04/06/2014 8:50AM

Byron King's Keeneland handicapping notebook April 6


Saturday, April 5 review

With skies having cleared following stormy, windy weather on opening day, 27,688 fans packed Keeneland on Saturday. Many were out in force long before post time, with long lines for parking as fans tailgated like NFL diehards.

Saturday began with the meet’s first race for 2-year-olds. Most people expected trainer Wesley Ward would win with one of his two starters, Climb in Back and Time out of Mind. Instead, they proved little more than brief pace factors, and Skyway inhaled pacesetting Time Out of Mind, won by 6 3/4 lengths and blitzed 4 1/2 furlongs in a swift 51.62 seconds.

Shun took the second race, a $10,000 claimer, the second win on the day for Stewart Elliott, who was also aboard Skyway in the opener. Elliott would go on to add another win on the card. The winner, whose recent form had been wretched on dirt at Penn National, relished a class drop and return to Polytrack, his best surface. The favored Horned Frog, pulled up from his last race, disappointed his backers with a fourth-place finish after repeatedly trying to get out under Rosie Napravnik.

Nordic Bull pulled off an upset in the third race at 31-1, a nice way for his trainer, Tyler Wolbert, to restart his career. It marked his first-ever starter in Kentucky and his first overall since 2007.

The favored County Corrections, racing on the inside, grew intimidated racing close to the rail, and repeatedly shied from it. Blinkers and an outside draw would help him next out.

Southern Honey gave trainer Rusty Arnold his first win of the meet in race 4 – keeping Arnold’s remarkable streak of having had a winner at every single Keeneland meet in which he has run a horse since 1986.

The fifth race, with drew three Grade 1 winners in its allowance field, was a 1 1/8-mile turf race that essentially turned into a test of who could quicken fastest for the last  three furlongs. After three-quarters timed in 1:16.12, Boisterous kicked on from third with a final three-eighths in 34 seconds and change to edge pacesetting Tricky Hat.

Creative Spirit romped in the sixth race, a straight maiden contest, for the same connections associated with Skyway – owner John Oxley, trainer Mark Casse, and jockey Elliott. Creative Spirit’s victory pushed Oxley and Casse into first place in their respective standings, and Elliott, a newcomer to the circuit, into a tie with Julien Leparoux for leading rider two days into the 15-day meet.

Turn-back runner Seekingthediamond won race 7 with a rally down the middle of the track, catching Vanity Feature, who was a bit too keen in his first start of the year and established hot fractions.

Myositis Dan then won race 8 as the favorite, gradually wearing down Sopresa d’Oro and improving his record to 2 for 2 on the Keeneland Polytrack. He had been second previously on dirt to the talented Anchor Down at Gulfstream.

The featured Ashland could not have been more thrilling, and in a fitting end Room Service and Rosalind were impossible for the placing judges to separate. They finished on even terms, in other words a dead heat, with Thank You Marylou finishing seven lengths back in third.

Room Service looks like strictly a turf/Polytrack competitor but both Rosalind and Thank You Marylou have established dirt form and Thank You Marylou could prove a dangerous Kentucky Oaks longshot.

Speaking of longshots, they completed the exacta in the nightcap, with 14-1 Pleasant Cat edging 30-1 Spring Reason. The winner scored his second straight – odd for a horse who had lost her first 11 races.


It’ll Be Fine

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Last race: April 5, 1st

Finish: 5th by 11 1/4

Beyer: NA

Debuting in a 4  1/2-furlong baby race, he got several races worth of experience in a troubled debut and should benefit from it. Squeezed at the start, he began to advance a couple times along the inside, only to run up on the heels of tired horses. With a better trip he would have been three to five lengths closer.

Sunday, April  6 Preview

A rare weekend day of racing without a stakes race leaves Sunday’s card at Keeneland as a cut below the track’s customary standards. At least the eighth race is interesting and deep, having drawn a full field of first-level allowance runners going a mile on the turf. With sunny skies forecasted, the turf should be firm.

Party Now is the class, having just been second in the Sweetest Chant Stakes behind Ready to Act. Notably third in that race was Room Service, who would go on to win the Herecomesthebride Stakes before her head-heat victory with Rosalind in Saturday’s Ashland.

Working against her is a wide draw in post 12, putting her at risk of a wide trip, and a layoff dating back to Jan. 26.


Race 5

Xaverian ( No. 7, 7-2) was off awkwardly and then steadied into the first turn of his debut March 1 at Gulfstream, and did well under the circumstances to rally to be a distant fourth; likely to improve in his second race and perhaps will offer some degree of value with the ever-popular Ramseys having Turf Kitten in the race.

Race 9

Bergman ( No. 8, 4-1) did little this winter at Fair Grounds, but should turn things around with the return to Polytrack - a surface on which he has typically done his best. Racing for $20,000 twice last summer at Del Mar, he ran fourth and third - and now he's in for $10,000 claiming.