Digging into Breeders’ Cup preps at Keeneland, Belmont: Shadwell Turf Mile promises value in Cross-Country Pick 4

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

October 7th, 2017

Saturday’s smorgasbord of Breeders’ Cup stepping stones at Belmont and Keeneland is likely to come up pretty formful, but there’s a shot at real value in the Cross-Country Pick 4 anchored by the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1).

Here are my thoughts on the terrific stakes action:

Belmont Turf Sprint (G2) (3RD race) – The six-furlong dash obviously goes through #5 Disco Partner (3-5), but #1 Snowday (10-1) is worth using too, in case Disco Partner regresses off his fourth trying Grade 1 mile rivals on yielding turf in the Fourstardave, or at least as the other half of the exacta. The Falco gelding had back class in France, subsequently lost his way, but has found it again to win three of his last four. And from a form perspective, his half-length third to Pure Sensation two back in the Turf Monster (G3) puts him right there.               

Woodford (G2) (Keeneland’s 5TH race) – #3 Commend (3-1), a War Front half-brother to Congrats and Flatter, made a nifty move to strike the front in the 6 1/2-furlong Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint (G3), only to get outstayed by #8 Hogy (5-2). The cutback to 5 1/2 should help him turn the tables, and Bill Mott’s four-year-old has more upside than the old stagers. Time for a changing of the guard? At any rate, with horse-for-the-course and defending champion #6 Mongolian Saturday (3-1) also in the line-up, the Woodford has a formful look. If a longshot gets involved, it could be #5 Latent Revenge (12-1), who’s back to his best distance and capable on his day when judged by his seconds to Green Mask.

Thoroughbred Club of America (G2) (Keeneland’s 6TH race) – Considering that #1 Bendable (6-1) was the 2-1 second choice in a recent race featuring the 4-5 Skye Diamonds, her morning line here appears overly generous. Although Bendable was only third that day in the Rancho Bernardo (G3), to the favorite and Constellation, she was off to a troubled start. Hall of Fame horseman Richard Mandella told Keeneland publicity that the Claiborne homebred “acts good now” and that “this is the goal right now.” That’s good enough for me, especially since Mandella just masterminded form turnarounds for Paradise Woods and Avenge in two “Win & You’re In” events at Santa Anita last Saturday. Bendable must do better than her third in last year’s TCA, but that came as a sophomore, and she’s entitled to be stronger at four. #4 Finley’sluckycharm (3-5) is the one to beat if still at her early-season best, but this is her first back after a minor hiccup, and it may be advisable to have a back-up.

Champagne (G1) (Belmont’s 8TH race, first leg of Cross-Country Pick 4) – After laboriously compiling the recent Champagne trends for the TwinSpires Two-Year-Old Betting Guide, I’m tempted to throw them out of the window and stick with #1 Kowboy Karma (12-1). Arguably running the best race in defeat in the Sapling (given too much to do and hung out wide), the well-regarded Larry Jones pupil is fascinating on the cutback to one turn. You could claim that he’s not that unlike Toccet, the Midatlantic shipper who lifted the 2002 Champagne. I love #6 Good Magic (7-2) as a long-term prospect over a route of ground, but remain a little hesitant about a son of Curlin trying to break his maiden in this spot. His maiden conqueror #11 Hazit (4-1) is perhaps the most logical pick based on the trends, as a last-out winner who raced at Saratoga and hails from the Todd Pletcher barn. Others fit the profile of Saratoga alumni, but with varying degrees of question marks attached – Enticed (in the mud), Honorable Treasure (off-turf), Aveenu Malcainu (versus New York-breds), and Firenze Fire (put in his place in the Hopeful [G1]).

First Lady (G1) (Keeneland’s 7TH race) – It’s tough to see beyond the principals, leaving the handicapping exercise in how to order them. #6 Dickinson’s (5-2) trading decisions with Lady Eli, notably overcoming trouble to nab her in the Jenny Wiley (G1), is the best form on offer here. I wonder if the Kiaran McLaughlin mare may be a little better over further, but she’s lost only once from three starts in the vicinity of a mile on turf – and that was when a shade unlucky in the Just a Game (G1), floated out wide and spotting the victorious Antonoe eight pounds. I have the same slight question about Argentine star #3 Dona Bruja (5-2), who at this point in her career may prefer a bit more than a flat mile. Otherwise, she’s a prime threat. While this is probably #4 Roca Rojo’s (2-1) best distance, I’m not sure if she can concede first run to the top two (as I envision the race unfolding) and run them down. With Hawksmoor and Zipessa probably keeping each other honest, neither figures to get a gift as controlling speed, so I’m not getting too creative. If one ends up scratching, however, the whole dynamic will change.

