Saturday April 5 – Keeneland
Scheduled post time 5:22pm ET
The Grade 1 Ashland Stakes, a prep and a points race (100-40-20-10) for the Kentucky Oaks, drew a full field of 13 3YO fillies, which it probably would not have if the race were being run on dirt, as it will be starting next year. Most of these fillies are grass horses who are giving this a shot given the success that turf runners have enjoyed on the Keeneland Polytrack over the years. We imagine that those bettors who have cried over the years how much they hate the “plastic” will be pleased when the race draws fields half this size in years to come and some speedball wires the field without being challenged. Sure, this final Ashland to be run on Polytrack is absolutely inscrutable. Only five of the 13 have run on a synthetic surface of any kind, and only two on this one. That being the case, it is largely a guessing game. You are, of course, free to pass in favor of races with more established form off which to handicap. But we’ll dive in, take a stand against the likely favorite, who has no synthetic form, and have a little fun while we still can.
That morning line favorite is Testa Rossi (3-1). This French-bred has won five of her last six races, with her only defeat coming in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, a second to the Irish invader Chriselliam. That’s a running line that is sure to attract ample money in the win pool. Trainer Chad Brown then laid her off for 127 days, and she returned with a vengeance, romping with a wide rally as the even-money choice in the Florida Oaks at Tampa, earning a career-best TFUS figure of 98. This barn has a perfect rating of 100 with horses running second time off a layoff. Pace Projector predicts a Fast Pace, which should suit her closing style–she has the best late pace rating in the race. We cannot argue with anyone who would say she is the most likely winner. But we’re willing to stand against her and let her beat us, based on price and the fact that she’s never raced on any surface other than grass and has never even had an official work on synthetic (as of this writing).
Of the horses who have run on synthetic, the clear standout is Rosalind, listed here at the generous morning line price of 15-1, though we’re not buying that we’ll actually see that price. This versatile daughter of Broken Vow has run well on all three surfaces, with her most noteworthy effort being a fast-closing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Of more relevance to us, however, is her wide rally to a second-place finish in last fall’s G1 Alcibiades on this track. While her recent form looks middling on first glance–she was the beaten favorite in her last two races–she was compromised by a very wide trip and a speed bias in her effort two back on synth in the G1 Hollywood Starlet, and ran into a buzzsaw in In Tune (as well as a strong speed bias) in a Gulfstream dirt allowance. Her figures are nothing to write home about, but, as a young filly with just six starts, she is surely eligible to improve in this spot, especially considering her past fine performance over the track. What’s more, her sparkling half mile blowout over it on Monday and her closing style (second best late pace figure in the field) give her the edge to be the anchor for our tickets.
Room Service (9-2) has never been out of the money in five starts (all on turf) for trainer Wayne Catalano. The daughter of More Than Ready has made big strides in her speed figures in her two starts at three. She was compromised by a slow pace in her 2014 debut, but then bounced back to take the G3 Herecomesthebride, defeating a couple of these, including Candy Kitty (9-2), in the process. Like Rosalind, she has the style and the finishing kick to take advantage of the expected quick pace. She has a favorable inside post, and she, too, has a nice workout over the surface, in preparation for her first try on synthetic. Her pedigree rating for synth routes is 80, and Catalano has trainer ratings of 93 for horses going turf to synth, 81 for first-time synth, and 100 overall for synthetic routes.
Macaroon (15-1) is on the improve for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. After three poor efforts to start her career, she graduated, on grass, at Belmont last fall, and followed that up with a turf allowance win at Gulfstream in her 3YO debut. She added Lasix in that start, a giant positive move for this barn, and McLaughlin has a rating of 95 with horses running on the medication for the second time. She’ll likely need a change of tactics from those front-running wins, but Pace Projector indicates that she doesn’t have the speed to be prominent early on.
Just a guess as to whether she can run from off the pace, but we’d be willing to take that chance on an improving young filly at these odds. Her pedigree rating for synth routes is 91. Since those numbers are based only on a horse’s first generation and their offspring, it doesn’t even factor in the fact that her dam is a half-sister to Midshipman, who won the BC Juvenile (on synth, the horror!) at Santa Anita and the G1 Del Mar Futurity. With a nice inside post, Macaroon is our candidate to blow up the board.
Throw out the one dirt try by Istanford (15-1) and the daughter of Istan looks pretty fine. She showed excellent speed in her one synth try, a stakes at Arlington in only her second career start. She comes off a career-best effort: in which she led the way in the Florida Oaks and finished clearly second best to Testa Rossi. She is projected to have the lead again, and, though a Fast Pace is indicated, she should get a head start from her rail post. Trainer Michael Stidham has a rating of 88 for synth routes.
And we could go on. The aforementioned Candy Kitty has been sharp on slop and turf in her last three, but she’s trained by Pletcher, so her odds may not be sufficient for a horse trying synth for the first time. Resistivity (10-1) didn’t run too poorly when 5th on this track in her debut, and showed high speed on grass in her last, speed she’ll need to overcome the 13 post. Her trainer, Mark Casse, has good ratings for synthetic. Seeking Her Glory (12-1) also has shown good speed on grass, and is the “other Pletcher,” breaking from the 12 post. Saturday Bliss (20-1) has running lines on dirt that look like those of the Wood favorite, Social Inclusion, and tries synth for the hot George Weaver barn with a pedigree rating of 81 for these conditions. Miss Besilu (15-1) was way up the track in the Florida Oaks, but had shown nice progression up to that point for Mott, who has good numbers for synth (though only a 58 for first time on the surface). None of these would be a total shock.
But hey, you gotta draw the line somewhere. So how about this: Win bet on Rosalind at 8-1 or more; a small win bet on Macaroon; Rosalind on top in our exotics over Macaroon (and a small reversal with the latter on top), Room Service, Istanford, with a little Testa Rossi and Candy Kitty sprinkled in defensively at the bottom of the trifectas.