Catching My Eye: Keeneland Oct. 12-16

Profile Picture: Kevin Kilroy

October 18th, 2022

Leading into Breeders' Cup weekend, I’ll be keeping an eye on track trends as well as individual performances at Keeneland.

Some rain showers early in the week softened up the turf course, which was rated good for Wednesday’s two turf races through Friday’s first over the grass. After last week’s seeming frontrunners’ bias, closers held their own this week, winning four races from the back of the pack. But I am still upgrading forward horses on the turf.

Sunday’s dirt races seemed to be playing fair, but leading up to that, the trends shine a positive light on early speed. Something to keep in mind are horses breaking from the rail—only three have won on the dirt course after eight days of racing.

Sunday, Oct. 16

Run Classic is a beast. In his second start after an 18-month layoff, Bret Calhoun’s Runhappy colt earned a 103 Brisnet Speed figure beating the optional claiming $80,000 n2x field by eight-plus lengths — at seven furlongs. 

He’s a huge colt, over 16 hands high, which has been troublesome in terms of keeping him ready for the races. Running eighth in the 2021 Louisiana Derby (G2), we didn't see Run Classic return until Sept. 22, 2022, when he beat a nice field, including Marsalis going six furlongs at Churchill Downs.

On Friday, he had a clean trip, breaking well and stalking Hidden Scroll and Spankster before passing wide and inhaling the stretch run. Calhoun says he is undecided about whether this four-year-old will be returning to two turns going forward. If he can keep his fitness and not spend too much time on the shelf between races, I’d trust him to have the endurance to sustain going two turns; otherwise, I’d have second thoughts.

Friday, Oct. 14

On Friday, in an optional claiming $125,000 n2x for three-year-olds, Tejano Twist finally ran to his two-year-old expectations, posting a 103 Brisnet speed figure. It had been nine races and a calendar year since his last win. Holding form through nine races as a two-year-old in Calhoun’s barn, connections tried two turns in the Gun Runner S., but like many in Friday’s field, distance sobered up any Kentucky Derby (G1) dreams.

Chris Hartman claimed the son of Practical Joke five races back and unsuccessfully tried stakes company, tried turf twice, then relegated him back to the optional claiming ranks. Tejano Twist had a tough start but ran well at this same level last out at Churchill.

What went right at Keeneland? Well, as mentioned, the field had many shiny two-year-olds with dodgy three-year-old form, so that could explain the win. So can we trust the big step forward figure-wise? Once Hartman's horses run big, they tend to hold form.

In the past year, his horses have won 27% of races after receiving their top speed figure (86 starts). Also, as mentioned, Tejano Twist held his form last year, another positive signal he can maintain this racing level. This performance is a sign of more good things to come.

Key race alert

Friday’s Sycamore (G3) had quite the finish. Though he got a great trip in a race where half the field had trouble, there’s no knocking the winner, Highland Chief, who showed full extension as eight foes chewed at his heels in the final stages. Yes, eight horses, seven of which all finished within a length of each other. Formful efforts, tough breaks, and late traffic has me circling a few in here that I’ll be interested in going forward.

At the top of the list from the Sycamore is Highest Honors. Chad Brown’s lightly-raced six-year-old horse who only entered stakes company over the summer ran huge. With Tyler Gaffalione up, he overcame a slow start from the widest post and lacked room late on the rail to make an honest bid. As soon as space opened up after the finish line, he galloped out in front, showing me he had the kick to win but not the racing room to employ it.

Bad racing luck hit both of Brown’s entries. The Galileo four-year-old Balthus has stepped forward since Manny Franco got aboard and switched tactics, stalking one to three lengths off the lead in his last three races. In the Sycamore, he stumbled out of the gate, putting him in the rear and out of his preferred running style.

In the stretch, Franco had to steady behind traffic, but Balthus shifted out and stayed on to the end. A solid effort showing me this one has winning on his mind no matter what trip he gets.