09/12/2013 3:28PM

Byron King: Go deep in Kentucky Downs pick three

Tom Keyser
Longhunter should offer fair odds in the Kentucky Downs Turf Dash.

If horseplayers follow the money Saturday, they’ll find all paths lead to the grass. Of the 11 richest stakes across North America, all with purses of $150,000 or more, every single one is scheduled for turf.

There is the Summer and Natalma at Woodbine for 2-year-olds, the Pucker Up at Arlington and Garden City at Belmont for 3-year-old fillies, and the Noble Damsel and PTHA President’s Cup for older turf females and males, respectively, at Belmont and Parx.

And there is a little bit of everything at Kentucky Downs, the all-turf track in little Franklin, Ky., which has five stakes races Saturday, including the Grade 3, $400,000 Kentucky Turf Cup.

Of that quintet of stakes at Kentucky Downs, three in particular have the potential for overlaid payoffs, and the races are sequenced together in a pick three.

Here’s a look at the trio of races in race order:

Race 7, Kentucky Downs Turf Dash

A six-furlong race with a full field, plus one also-eligible, the Kentucky Downs Dash appears competitive with a number of horses having shots.

My choice is Longhunter, who rattled off three consecutive sprint victories at Belmont at this distance of six furlongs before disappointing at Saratoga with a sixth in the Fiddlers Patriot going 5 1/2 furlongs. That failure explains why he is 5-1 on the morning line and not 3-1.

Despite his achievements at Belmont this spring and early summer, he seems likely to stick to his morning-line price for a couple of reasons: a past failure on the grass at Kentucky Downs, and starting for a barn cold at the meet.

I’m willing to look past those concerns. When he bombed at Kentucky Downs before, it was on a yielding course, and although trainer Mike Maker has gone unplaced with first 11 starters at the current Kentucky Downs meet, he has won at a 16-percent clip at Kentucky Downs over the past five years. His overall grass win percentage on turf the past five years is 21 percent.

Those percentages, along with Maker’s long history of success, suggest he will heat back up.

Longhunter (No. 12) merits a win bet, and is a must-use in the pick three, while also throwing successful speed horses Ancil (No. 8) and Saint Leon (No. 6) into the mix.

Race 8, Franklin-Simpson Mile

This race is competitive, with most of the horses running Beyer Speed Figures within a few points of one another, and with notable contenders having finished close in head-to-head matchups.

The Pizza Man, at 9-2 on the morning line, is a mild upset choice, a horse that closed to be third in the Stars and Stripes at Arlington last out, finishing a nose away from second. Cutting back in distance to a mile, this late runner should elevate his game if the pace is honest up front.

Admittedly, well-off-the-pace victories have been infrequent early in the Kentucky Downs meet, but that may not continue, and if nothing else, if the public focuses on betting speed – something he lacks – it will increase his price.

The Pizza Man (No. 3) merits a bet because he’s a winner, having crossed the wire first in 7 of 11 turf starts.

In addition to using The Pizza Man – Trend (No. 11), Coalport (No.  2), and Ol Army (No. 4) also get used in the pick three.

Race 9, Kentucky Turf Cup

This year’s renewal of the Kentucky Turf Cup lacks a standout runner, leaving Temeraine as the favorite by default at 3-1 on the line.

Although a close fifth against better in the Arlington Million, he fails to excite, having a history of breaking poorly and having just a single win this year at Tampa in an optional claimer. He also was a flat fourth in a prior run over the Kentucky Downs surface, and has no experience racing the 1 1/2 miles of the Kentucky Turf Cup.

Granted, inexperience at the distance also applies to my value-based selection, Potomac River (No.  6), but there is a huge difference: He is 15-1 on the morning line.

Having won three of his last four, including his last over Franklin-Simpson mile contender Ol Army at Indiana Downs, he fits on form. And his pedigree – being by English Channel out of a With Approval mare – suggests he should like running a marathon distance.

Suntracer (No. 9) and Najjaar (No.  4) – second and third, respectively – in the American St. Leger are other attractive pick 3 horses to use, along with Side Road (No. 7), whose firm-course marathon form is good.

** The suggested pick-three ticket: Using the horses mentioned above in numerical order, a 50-cent pick three of 6,8,12 with 2,3,4,11 with 4,6,7,9 costs $24.