Hill Prince (G3) (Belmont’s 9TH race) – If #4 Frostmourne (5-2) had to endure a testing nine furlongs in his first start since missing the Secretariat (G1), I’d be concerned, but unless someone takes off faster early than expected, it shapes up as a sit-sprint. The Christophe Clement trainee has the best turn of foot in the race, and he might only have to let down in earnest for a quarter-mile. #8 Ticonderoga (10-1) is another eligible to perform despite being off since July. Call me hopeless, but I haven’t given up on the $850,000 Tapit-Keertana colt who’s always had the talent if not the racing brain. Maybe new rider Jose Ortiz can cajole him. I don’t think it’s an accident that #2 Yoshida’s (7-2) best stakes results have come off a strong tempo, and that’s my only cause for pause here. I’d really vote for him to get a rabbit, or else seize the initiative and go forward himself, as in his commanding maiden win. Might new pilot Manny Franco try something new?

Breeders’ Futurity (G1) (Keeneland’s 8TH race, second leg of Cross-Country Pick 4) – The Hopeful placegetters figure to ratify their class edge. #7 Givemeaminit (7-2) may take a bigger step forward around two turns than #9 Free Drop Billy (2-1), who was only a head up on Givemeaminit at the Spa. Although Free Drop Billy is obviously bred to route too, he had an extra race under his belt going into the Hopeful. Now Givemeaminit won’t be conceding as much on the experience front, and his pedigree is even more oriented toward developing with time. #11 Captivating Moon (20-1) would be most intriguing – unless he goes in Sunday’s Bourbon (G3) as expected – while #5 Bravazo (30-1) has the look of a wildcard for Calumet and D. Wayne Lukas.

Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) (Belmont’s 10TH race, third leg of Cross-Country Pick 4) – Ordinarily you wouldn’t take this price on a horse with a 3-for-23 record, but #7 Keen Ice (9-5) will get the right set-up over his ideal trip. He comes off back-to-back sharp efforts, a course-and-distance win here in the Suburban (G2) and a best-of-the-rest to Gun Runner in the Whitney (G1). The last time he turned in successively high-caliber races – placings in the 2015 Belmont (G1) and Haskell (G1) – he went on to shock American Pharoah in the Travers (G1). Admittedly it’s a rough parallel, but the point is that once Keen Ice finally gets his groove, he tends to keep running well. #3 Good Samaritan (8-1) is interesting in first-time blinkers, and at a far more palatable price than Pavel, whom he beat in the Jim Dandy (G2). Obviously Pavel learned from that to outclass them in Smarty Jones (G3), but is there a reason why a Creative Cause half-brother to Caracortado is going to be as effective at 1 1/4 miles? #5 Rally Cry (6-1), who beat Diversify earlier this year, has scope for further progress, and I could be underestimating his capacity for an upset. I don’t know what to expect from #6 Destin (12-1) – employed to prevent Diversify from stealing it, or showing his grit of old?

Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) (Keeneland’s 9TH race, final leg of Cross-Country Pick 4) – Between the favorites having a vulnerable look, and several legitimate candidates being overpriced, this appears ripe for an upset. Since I would have been loyal to Time Test in this spot, why not #6 Ballagh Rocks (10-1) off his third to World Approval and Time Test in the Fourstardave? The Mott trainee strikes me as the type on the verge of a breakout at this level. It’s telling that he was pitched straight into the Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) here in April – an aggressive stakes debut off a three-month layoff – and he missed by all of a half-length in fourth despite being too far back and fanning wide. Ballagh Rocks is likely to be more tactical, and definitely more seasoned, this time. #2 Divisidero (9-2) will have a more genuine pace to set up his late kick, and Keeneland is more congenial to his closing style than Gulfstream, where he placed in his only two previous tries at mile. Argentinian champion #4 Le Ken (30-1) has the potential to light up the tote board second out for Ignacio Correas IV. Forgive his U.S. debut in the Del Mar Mile (G2). It might have been tough to ship to the West Coast off the seven-month layoff, and he’s eligible to be a different proposition over his new home course. Stable rider Danny Tudhope gets on #3 Suedois (15-1), as opposed to stablemate Mondialiste, who appears to need longer than a mile these days. I’m hesitant about Heart to Heart closing the deal at this level, and believe that Miss Temple City isn’t at the pitch she was last year, making the Shadwell an even wider-open contest.

Good luck with your picks!

Ballagh Rocks winning the Poker courtesy NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Chelsea Durand