Saturday Stakes Preview: A last chance to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate in Keeneland’s Lexington Stakes

DontLetTheGamePassYouByfortfus

>>Go to the PPs for The G3 Lexington Stakes, Post Time 4:59 EDT Saturday

The Lexington Stakes carried more weight under the old graded stakes earnings system of ranking Kentucky Derby prospects. Under the new system, there are only 17 points on the line in this race, and the winner will walk away with no more than 10. Given that the two horses with the most Derby points coming into this race, Swipe and Collected, have earned just 12 and 11 points, respectively, it is unlikely that any of these runners will meet the threshold necessary to break into the top 20 contenders, barring some unforeseen defections in the coming weeks.

An eclectic group of 10 three-year-olds is signed on for this edition of the Grade 3, $150,000 Lexington Stakes. The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, likely to be set by the inside speed One More Round (#1), with recent maiden winner Big Squeeze (#6) and Collected (#10) chasing from the outside. Riker (#8), who has done his best work on the front end, also figures to be somewhere in the mix. Morning line favorite Swipe (#4) should take up a position somewhere in mid-pack.

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Let’s go through the field:

#1, One More Round (30/1): This runner has yet to win a race in three starts, but he’s run very well in his two starts since the claim, nearly overcoming a fast pace two back before just missing in his first start around two turns. His recent speed figures suggest that he might be good enough to hang on for a piece, but he will likely have to face pressure on the front end, which could compromise his chances.

#2, Direct Message (15/1): This expensive colt has taken a step forward with each start, finally breaking through at a demanding nine furlongs last time with a respectable 104 speed figure. The Gulfstream Park surface appeared to be favoring speed on that day (note the Race Rating box color-coded in red), which may make his performance look a bit better than it was, but he nevertheless has talent. However, today he must overcome what is likely to be a faster pace while stepping up in class. The hurdles are significant.

#3, Lomcevak (15/1): He won an off-the-turf race last time against a decidedly weaker field than the one he meets here. He’s never run fast enough to be competitive in a race of this caliber and may prefer turf. 

#4, Swipe (9/5): 

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Yes, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up could be excluded from the Kentucky Derby in favor of a maiden (or possibly two), but that’s the points system for you. Despite the fact that this colt is still eligible for a N1X allowance race, he’s picked up four graded stakes placings (three of them in Grade 1 races) and has successfully navigated this distance around two turns on a couple of occasions. The only chink in his armor is the fact that he hasn’t started since last October. Keith Desormeaux gets just a 48 trainer rating with horses coming off layoffs, which is definitely cause for concern. However, the connections have stated that they are trying to make the Derby with this horse, so they know that a win is absolutely essential today. They have seemingly put some serious work into him in the mornings, as is evidenced by three six-furlong workouts and an additional one-mile move during the past month. We won’t count him out, but we don’t want to take a very short price on him.

#5, Synchrony (10/1): 

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This colt may benefit the most from the projected pace scenario, since he is a one-run closer. He showed promise towards the end of his two-year-old season and got his sophomore campaign kicked off on the right foot with a decent third-place finish in the Smarty Jones. However, he then disappointed in the Southwest and has been off for two months since. He didn’t return to the worktab for an entire month after that last race, so something may have gone wrong that day. Donnie Von Hemel gets an 87 trainer rating with horses coming off layoffs of 45-75 days. This colt has always been cut out to have a bright future, by Tapit out of a dam that earned nearly $1 million during her racing career. If the pace really heats up on the front end, which seems quite possible, Synchrony could prove to be a late threat. Odds of 5/1 or better would represent fair value.

#6, Big Squeeze (10/1): This lightly raced son of Lemon Drop Kid obviously has plenty of talent. He made his route debut a winning one last time, professionally tracking a moderate pace before drawing off easily in the stretch, all while never changing leads. He’s a horse to keep an eye on in the future, but can he overcome what is likely to be a contested pace and still have enough left to hold off the closers today? We’re a little dubious, and the price does not figure to be large enough for us to bite.

#7, Call the Colonel (20/1): He took nine starts to break his maiden and was no match for today’s rival Lomcevak last time. He’s in over his head.  

#8, Riker (6/1): Rating tactics did not work out in the Tampa Bay Derby last time, but he may be forced into a similar situation today, with speed drawn to his inside and outside. Florent Geroux could decide to ride him aggressively to the lead into the first turn, but that would only help ensure a pace collapse if others have the same idea. While all of his wins have come over Woodbine’s synthetic surface, he did run a creditable race in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over this track last fall, setting the pace before fading to sixth in the stretch. Mark Casse gets just a 67 trainer rating with horses making their first starts out of his barn after a trainer switch, but an 80 rating when those horses run back, so perhaps we can expect better today. We’re getting mixed signals, but if he’s going off at 8/1 or higher, take notice.

#9, Yo Carm (15/1): He beat a field of questionable quality last time (note the vastly inferior 82 race rating) and has never run fast enough to compete at this level.

#10, Collected (2/1): 

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Swipe brings the reputation, but this colt is the one that really deserves to be favored in the Lexington. He’s taking an unconventional path to the Derby, if that really is the intent. After a disappointing showing as the favorite in the Southwest, he traveled to Sunland Park to contest a race that offers no Derby points. He dominated there, earning the highest speed figure in this field, a 113, while successfully negotiating nine furlongs. Distance is clearly no issue and he’s proven that he’s perfectly capable of stalking the pace if the speed runs away from him early. This outside post position is not ideal in a 10-horse field, but it does at least allow him to get position without having to deal with kickback, something he was able to avoid in both of his wins on dirt. We have no knocks against him.

THE PLAY

We believe that Collected (#10) is the most likely winner, but he’s an unappealing win bet at relatively short odds. SYNCHRONY (#5) needs to start running faster speed figures, but we believe that this race sets up well for his late run. He may offer the best value if he’s going off at 5/1 or higher, so we will funnel our wagers through him. We will also use Swipe (#4) and Riker (#8) along with recent maiden winners Direct Message (#2) and Big Squeeze (#6) in larger exotic wagers.

Win:  #5, Synchrony 

Exacta Box:  5,10

Trifectas: 

5,10 with 5,10 with 2,4,6,8

5,10 with 2,4,6,8 with 5,10

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