Scully: Keeneland spot plays for April 16
Saturday’s $400,000 Lexington S. (G3) marks the last opportunity for Kentucky Derby hopefuls, awarding points on a 20-8-4-2 scale to the top four, and three entrants (Ethereal Road, In Due Time, and Tawny Port) can guarantee themselves a berth in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifier.
Even with a victory, the remaining eight contestants will be outside the bubble, requiring attrition from those with more points to qualify for a 20-horse Kentucky Derby field.
Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) runner-up Tawny Point enters ranked 20th in points (40 total), and a top-four finish ensures him a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
Rebel (G2) runner-up Ethereal Road and Fountain of Youth (G2) second In Due Time must win to be safely within the 20-horse bubble. Each have 20 points, and given the non-restricted stakes earnings from the Lexington, either would stamp their ticket by prevailing.
I give the edge to #9 Tawny Port, who opened his racing career with maiden special weight and entry-level allowance wins at Turfway this winter. Making his stakes and dirt debut in arguably the deepest Kentucky Derby prep this year, February’s Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds, the Pioneerof the Nile colt recorded a better-than-it-looks fifth.
Tawny Port appeared overwhelmed when being shuffled back to last on the first turn of the Risen Star, and trailed far behind along the backstretch before finding his stride, rallying past half the field in the final half-mile. He was flattered when sixth-placer Slow Down Andy came back to win the Sunland Derby (G3).
Brad Cox kept Tawny Port at Fair Grounds after the Risen Star, and the dark bay appeared to train forwardly in advance of the Jeff Ruby Steaks. He raced up close to the pace before finishing a clear second to classy turf/synthetic performer Tiz the Bomb, and Tawny Port netted a field-best 99 Brisnet Speed rating.
His tactical speed should ensure a good trip in a field lacking pace, and Tawny Port will continue to show more by winning the Lexington.
Here are some other Saturday plays:
Race 2: $100,000 maiden special weight (1 mile, turf, 1:32 p.m. ET)
Rusty Arnold likes to win races at Keeneland, and his horses typically run better the second time out from their career debut. #2 Double Clutch (6-1) certainly looks poised for improvement following a strong debut showing at Gulfstream on Feb. 26, missing the break from an outside post before rallying extremely wide to finish third by 1 1/4 lengths. His main rivals come from the same race, and he’s much more favorably drawn Saturday than the morning-line favorite, #12 Growth Capital (3-1), who finished second with a perfect trip, and fourth-placer Chasing the Crown. Double Clutch is listed at 6-1, and he can get the day off to a good start.
Race 7: $120,000 allowance/optional claimer (7 furlongs, 4:12 p.m. ET)
A sharp maiden winner at Keeneland two years ago, #3 Therideofalifetime (10-1) looked very promising before being derailed by injury in the fall of his juvenile campaign. He came back last year with a couple of uneven performances, but the chestnut eventually got back on track, recording an allowance win at Churchill Downs and a solid third in a Keeneland allowance. Therideofalifetime is training forwardly for his return, recording a bullet five-furlong and a swift move at six furlongs at Keeneland for Nacho Correas, and he’s eligible to get off to a much better start this season. The four-year-old doesn’t face an imposing cast, and he’ll sit a good trip just off the speed before pouncing.
Race 8: $200,000 Giant’s Causeway S. (5 1/2 furlongs, turf, 4:44 p.m. ET)
#5 Change of Control (4-1) loves Keeneland’s turf, winning the Giant’s Causeway and Franklin County S. (G3) last year, and she’s primed for an optimal showing following a couple of preps at Fair Grounds. Runner-up in her first stakes appearance this season, the six-year-old mare was not ready for the break in the March 1 Mardi Gras S., going straight up in the air when the gates opened, and she wound up a respectable third after the disastrous start. That effort will only help our price Saturday, and Change of Control looks set for another strong showing over her favorite course for Michelle Lovell.
Race 11: $120,000 allowance/optional claimer (7 furlongs, 6:20 p.m. ET)
#8 Ducale (5-1) will put his speed to good use in the finale. A smashing Saratoga maiden winner, the Brad Cox-trained colt went on to capture a salty Keeneland allowance in October, and he performed respectably sustaining a couple of losses to graded-stakes-caliber rivals. The bay colt should keep improving at age four for Brad Cox, and Ducale will capitalize as the controlling speed here.