Weekend Watch: Keeneland opens for blockbuster Saturday

Weekend Watch: Keeneland opens for blockbuster Saturday
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

Happy Keeneland opening weekend! Racing's version of spring's arrival is here, though Mother Nature Mother Nature has delayed sunny skies and balmy temperatures.

Inclement weather is forecast for all three tracks hosting 2018 Kentucky Derby and Oaks preps, but it is the weather at Keeneland that is particularly worrisome, as anywhere from a dusting to six inches or more of snow is possible. The track is keeping a close eye on the weather and started preparations, with gates not opening  on Saturday until noon to give the staff extra time to prepare the facility. Ultimately, however, road conditions could determine whether or not the card goes on as scheduled.

Assuming everything goes as scheduled, here's what to watch for:

On the Kentucky Derby and Oaks trails

Rachel Alexandra (G2) winner Monomoy Girl headlines the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes and will break from the rail in a field of seven. She has just one career defeat, a neck loss in the Golden Rod (G2) to end her juvenile campaign. Regular jockey Florent Geroux stays aboard. Lining up to challenge the 4-5 morning line favorite are Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) runner-up Eskimo Kisses, Pocahontas (G2) winner Patrona Margarita, and turf runner Andina Del Sur.

The Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes drew an overflow field topped by Juvenile champ Good Magic. He will face grade 1 winners Sporting Chance and Free Drop Billy, San Vicente (G2) winner Kanthaka, Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) winner Blended Citizen, and Sam F. Davis (G3) winner Flameaway. Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner Quip will scratch, with trainer Rodolphe Brisset instead sending the colt to Hot Springs for the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. As a result, Determinant will be able to draw into the Blue Grass field off the also eligible list. But trainer Mark Casse has stated that Determinant will run in the Blue Grass rather than Friday’s Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes.

Midnight Disguise is sure to be the heavy favorite in the field of six assembled for the Grade 2 Gazelle Stakes at Aqueduct. The Midnight Lute filly has just one career defeat in five starts, all of which have been at Aqueduct, making her a true horse for course. Two of those wins were in the Busanda and the Busher, the local preps for the Gazelle. Mo Shopping will attract attention as the homebred daughter of Stopshoppingmaria. Undefeated Smokinpaddylassie ships in from the Mid-Atlantic, and My Miss Lilly will try Midnight Disguise again after running third to her last out.

Enticed, winner of the Gotham (G3) last out, will continue down the New York Road to the Roses as the 6-5 favorite in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial. Jerome winner Firenze Fire will attempt to find the winner’s circle again after running second in the Withers (G3) and fourth in the Gotham. Bob Baffert shipped in recent maiden winner Restoring Hope to take a crack at the Derby trail, while Todd Pletcher hopes that a change in venue might produce the expected results with Vino Rosso.

Midnight Bisou is the heavy, and deserving, favorite in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks. The Bill Spawr trainee lost her first two career starts by just a nose to Dream Tree, who remains unbeaten but is now off the Oaks trail. Away from the buzzsaw, Midnight Bisou has shined. She broke her maiden in the Santa Ynez (G2) and when asked to try two turns, she was victorious in the Santa Ysabel (G2). Exuberance is another victim of the Dream Tree train and is a logical choice here. Thirteen Squared will try Midnight Bisou again, and Spectator will attempt two turns and routing for the first time.

Meanwhile, the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby is a two-horse show pitting Bolt d’Oro versus Justify. Bolt d’Oro does not need the points to get into the Kentucky Derby, but Justify certainly does. If both of those two fail to fire, Instilled Regard will be there looking for a slice of the pie.

G2 Gazelle 3:38 p.m.

G1 Ashland 5:45 p.m.

G2 Wood Memorial 5:55 p.m.

G2 Blue Grass 6:23 p.m.

G1 Santa Anita Derby 6:30 p.m.

G1 Santa Anita Oaks 7:30 p.m.

Three other stakes support Blue Grass card

The first of Keeneland’s Saturday graded stakes is the seven-furlong, Grade 3 Commonwealth Stakes for older male sprinters. Limousine Liberal was installed as the 6-5 favorite, and Westwood should show inside speed from post three. Behavioral Bias and Conquest Windycity are both logical choices in this spot and certainly will offer more value than the clear favorite.

