04/18/2008 7:52PM

Keeneland Part Deux


The Keeneland backyard area is a tiny gem.  Subtle ivy strands lazily creep towards the roof of the attractive brick grandstand.  A huge Saratoga-like paddock, where horses are saddled around trees, is adjoined by a nice walking ring.  Here, fans can get up close and personal with their favorite equine athletes as well as their favorite jockeys.  At Keeneland, the riders don't need security to lead them to and from the paddock.  Although the Jockeys Quarters are less than a stone's throw from the walking ring, they walk among us, giants among men.  It wasn't uncommon to see Javier Castellano posing for pictures in between races, and Robbie Albarado and other riders people-watched from nearby benches when they didn't have mounts.  An artist put oils to canvas outside of the walking ring in between chats with delighted racegoers.

The polytrack is, well, artificial.  I noticed the sponginess of the surface when I walked the Woodbine main track last year.  You could tell by looking at the Keeneland surface that there's some bounce to the polytrack.

It was a pleasant crowd on a perfect day in the Blue Grass.  If you're going to go to Keeneland, you must get there early.  Hours before post time, the enthusiastic throng situated on the track apron eagerly pulled their benches closer to the action.  It is necessary to do so as the apron is jam-packed during racing, and a late arrival has virtually no chance of getting a good view.  Bringing a lawn chair might be a good idea as seating is somewhat limited around the walking ring and paddock, and nonexistent on the apron once the racing day begins.

Santa Anita is shadowed by the majestic San Gabriel Mountains, but Keeneland boasts gentle sloping hills on its horizon. 

Horseplayers unaccustomed to being treated like humans will be pleasantly surprised by the friendly and accommodating staff.  The grounds are pristine, and the lack of litter reminded me of my trip to Sandown last year.

The fans love their racing.  Huge cheers emanate from the crowd during the middle of a claiming event.  Everyone was having fun, win or lose.

Now, to the day's racing:

Race 1:  A starter allowance race, and I immediately thought of Steve T. and the gang when Siphon the Kitty, away from the races for almost a year since winning her maiden at Hollywood, got up in the last strides under Edgar Prado.  Favored Campsis, a debut winner at Fair Grounds for Steve Asmussen, hung badly in the stretch.  Horses like Campsis, recent big-figure maiden graduates, are among the worst bets in racing when they try winners for the first time as the favorite. 

Race 2:  I sat this one out as well as you guys know my dislike for playing claiming races. Prado swept the double with Oaklawn invader Ifonlyjohnny, and this one paid a solid $17.40.  Interestingly enough, Ifonlyjohnny was only one of three horses in the race that weren't dropping in claiming price, or out of allowance and stakes competition.

Race 3:  My first bet of the day, and it couldn't have turned out any worse.  Northern Kraze looked strong while chasing the pace under a rating hold, but packed it in quickly on the far turn.  Prado attacked with Gulfstream invader Cherokee Queen, and the homebred outgamed a tough Equally in the stretch.  Even though I lost, I had to give Edgar his due when he came back to the walking ring.  I held up three fingers, and congratulated him.

Race 4:  One of my favorite bet-againsts, Madame Brillon, was in here.  She's a funny gray filly, and every chance I see her, her tongue is lolling out of her head. She has some ability, but doesn't want to beat you, and those kind of horses are always worth trying to beat.  Unfortunately, the likeliest winner on paper, Ochre, was the heavy favorite.  I sat out, Ochre dominated, and Madame Brillon made it six seconds in twelve lifetime starts.  I've always liked Ochre, but the Red Ransom filly has been plagued by physical problems throughout her career.  This was only her second start since November 25, 2006, but if Mr. Pletcher has her right, she can visit the winner's circle again soon.

Race 5:  The baby races this meet have been competitive, and I've been shut out thus far.  This seemed like one of the toughest races of the bunch.  I liked Pletcher's Silent Valor, the first runner my Kentucky Derby pick, Lion Heart.  I wasn't as bullish on the uncoupled Asmussen pair, Tiger Rules (Peace Rules), and Broadway Al (Alke).  Early money is often so indicative of success in these races, and Ronny Werner's Run Away and Hide opened up at 3-1 off a 10-1 morning line.  The son of City Zip lived up to his name despite breaking from the far outside post position.  Silent Valor ran well to be second, but that wasn't good enough for me to win my wager on the race.
Pletcher has sent out several "close, but no cigar" juveniles at this meet, and they all (Laver, Iberian Gate, Silent Valor) should do well next time.
I've touted the "Clocker Comment" section of the Keeneland website on several occasions, and they've been dead-on concerning their analysis of this year's baby crop:

April 9:  Run Away and Hide - "continues to improve, was the better of Tripp to Hedo."
April 2:  Run Away and Hide - "impressed onlookers with the sharp effort from the gate."

Race 6:  Meh, a claimer.  Time for lunch.  Again, there isn't a lot of room to spread out, but I'd suggest the roast beef sandwich.  Just the right amount.

Race 7:  Tried to get Pletchasquez home with Alachua although I was really intrigued by the beautifully-bred Acoma (Empire Maker - Aurora, by Danzig).  Alachua made the top, but Acoma roared past in the final furlong.  Don't be surprised if this is a stakes filly in the making.

Race 8:  Okay, time to get hot.  Unfortunately for me, that means receiving my usual RRS (Racetrack Roadtrip Sunburn).  My face hurts!  Anytime, I can play against an overrated horse like Dominican, I'll jump at the chance.  Self Made Man looked like an old-school Keeneland pace play, and the Dust Commander winner got me off the schneid at $11.20 as well as kicking off my late Pick Three.

Race 9:  "Shug McGaughey!"  No, I didn't just happen to see Easy Goer's trainer walking by the hotel.  Carriage Trail, a McGaughey-trained mare by Giant's Causeway, received an absolutely wonderful ride by Kent Desormeaux.  There wasn't much pace signed on in the Doubledogdare so Kent took the bull by the horns, slowed the pace down, and had plenty left in the stretch.  I hated to play against johnny z's favorite, Panty Raid, but the price just wasn't there.  Carriage Trail paid $21.20, and I was still alive.

Race 10:  Now, the dilemma.  I was prepared to make my biggest win bet of the Gulfstream meet on Giant Deputy, but he showed up off the layoff in front wraps, was dead on the board, and looked lethargic on the track.  I wimped out, and it paid off.  Now, he was back.  What to do?  I had to get my Pick Three bet in way before I could get a look at him.  He was so good without the bandages in New York last year, and so horrible at Gulfstream. I took a deep sigh, and drew a line through him. I went with Rock Gold, William Tell, and Written in Stone, and my heart sank to the pit of my stomach when Giant Deputy showed up in the paddock bandage-free.  Still, there was no turning back now, and I felt very fortunate when William Tell got it done for Leparoux. 

How's the best way to celebrate a winning day at the track?  Nice dinner?  Nah,  I've got Keeneland Babies to finish up for tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, I was thinking that we should meet under the giant Keeneland Rolex Clock just before the first race, but that area gets awfully crowded.  Instead, if any FormBloggers are at the track, let's meet outside the Jockeys Quarters near the walking ring.

The Lexington looks like a very tough race. I'll be rooting for our FormBlog connections (Tomcito, Riley Tucker), but from a wagering standpoint, I'm leaning towards St. Joe, Samba Rooster, Atoned, and Riley Tucker.  I don't have a lot of confidence in this one so I'll probably just go deep in multi-races. 

More importantly, who do you like this weekend?  I'd like to know.

Talk to you tomorrow night.