The major Kentucky Derby prep race on Saturday is the Arkansas Derby, but Keeneland’s Grade 3 Lexington could also produce a starter or two for the big race this year. Both Anothertwistafate and Sueno enter this penultimate Derby qualifying event seeking the requisite points to guarantee a place in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
Like the Arkansas Derby, this Lexington attracted a field that is loaded with early speed types. It is no surprise that the Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace given the presence of Knicks Go (#7), Zenden (#4), and Hawaiian Noises (#2). Even likely favorite Anothertwistafate (#4) has run his best races on the front end and will be seeking to attain a forward early position. This race features a pair of capable closers, Harvey Wallbanger (#5) and Roiland (#10), whose Late Pace Ratings of 107 and 109, respectively, are the highest in the field.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, SHANG (10-1): This Louisiana-bred moved through his state-bred maiden and allowance conditions with ease prior to taking down a pair of stakes. The most recent of those victories – an 8 3/4-length triumph at the Fair Grounds on the Louisiana Derby undercard – earned him a chance in graded stakes company. While he dominated that group, he was sent off at 1-5 odds for a reason. There was no serious competition for him and he was ridden out through the lane to achieve his modest winning speed figure. He has not yet run fast enough to be considered a serious contender against a field of this caliber. Pass.
#2, HAWAIIAN NOISES (10-1): He’s done well at Turfway Park this winter, winning an allowance race and a minor stakes over sprint distances. Yet this Lexington represents a significant step up in class, as well as his first attempt around two turns. His pedigree is unquestionably sprint-oriented, as his three best siblings – Conquest Panthera, Maniacal, and Happy Like a Fool – were all best going shorter distances. He figures to contest the pace, but is unlikely to be around at the end. Pass.
#3, SUENO (5-1): He’s obviously the main threat to the favorite, Anothertwistafate, so we should immediately let go of any illusions that his 5-1 morning line will be actualized on the tote board. A price around 5-2 would be more than fair on a horse who has already proven his quality against some of the top 3-year-old dirt horses in the country. While he didn’t experience nearly as much trouble as Long Range Toddy in the Southwest, he also lost some momentum approaching the quarter pole and rallied on well to be second. His Louisiana Derby was disappointing, but he may not have appreciated having to inherit the role of pace-presser in a field that lacked early speed. This time Corey Lanerie can let him settle in mid-pack and launch one run. The slight turnback to 1 1/16 miles should also work in his favor. I know many racing fans are quite taken with Anothertwistafate, but I believe this Keith Desormeaux trainee is a more likely winner of this race. The selection.
#4, ANOTHERTWISTAFATE (2-1): Your opinion of this horse probably hinges on your assessment of the Sunland Park Derby. I wasn’t thrilled with that race from a class perspective and was surprised that it was assigned a Beyer Speed Figure as high as 94. It was difficult to make accurate numbers for that Sunland Park card given that the track changed late in the day. In my opinion, the 113 TimeformUS Speed Figure is better aligned with the quality of the horses in that field, and that number hardly makes him a more likely winner than Sueno. I’ll be interested to see if this son of Scat Daddy can transfer his form to the dirt course at Keeneland. I still believe that this colt is far more turf-inclined, as his pedigree would suggest, and horses with turf preferences are sometimes able to handle very tight, hard dirt courses, which is what he encountered at Sunland Park. I’m not totally convinced that he will be at his best over a deeper dirt surface at Keeneland. Furthermore, the prospect of a fast pace could force him to exert too much energy in the early portion of the race. A vulnerable favorite.
#5, HARVEY WALLBANGER (7-2): There are only two true closers in this field and this colt is the one that is likely to attract more support. He never had a chance in a slow-paced edition of the Florida Derby last time, so I won’t hold that 8th place finish against him. Unfortunately, I wasn’t thrilled with his Holy Bull either. The paltry 103 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned for that victory is significantly slower than the best numbers earned by his main rivals. My feeling is that this horse took advantage of a favorable set of circumstances when he earned that Grade 2 triumph, but he’s unlikely to recapture that glory anytime soon. Using underneath.
#6, CHASE THE GHOST (30-1): He was no match for stakes company in either the LeComte or Risen Star and has just failed to step forward since exiting the maiden ranks. Pass.
#7, KNICKS GO (15-1): The connections of this Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up are pressing on after a crushing fall from grace during the Derby prep season. At this point, his two Grade 1 performances last fall in Kentucky seem like distant memories. None of his surrounding efforts make him remotely competitive agains graded stakes company and I seen no reason why he should rebound. Pass.
#8, OWENDALE (12-1): He didn’t work out the best trip in the Risen Star, as he failed to attain his preferred forward position and was forced to race wide around both turns. I’m willing to throw out that race, but it’s not as if his prior form makes him all that appealing. He has yet to break a triple-digit TimeformUS Speed Figure and the allowance race he won two back has not been flattered in subsequent months. Pass.
#9, ZENDEN (6-1): The 120 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned in the Tampa Bay Derby is easily the highest number in this field. That race featured a fast and contested early pace, and Zenden did well to hang on for fourth after leading the field into the stretch. The form of that prep was validated when Tacitus returned to take the Wood Memorial and Win Win Win finished a troubled second in the Blue Grass last weekend. The major question for Zenden is certainly not his ability, but rather his projected trip. He’s drawn a difficult outside post position with all of his main pace rivals breaking inside of him. He was hard-ridden to make the lead from an outside slot at Tampa, but he paid the price in the stretch. I have doubts that he can last for the entire 1 1/16 miles with a similar trip. On the other hand, this horse would be very dangerous if one of his expected pace rivals decides to rate, or if Tyler Gaffalione is able to slot him into a stalking position heading into the clubhouse turn. I won’t be shocked if Zenden turns for home with a clear advantage and he just might be able to last in the short stretch. The main threat.
#10, ROILAND (15-1): Harvey Wallbanger is the closer that many horseplayers will gravitate toward, but I prefer this Tom Amoss trainee. His 109 TimeformUS Late Pace Rating is the highest in the field, 2 points better than that of Harvey Wallbanger. While he hasn’t threatened to win any of the prep races in which he’s participated, it’s not as if he’s been disgraced in those races. The LeComte and Louisiana Derby just did not set up for him from a race flow standpoint. Yet he showed that he could capitalize on a more favorable setup when he closed to be third in the Risen Star, and this race figures to feature a similar pace scenario. James Graham just has to drop back soon after the start and launch one late run. As long as he avoids significant ground loss, I won’t be shocked if he passes most of the field. Using underneath.
The two main players are Anothertwistafate (#4) and Sueno (#3), and I strongly prefer the latter runner. This Keith Desormeaux trainee has run well in all of his preps to date while facing stiff competition. This slight turnback should work in his favor and he projects to work out a great trip. I don’t trust Anothertwistafate, so I will try to get Zenden (#9) and Roiland (#10) into the exotics to add some value.
Exacta Key Box: 3 with 4,5,9,10
Trifecta: 3 with 4,5,9,10 with 4,5,9,10