaffalione makes Red Route One worth a look. Exotics.

 

Red Route One carries quite the pedigree with his dam being a full sister to champion Untapable and a half to Grade 1 winner Paddy O’Prado. This son of Gun Runner won at second asking on the lawn at Kentucky Downs and then switched to dirt for the Breeders’ Futurity (G1). He rallied strongly at long odds to get third behind eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Forte and highly regarded Loggins. His second start came in the slop here at Churchill Downs in the Street Sense (G3). He ran a distant fifth behind runner-up Hayes Strike, but I’m willing to forgive that performance as he likely did not appreciate the sloppy conditions. Exotics.

6.   Freedom Trail (6-1)

The Kentucky Jockey Club seems an odd choice for Freedom Trail to make his initial start on dirt when next week’s Remsen (G2) is in his backyard. But I guess a $200,000 pot doesn’t compete with a $400,000 one. In any case, Freedom Trail certainly has the breeding to enjoy dirt. Although his dam placed in three of her six starts on the lawn, her half-sister Del Mar Debutante (G1) heroine Executiveprivilege and half-brother multiple Grade 1 winner Hoppertunity certainly excelled on dirt. Additionally, John Terranova shipped El Kabeir to capture the 2014 edition of this race. Add the fact that Freedom Trail has a beautiful gait and excellent leg extension, is undefeated, and attracts Florent Geroux to the saddle, and we have a serious contender.

 

Freedom Trail enters this spot undefeated…on turf. He earned low 80s Brisnet speed ratings in those two starts. Like Laurie said, it is a bit odd that John Terranova would choose this spot for the son of Collected’s first dirt race when he has been racing at Aqueduct already. Terranova does have great success with shippers, however, he’s only winning at a four percent clip in graded stakes. While Laurie pointed out that Freedom Trail has the breeding to enjoy dirt, I personally have to pass.

7.   Hayes Strike (10-1)

If we toss Hayes Strike’s second to last race when he went to his knees, kissed dirt at the start, and was off last, we’ll see gradually improving speed figures. The McPeek trainee also bobbled slightly at the start of the Street Sense Stakes and was once again at the back of the pack. However, I liked how he made up ground, passed while between horses, and showed the athleticism to thread his way through traffic. Live long shot.

 

Hayes Strike has two really bad races, his debut in which he was never involved and an optional claimer, in which he had every excuse in the book, as Laurie pointed out. He won at second asking and was a credible fourth in the Iroquois (G3) behind winner Curly Jack. He then ran well to get second in the sloppy Street Sense (G3). In looking over his past races, Hayes Strike has done his best running when on or near the pace, so Rafael Bejarano would do well to ensure a clean break and a front-running position. I agree with Laurie on this one. Live long shot.

 

8.   Instant Coffee (5-2)

In his debut, Instant Coffee beat two next-out winners at Saratoga. Then the Brad Cox trainee shipped to a new track, added distance, and faced winners in a Grade 1 stakes. That’s a challenging task for a youngster. Instant Coffee made up ground to finish fourth, a head behind Red Route One, so it wasn’t a dismal effort. The team of Cox/Saez makes Instant Coffee the favorite, but there are others in here I like more. Exotics.

 

I think Laurie summed up this colt quite well. He gave a credible effort in his first start against winners, which came in a grade one. He does boast high percent connections, but I believe this is a good example of a false favorite. Exotics.

9.   Cyclone Mischief (8-1)

Cyclone Mischief was gutsy in his debut, making the pace and setting quick early fractions. He stubbornly held his lead through the stretch, only to be nailed in the shadow of the wire. However, he returned a month later at Keeneland to dominate maidens by 5 1/4 lengths. Into Mischief’s son is the second foal out of a half-sister to Grade 3 winner Suddenbreakingnews, and he hails from the family of Grade 1 winner and producer Composure. Dale Romans and Joe Talamo have teamed to win three of seven starts in the last two weeks. Contender.

 

I like that Cyclone Mischief’s two races have been route races. However, his Brisnet speed rating dropped from his debut to his second start, though he did easily win at Keeneland. While Dale Romans wins at a 19 percent rate with last out maiden winners, he’s only successful seven percent of the time in graded stakes. Exotics at best.

Final thoughts

Laurie: Favorites have won 40 percent and completed exotics 30 percent of the time in the last decade.

In the same period, the Kentucky Jockey Club winner finished in the top three in their last start. Most were stalkers or closers, settling more than two lengths off the lead before making their run.

Freedom Trail is undefeated. He impressed me with his incredible leg extension, late solid kick, and effortless movement in both starts, and his pace ratings improved at each point of the race. He worked in 10 2/5 at the April OBS sale showing the same comfort and leg extension as he did on turf. Granted, both races were on the lawn, and we don’t know how he’ll react to the dirt kickback, but John Terranova doesn’t ship for the fun of it.

It isn’t the strongest field, but it is evenly matched, and most can hit the board with a good trip.

Ashley: While there are several in this field that can be considered early runners, only Cyclone Mischief, who drew the outside post, has shown consistency in setting the pace, so look for this colt to be the early leader. Curly Jack drew well at the rail, which is winning at a 20 percent clip. He is also undefeated at Churchill Downs. Red Route One intrigues me with his stellar pedigree, and I like him on the dirt better than I do Freedom Trail, though Laurie has certainly been known to school me in that regard.

Selections

                Ashley

           Laurie

1. Curly Jack (3-1)

6. Freedom Trail (6-1)

7. Hayes Strike (10-1)

7. Hayes Strike (10-1)

5. Red Route One (7-2)

8. Instant Coffee (5-2)

8. Instant Coffee (5-2)

9. Cyclone Mischief (8-1)



Meet Ashley Tamulonis

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, which led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.

Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation covering racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues and, from time to time, offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry. A move North to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the From Coast to Coast blog for HRN. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.

An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband, Chris, and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.

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