04/11/2009 1:39PM

Blue Grass Day '09


Four of today's six graded races across the country are the 6th through 9th at Keeneland, and it's a sequence worth paying attention to beyond playing today's Pick-4: All four races lead to a race on Derby or Oaks Day three weeks hence, days when it pays especially well to have some undercard insights:


--Race 6, the 5.5f G3 $100k Shakertown, is a turf sprint for older males, as is the 5f G3 $100k Aegon Turf Sprint on Oaks Day.

--Race 7, the 7f G2 $200k Commonwealth, is the Polytrack version of the 7f G2 $250k Churchill Downs Handicap on Derby Day;

--Race 8, the 1m G2 $200k Jenny Wiley for older female grass milers, has its equivalent on the Derby Day undercard in the $200k G2 Churchill Downs Distaff Mile S.

--Race 9 is the Blue Grass, a prep of debatable relevance to the Derby these days but still sure to yiield a few starters.

Quick thoughts on today's quartet:

The Shakertown looks like a four-horse race among Hellvelyn, Mr. Nightlinger, Chamberlain Bridge and Heros Reward. Mr. Nightlinger, who won this race last year at 21-1, is the 5-2 ML favorite but makes his first start since fading badly in the BC Turf Sprint nearly six months ago. Hellvelyn and Heros Reward would benefit if Chamberlain Bridge challenges Mr. Nightlinger early. If you're looking for a bomb underneath, Tenkiller Lane steps way up in class here but appears to have found himself since being switched to turf sprints.

The Commonwealth also features a defending champ in Rebelllion, who won it off a nearly identical 5 1/2-month layoff last year but may need more pace than he'll get today. I prefer turnbacking My Pal Charlie and possible lone-speed Ravalo, but will use Rebellion and Eternal Star defensively.

The Jenny Wiley features the season debut of Forever Together. She may not be fully cranked as she begins the defense of her Eclipse Award as the nation's top grass filly, but will win this with anything close to her First Lady triumph at this course and distance last fall. G1 winners Backseat Rhythm (first-time McLaughlin) and Rutherienne are the obvious main competition; I Lost My Choo is an interesting alternative off a gangbusters return at Gulfstream in her last.

I'll cast a wide net in the Blue Grass, emphasizing Patena, General Quarters and Hold Me Back in a race where only 50-1 Loch Dubh is completely implausible.

#       A          B         C                Winner

6    1,10        4        2,9                10-Heros Reward $12.60

7    4,7        1,2,8                           1-Eternal Star $13.20 

8    3           1,7,8                           3-Forever Together $4.00

9    1,8,10    3,6    2,4,5,9,11          8-General Quarters $30.60 

[p4 paid $3009.80 for $2.]      

The afternoon's two other graded races are the G2 Comely at sloppier-by-the-minute Aqueduct, and the G2 Arkansas Derby, where Old Fashioned and Win Willy take on first-time Dutrow runner Danger to Society. ESPN coverage of the Arkansas Derby runs from 6 to 7 pm ET, assuming the Virginia-Duke lacrosse coverage concludes in timely fashion.

Update 6:01 pm: Nice to know where racing stands with ESPN: 4:56 left in the Duke-Virginia "Old Spice ESPNU Lacrosse" game, which appears to have attracted about 100 spectators onsite -- and possibly as many at home! So, Arkansas Derby coverage has been moved to ESPN Classic.