The return of top-level stakes racing to Kentucky warms the heart even if the Lexington weather doesn’t. Here are my picks for the stakes races on Toyota Blue Grass Stakes day at Keeneland Race Course, including a bit of an upset in the venerable Kentucky Derby prep.
UPDATED after scratches
Race 6 | Grade I Central Bank Ashland Stakes | 1 1/8 miles
1. Carina Mia
2. Cathryn Sophia
3. Rachel’s Valentina
Comment: While this is the non-Songbird Kentucky Oaks prep, who would have thought that a five-horse field would be so stiff without the juvenile ladies champion that Rachel’s Valentina – daughter of Rachel Alexandra and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up – could be the third choice? That’s the case here. Carina Mia is training well for her 2016 debut and gets a narrow edge, even though this is a tough, tough spot for a comeback. Cathryn Sophia has done nothing wrong, but might be facing tougher here than she has in her perfect previous four races. Rachel’s Valentina is class on paper and on the track, but I’ll take a stand that she gets beat here because it’s her first race back and she’ll be overbet at least a little.
Race 7 | Grade III Commonwealth Stakes | 7 furlongs
1. Holy Boss
2. Viva Majorca
3. Ready for Rye
4. Clearly Now
Comment: Holy Boss, if he’s at his top form, has the back class to win in what is a pretty evenly matched race. Viva Majorca can improve in his second start of the year and has back class as well. Ready for Rye, like Viva Majorca, is making his second start of the year and can improve as well.
Race 8 | Grade II Shakertown Stakes | 5 1/2 furlongs turf
1. Bye Bye Bernie
3. Something Extra
4. Power Alert
Comment: In an evenly matched race, Bye Bye Bernie has as much excuse to win as any other entry and will be a little bit of a price. If Commute improves, he looms larger than his 15-1 morning line. On back class, Undrafted is a standout. But he has two potential strikes against him — his first start of the year and the possibility (I could be wrong) that he’s not quite the force he used to be.
Race 9 | Grade I Madison Stakes | 7 furlongs
1. Dancing House
3. Wavell Avenue
4. Enchanting Lady
Comment: So much for thinking that the inside post wouldn’t hinder Cavorting’s chances after finishing fourth here in a Breeders’ Cup race last fall from the wide outside. He’s scratched. Dancing House overcame a rough start to win the Grade II Barbara Fritchie at Laurel Park and now is the pick. Stopchargingmaria is the defending Breeders’ Cup Distaff queen, won over this track, and is a bet against to me in her first start of the year, from an outside post and shortening up from what may be her ideal distance (though it has to be said she was second in this race last year). Wavell Avenue won the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint here last year, but, again, could be up against it in her first race of the season. A great edition of the Madison with two Breeders’ Cup winners from last year.
Race 10 | Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes | 1 1/8 miles
3. Brody’s Cause
4. Cherry Wine
Comment: The Gotham runner-up has criss-crossed the country to get here and could be flattered if Gotham winner Shagaf holds up to his favoritism in the Wood Memorial. Zulu could be a vulnerable favorite. He has the breeding for distance and gets blinkers but his Fountain of Youth might show a vulnerability at two turns. Brody’s Cause had a respectable third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile here and could improve in his second start of the year.