The 5 1/2-furlong, Grade 2 Shakertown Stakes on the turf for 3-year olds and upward is the second of the card’s graded stakes. As with the Blue Grass, the Shakertown attracted an overflow field, with 14 and two also-eligibles. Disco Partner was named the 5-2 favorite off his third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). This will be his 2018 bow, and the 6-year-old had the misfortune of drawing the 13 post. Multiple graded stakes placed Commute will break from post two as the second betting choice. Trained by Mark Casse, this will be the son of Hold Me Back’s first start as a gelding. Several others in the field are also in good form, and the exotics will likely pay well.

Race eight on Saturday’s card and the third of the five consecutive graded stakes at Keeneland is the Grade 1 Madison Stakes. It drew a field of 13 with multiple graded stakes winner Lewis Bay the tepid 7-2 morning line favorite. Grade one winner American Gal makes her first start since winning the Test (G1) in August while Finley’sluckycharm will attempt to break through at the highest level.

G3 Commonwealth 4:00 p.m.

G2 Shakertown 4:35 p.m.

G1 Madison 5:10 p.m.

Carter Handicap headlines Wood Memorial undercard

Aqueduct will run three graded stakes between its Oaks prep at 3:38 p.m. and its Derby prep at 5:55 p.m. New York-bred Control Group will break from the far outside post in the field of seven assembled for the Grade 3 Excelsior Stakes. The 4-year old colt is 5: 3-1-1 at Aqueduct and 6: 5-1-0 at the nine-furlong Excelsior distance. He likes to run on the lead and will be joined there by Harlan Punch to his inside. Trained by David Jacobson, Harlan Punch will be stretching out after being asked to go just seven panels in his last outing.

Army Mule will put his undefeated status on the line when he majorly steps up in class in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap. He’s been untouched in both of his career starts and looks like he will be a strong, tactical type. Tom Fool Handicap (G3) winner Skyler’s Scramjet is on a three race winning streak but will have to cross over from post nine if he wants to get a good trip up front. Do Share and Great Stuff, second and third respectively in the Tom Fool, return in this race, as well.

The Grade 3 Bay Shore Stakes also drew a field of seven. Futurity (G3) winner Engage, who has been favored in all three career starts, makes his 2018 debut here, having been off since October. National Flag has the highest last race Equibase speed figure, and Justaholic and Aqua Bel Sar also have numbers that fit.

G3 Excelsior 4:11 p.m.

G1 Carter Handicap 4:44 p.m.

G3 Bay Shore 5:17 p.m.

Paved returns to turf in the Providencia

beat the boys in her last outing, a 1 1/4-length score in the El Camino Real Derby on Golden Gate’s all weather track. She returns to both the turf and her own division when she lines up to face eight in the Grade 3 Providencia Stakes. The event will be contested at nine furlongs, a distance at which Paved is a perfect 2-for-2. The top three finishers from the China Doll Stakes will attempt to derail Paved, but the Quality Road filly has the best numbers in the field by far.

Later on the card, the Grade 2 Royal Heroine Stakes drew a competitive field of nine. Fleet Enola Gray will likely be the one to beat despite making her first start since July of last year. Most of this field has faced each other before, taking turns beating one another. Both Midnight Crossing and Thundering Sky exit runner-up efforts. Madame Stripes won the Megahertz (G3) two races back but could only manage seventh, albeit only 3 ¼-lengths away from it all, in the Buena Vista (G2) last out.

G3 Providencia 4:30 p.m.

G2 Royal Heroine 7:00 p.m.

3-year old fillies on display Sunday at Keeneland

While Saturday’s Ashland (G1) is the weekend’s biggest race for 3-year old fillies at Keeneland, Sunday will offer a couple of graded stakes for other types of runners in the division. The Grade 3 Beaumont Stakes is carded for seven furlongs on the main track and will mark the 2018 debut of Happy Like a Fool, Dream It Is and Summer Sunday. The field attracted nine runners.

The Grade 2 Appalachian Stakes meanwhile will be contested at a mile on the turf. The field drew eleven, headed by undefeated Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Rushing Fall. Thewayiam ships in from Gulfstream and has won all three starts this year, all in South Florida. Also making her 2018 debut is Daddy Is a Legend, who was last seen winning the Jimmy Durante (G3) at Del Mar in November.

G3 Beaumont 4:24 p.m.

G2 Appalachian 4:57 p.m.

Hoppertunity tops short Tokyo City Cup field

Money machine Hoppertunity returns off a three-month hiatus and will try twelve furlongs for the first time when he faces just five rivals in the Grade 3 Tokyo City Cup Stakes. He will be the heavy favorite over his overmatched competition, but Infobedad (ARG) could be worth a look, too. Post time is 4:30 p.m.

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 racings stars, equine and human alike.

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