A friend asked me for a prediction on the Bluegrass Stakes and I responded, "two inches of snow." And the weather may be easier to predict for the first weekend of April, than the 14 horse Derby prep race at Keeneland.
The Bluegrass has struggled to regain relevance in the Derby prep season after becoming a last chance for Derby contenders, who tended to run better on grass or Polytrack.
Now, Keeneland is back to dirt, but even that didn't save the hallowed Lexington prep from being downgraded to a Grade II event. The Polytrack era from 2007 to 2014 produced little impact on the Kentucky Derby.
So perhaps this year, with the entry of Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic and thirteen other contenders, the Bluegrass may be on the road to regaining its status as the last and best Derby indicator.
In fact, if you compare the Bluegrass to Saturday's two other Derby preps, the Keeneland race is much more competitive and a much better betting race than its brothers at Aqueduct and Santa Anita.
So, other than rain and snow, what's the best bet at Keeneland on Saturday afternoon? I'm going with the Tampa Bay Derby winner, Quip, who already has 50 Derby points and just needs to hit the board this weekend. But throw in the chance of wet weather and Quip's pedigree by Distorted Humor puts him over the top.
Free Drop Billy is the morning line second choice and Dale Romans is still looking for a break-out win from this colt by Union Rags. Billy broke his maiden at Churchill and won a stakes race at Keeneland. But he still hasn't won in 2018.
Another horse likely to hit the board is Mark Casse's Flameaway, who's won two of three stakes race this year and was second by a length in the Tampa Bay Derby. He's by the red hot sire Scat Daddy, who has two other top Derby contenders.
And what about Good Magic. He probably needed the race at Gulfstream but it was a rather dull third place in the Fountain of Youth. He's only run once since last November and that makes me wonder if there are some "health issues." He'll have to prove on Saturday that his Magic is as Good as it was last year.
Other horses to watch, or include in the exotics, are Todd Pletcher's Marconi at 15 to 1 and Blended Citizen, who has only won races on turf or synthetic tracks.
My advice is, get the past performances and have fun with this one. It's a great betting race. Almost anything can happen and the payoff might be big.
Meanwhile, up in New York, the race that sent us a third-place finisher named Secretariat, is renewed at Aqueduct on Long Island. The Wood has 9 entries and the favorite will be Godolphin's Enticed who won the Gotham Stakes at a mile on March 10.
The Gotham gave Enticed 50 Derby points and assured him a place in the Derby starting gate on a track where he won the Jockey Club Stakes as a two-year-old. That race has never been a great Derby predictor but at least it proves he can run on the local track. And the numbers say he's the best in New York.
Can anybody catch Enticed? The dangerous Todd Pletcher barn sends Vino Rosso up from Florida. He was third in the Sam Davis Stakes and fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby. His numbers show improvement.
Then there's Restoring Hope from the Bob Baffert barn. He has great promise but hasn't run since Feb. 2. Baffert entered the horse in the Sunland Derby but was shut out by the full field. He's only won a maiden race but has been working lights out in California.
And the early bloomer, Firenze Fire, always puts in a good effort but may be cut below the best. He was a Grade I winner as a two-year-old but that was then. This is 2018.
The Santa Anita Derby
It's a two-horse race. The two horses were supposed to be Bolt d'Oro and McKinzie. But then Bob Baffert had to regroup and go with a backup plan. McKinzie was sidelined with a leg injury and Baffert entered the speedy but untested Justify.
Justify is already the "buzz" horse for Derby 144 and the Santa Anita Derby will be his first stakes race. He broke his maiden by 9 lengths and then won a two-turn allowance by more than 6 lengths.
The numbers say Justify is the one but Bolt d'Oro has won two Grade Ones and was third in the Breeders' Cup. Bet against him at your own risk.
And really, there are more than two horses in the Santa Anita Derby. There are seven including Instilled Regard who's been very consistent in stakes company. It's not going to be a great superfecta but Core Beliefs seems to be improving.
Despite the time zone differences, these races have been bunched together for television between 5 and 7 p.m. on Saturday. The Wood Memorial goes off at 5:55. The Bluegrass Stakes will run at 6:23. And the Santa Anita Derby will hit the starting gate at 6:30 EDT. Hope you have a winner.
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