Heading into the first turn at Keeneland
Heading into the first turn at Keeneland|keeneland.com

Thoroughbreds: Garrity picks Keeneland opening day mid-card races plus Oaklawn and Santa Anita

Ah, spring is here. There’s horse racing in the Blue Grass State.

Chris Garrity

A lot of weekdays are a grind: the same old tracks, cheap races, small fields, and bad chalk. Handicapping these races sometimes reminds me of what my old Hollywood pal Dickie used to say: "Why the hell do I do this to myself?"

Today, comrades, is not one of those days: it is opening day at Keeneland. This normally occurs on a Friday, but it's been bumped up a day, and we won't complain, because the cards at Keeneland are almost without exception good. That's certainly the case today, and we'll focus most of our play today on the action in Lexington, with a couple of quick looks at races from Oaklawn and Santa Anita. The weather is supposed to be fine at all these tracks, so we're handicapping for fast and firm. Let's go.

The 5th at Keeneland (post time: 5:12 pm) is an allowance for older horses at a mile on the grass. A full field of 12 is entered. Handicapping this race really goes through the favorite, 2-Instilled Regard: this 4-year-old colt is coming out of four consecutive Grade 1 stakes races, one of which was the Kentucky Derby, and is trained by Chad Brown, who is probably the top turf trainer in the country. If you're going on class, he's probably your horse.

But we don't like him in this spot. He's only run on turf once, in the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar in December, and his performance in that was less than convincing. At a short price, he's a stone-cold play against.

We like 8-Say the Word. This Graham Motion trainee, also a 4-year-old colt, has some back class of his own: he ran in the first and third leg of the Canadian Triple Crown last year, and even ran second in the latter, the Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine, which is a grass race. He had a sharp score in an allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs in December, and now he's back after a brief freshening. He appears to have the best closing kick in the field, and we think that is the determining factor in the race. We will bet him to win at 6-1. The bet: Keeneland, Race 5, $20 to win on 8-Say the Word.

Race 6 at Keeneland (post time: 5:45 pm Eastern) is another allowance, for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and a sixteenth on the dirt. We are looking for speed, as Keeneland's main track has historically been one of the most speed-favoring ovals in the country. Horses do not have to be on the lead to win, but they must be within striking distance. And that leads us to the pick in this race, 1-Ulele. This filly is out of Candy Ride, who's an emerging superstar at stud, and she has tactical speed and an inside post position, both of which are pluses here. The speed figures in her recent race suggest that that she can handle this level, and also that she might be ready to move forward and improve. That makes her a go. We will bet her to win. The bet: Keeneland, Race 6, $20 to win on 1-Ulele.

The 7th is the feature at Keeneland, the $100,000 Palisades Turf Sprint. It's 3-year-olds going 5 1/2 furlongs on the grass, and it goes to the post at 6:18 pm Eastern. This is a salty field: there are some seriously fast horses in here, including 1-Yes I Am Free, 5-Vogt, 8-Gladiator King, 9-Abyssinian, and 12-Bulletin, who won last year's Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint. But we are going for a bomb here, and it's 7-Hawaiian Noises, who's 12-1 on the morning line. He's trained by Wesley Ward, who also trains the speedy Abyssinian, and we think he looks primed for a maximum effort. He's also running on turf after making his last few starts on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park, and the synthetic-to-turf angle is one we like, and one that Ward does well with (25% win rate from 16 starters in 2019). We will bet him to win. The bet: Keeneland, Race 7, $20 to win on 7-Hawaiian Noises.

The feature race at Oaklawn Park today is the 8th, an allowance race at 6 furlongs on the dirt for 3-year-olds. Post time is 5:42 pm Eastern. We like the chalk in here: 2-Absolutely Aiden is coming off a layoff, but the one race he ran last year, a maiden race that he won at Saratoga in August, ended up being a key race: three of the horses who finished behind him that day came back subsequently to win. He earned a good speed figure in the race, and he should move forward off that as a 3-year-old. We will bet him to win at 9/5. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 8, $25 to win on 2-Absolutely Aiden.

Out west in Arcadia, Santa Anita runs a 9-race card in the middle of what has become the biggest circus in horse racing. We will leave the commenting on that monkey business to others; we'll focus on the races. We like the 6th (post time: 6:30 pm Eastern) as a betting affair: it is nine 3-year-olds going a mile on the grass in an allowance race. We like another longshot in here, 3-Urban Light. This Irish-bred ran a dull fifth in his North American debut for trainer Phil D'Amato, but we think that he probably needed that race, and the 6 1/2-furlong distance was probably shorter than what he wants. His form in Ireland last year suggests that he is good enough to win this, and his closing style is a fit in a race that figures to have a quick early pace. We will bet him to win at 8-1. The bet: Santa Anita Park, Race 6, $15 to win on 3-Urban Light.

That's all for today. We'll be back on Saturday for a big day, with the Wood Memorial, the Arkansas Derby, and the Santa Anita Derby and Handicap all being run. Until then, good luck at the windows.

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