Horse Betting: Lead up to Churchill Downs
Much like the Derby itself, the Lexington looks too close to call
In the build up to the Kentucky Derby, Timeform take a look at this weekend's horse racing in North America.
Keeneland plays host to several graded races this weekend including the Grade 3 Coolmore Lexington Stakes on Saturday, which is last chance saloon for some to finally secure a place in the field for the Kentucky Derby.
Much like the Derby itself, the Lexington looks too close to call with only 5 lb covering the top six on Timeform ratings and doubts surrounding all of them for one reason or another that muddy the predictive waters further. As such, something will have to win mightily impressively to shake up the ante-post Derby market and if there is one runner with the potential to do that it might be the unbeaten Summer Front rather than the sponsors' Castaway. Even so we wouldn't wish to trade out the 34.0 we advised several weeks ago about current third or fourth favourite Dullahan. Reversing Breeders' Cup Juvenile form with Hansen in the Blue Grass last week wasn't unexpected for reasons we have given before and if there is one horse that will relish the Derby trip in what looks inevitably as if it will be a strongly-run race it is him. Our other ante-post selection Sabercat remains guaranteed a run and hopefully that long-held certainty rather than lack of progress has influenced his form cycle this year.
On Sunday the Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes sees the reappearance of Wise Dan whose near four-length win in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs last November was right up there with the best performances by an older horse all year. He is proven on Keeneland's synthetic surface having won two of his three starts here and looks to have been found a good opportunity, but the fact that he wasn't anywhere near his best here first time up last year after a winning end to the previous year at Churchill Downs is enough to make us sit this one out.
The feature of Aqueduct's card on Saturday is the Grade 2 Jerome Stakes for three-year-olds over a mile (17:00, 22:00 BST). This final graded stakes of the winter/spring meet in New York has pitched together a cosmopolitan field with the seven runners having done their winning at seven different tracks. The progressive Sunland Derby third Stirred Up looks the sort to improve again but Morning Line odds of 2/1 look unrealistically short given the amount he has to find on form - 8 lb by our reckoning - and our idea of the winner is The Lumber Guy despite the 4 lb he has to concede to 2011 Group 1 Champagne third Right To Vote. The selection lost his unbeaten record when only fifth in the nine-furlong Wood Memorial here recently but he looked a natural in Grade 1 company that day with only his exuberance counting against him late as he faded having travelled powerfully. It might yet be that seven furlongs, at which he won a non-graded stakes at Laurel back in February, will prove his best trip but the Aqueduct mile hasn't taken much getting this spring and he could have too many guns for Right To Vote who didn't convince with his stamina in the Champagne and just scrambled home on his reappearance at Gulfstream.
At Hawthorne on Saturday the highlight is the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap that ends the card (17:40, 23:40 BST). This is essentially a rerun of the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs last November in which Arena Elvira, conceding 5 lb and an even-money favourite, edged out Appealing Lady with Juanita well held back in fourth. Given that Juanita and Appealing Lady very much had the run of the race from the front that day, there looks to be plenty of value in backing Arena Elvira at the forecast 4/1 to complete a six-timer despite a small turnaround in the weights. She did well to overcome trouble in running and win a minor stakes event at Tampa on her reappearance and really shouldn't have anything to fear from Morning Line favourite Juanita whose recent second to 2011 Horse Of The Year Havre de Grace looks to have been overrated by the odds compilers.