10/20/2011 1:30PM

Keeneland: Raven Run draws strong, deep field

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Benoit & Associates
Mizdirection comes into the Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes off a pair of turf races at Del Mar, including a win in the Sandy Blue Handicap.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Mike Trombetta and perhaps some of his other colleagues were working on the assumption that opting for the Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes instead of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint was not unlike taking a proverbial bird in the hand instead of two in the bush.

Problem is, that’s one tough bird. Thirteen fillies are in the 13th running of the $250,000 Raven Run, making it about as deep and competitive as possible, with contenders from all over the map convening at Keeneland on Saturday for what should be a revealing end-of-season race in the niche group of 3-year-old filly sprinters.

“I originally thought we’d be 30-1 if we went in the Breeders’ Cup and only 5-1 or so if we went in the Raven Run,” said Trombetta, who will saddle Strike the Moon as just one of perhaps a half-dozen major players in the Raven Run, which is run at seven furlongs on Polytrack. “But after taking a closer look at it, I don’t know. There are a lot of nice fillies in there. The choices are very limited this late in the year for straight 3-year-olds, and I guess everybody had the same idea. This really looks like a tough one.”

Strike the Moon, bred and owned by Larry Johnson, has finished worse than second only once in her eight career starts and was good enough to win the $400,000 Charles Town Oaks in her last appearance, defeating Groupie Doll and Hot Summer, who also bring solid credentials to the Raven Run.

Strike the Moon, with Julian Pimentel to ride from post 11, is among a host of fillies in this race with a high turn of speed.

“She’ll be forwardly placed,” said Trombetta, a 44-year-old Marylander with one Keeneland stakes win to his credit, the 2009 Commonwealth with Eternal Star. “But she runs her way. I’m sure she’ll be in the thick of things.”

Groupie Doll (post 2), locally based, defeated older rivals in the Grade 3 Gardenia at Ellis Park, while Hot Summer (post 3), trained by David Fawkes, was a star of the Aug. 27 Travers undercard at Saratoga when capturing the Grade 3 Victory Ride.

Strike the Moon is being joined by several other fast fillies from the East Coast, most notably Funny Sunny (post 5), here for Bob Hess Jr. by way of Saratoga and Belmont, and Roman Treasure (post 7), whose recent history with Mike Hushion includes romping wins in two minor Belmont sprint stakes that earned her Beyer Speed Figures of 99 and 96. Julien Leparoux, the leading rider as the 17-day fall meet passed its midpoint Wednesday, sees fit to take the call on Roman Treasure.

The West Coast contingent in for the Raven Run looks similarly potent. Mike Puype, who already has the solid favorite for the Nov. 4 BC Filly and Mare Sprint with 3-year-old Turbulent Descent, will be represented by Mizdirection, who gets Garrett Gomez from post 12. Mizdirection exits back-to-back mile turf races at Del Mar, where she led throughout to win a minor stakes in her last start nine weeks ago.

“There’s not a question in my mind that she’s best as a sprinter,” Puype said. “She pulls too hard and she’s so strong. She hasn’t run on the synthetic yet, but I have no reason to believe she won’t handle it. I only ran her in routes at Del Mar because there wasn’t a program that fit her there. If she wins this one, she’s earned her way, because it’s such a tough-looking race.”

Another California shipper is Great Hot (post 4), a Brazilian-bred who was third to the highly regarded Zazu in the Grade 1 Lady’s Secret three weeks ago. Chantal Sutherland has the mount on Great Hot in accepting just her second mount ever at Keeneland, following a fourth-place finish aboard Kitty in a Tizzy in the Raven Run last fall.

Helping to round out the rugged Raven Run field are Ms. Cruisen’, Button Girl, Dr. Diamonds Prize, Long Lake Krista, Honey Chile, and Grandacious.

The Raven Run goes as the ninth of 10 Saturday races on a card that also includes two allowances (races 7 and 8). First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern, with the feature set for 5:23. TVG provides live coverage throughout the day. All of the races will be streamed live on DRF.com.

Hilda’s Passion, ridden by Corey Lanerie, won the Raven Run in gate-to-wire fashion last year for trainer Todd Pletcher.