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The historic Grade 2, $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes is set for this Saturday at Churchill Downs, drawing an overdrawn field of 16 for this year’s event. The race serves as a Kentucky Derby prep, yielding 10 Kentucky Derby points to the winner, 4 for second, 2 for third, and 1 for fourth. The big race is set to go off as the 11th of a 12-race “Stars of Tomorrow II” card that features all juveniles. Local post time for the race will be 5:56 PM ET.
This year’s headliner is the Grade 1-winning Knicks Go. The son of Paynter won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keenelnd with ease at odds of 70/1. He followed that with a second last out in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes. The Kenny McPeek-trained Signalman also exits the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he finished a solid third. Before that race, he was second to Knicks Go in the Breeders’ Futurity. McPeek believes that this horse has a bright future as the distances get longer.
“Distance should definitely not be a problem for him,” McPeek said. “He’ll get a break after the Kentucky Jockey Club and point to starts as a 3-year-old in the Derby prep races.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher has struggled with his 2-year-olds this season; however, his star horse from this crop could be King for a Day, who shows up for his first stakes test after breaking his maiden with ease at Belmont Park in his last start. The son of Uncle Mo seemed to thrive when running around two turns for the first time, which could pay dividends as we progress down the Kentucky Derby Trail. Pletcher will also start Current, who will be trying dirt for the first time. Most recently, he was seventh in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Stakes.
The full field for this overdrawn race from the rail out: Signalman, Tracksmith, Manny Wah, Dunph, Plus Que Parfait, Blue Steel, Limonite, Royal Urn, Current, Roiland, Mick’s Star, King for a Day, Knicks Go, Topper T, and two Also Eligible’s: Everfast and Kentucky Allstar.
#12 King for a Day – There is no doubt that trainer Todd Pletcher has had an off-year with his juveniles, beginning with an uncharacteristically slow meet at Saratoga over the summer. This horse seems to be an up-and-comer, though, earning a solid speed figure when stretching out in distance for the first time in his last start, a 2 1/4-length victory at Belmont Park against maiden special weight company. He has earned the right to try stakes company for the first time and enters the race fresh compared to some of his main challengers. Pletcher might not have a deep crop of 2-year-olds at the moment, but this is the one that he has thought of highly from the beginning.
#13 Knicks Go – Many handicappers thought that he was a fluke after winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at odds of 70/1. However, he showed that it was not when he turned for home in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with the lead before finishing second at the wire to eventual champion Game Winner. There is no doubt that he has earned the right to be the favorite in this race based on those performances. He will be in with a big chance once again, with the major challenge being this tough outside post position draw.
#1 Signalman – It’s hard to find anything that this horse has done wrong so far. He has shown up with a solid effort in each of his four starts. Two races back, he was second in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity, then finished third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Before the Breeders’ Cup, this horse was getting plenty of buzz on the backside, meaning that he was working out very well leading up to the race. That remains the case, which means that he has a shot to turn the tables on Knicks Go, who has beaten him in his last two starts.
#4 Dunph – So far, this horse has looked unbeatable. He broke his maiden by 8 lengths at Penn National against maiden special weight company before winning the $300,000 Spendthrift Juvenile Stallion Stakes by nearly 8 lengths for new trainer Mike Maker. Both of those wins came at one turn, which makes this two-turn test the biggest question mark for this fast juvenile. If he can handle the stretch out, then he could turn this race into a laugher.
#5 Plus Que Parfait – He is getting better with every start while also stretching out in distance each race. Last time out, he broke his maiden going two turns for the first time at Churchill Downs, beating a horse name Harvey Wallbanger, who came back to win last weekend. This is going to be a move up in class, which will be the big test. It is clear, though, that he has potential and possesses the ability to run well around two turns.
#9 Current – This Pletcher trainee will try dirt for the first time after running on the turf in his first four starts. He has shown quite a bit of class up to this point, including a win two races back in the Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland. Pedigree-wise (by Curlin out of a Storm Cat mare), he should be able to handle the dirt without much of an issue. He is devoid of early speed, meaning he will need some pace up front in order to make a big impact, which is why he is an exotic play.
#11 Mick’s Star – After two straight blowout victories on the dirt, this horse moved to the turf, where he was fifth in the Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes. It was surprising to see him on the turf after those dirt performances, which makes this move back to the dirt a logical one. He should bounce back with a nice race in this spot and could hit the board at a decent price.
#6 Blue Steel – There is no doubt that he has the look of a Dale Romans 2-year-old getting ready to run a big race. After struggling on debut, Blue Steel bounced back with a big-time race in his second start, defeating maiden special weight company at Churchill Downs by 5 lengths. Now, he must stretch out in distance for the first time, but his pedigree (by Will Take Charge out of a Candy Ride mare) suggests that he should handle that with ease. He must improve from a speed figure standpoint, but that could be possible with the stretch out in distance.
#2 Tracksmith – This interesting entry will try dirt for the first time. He is by Street Sense, out of a Medaglia d’Oro mare, which means that running on the dirt could be something that this colt enjoys. Two races back, he nearly won the $400,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Stakes, finishing second by a head at odds of 13-1. If he can move to the dirt successfully, there are worse horses to take a look at in this full field of potential Kentucky Derby contenders.
#3 Manny Wah – This colt has had several chances against stakes company without getting the job done. Last time out, he showed some improvement but still finished fourth in the $100,000 Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs. He will need to show even more improvement to make an impact in this tougher spot.
#14 Topper T – He started his career against much softer company at Prairie Meadows and Canterbury Park before being privately purchased and sent to the care of trainer Bill Mott for a start in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. However, that race did not go well for him at all, and this race seems just as tough. He has to prove his class before backing him in a race of this caliber.
#7 Limonite – Every race he has entered so far has been a close finish. He was third, beaten only a neck, on debut before winning by a head in his next start at Keeneland. Last time out, he was second against allowance company at Churchill Downs, losing by a neck to fellow foe Roiland.
#10 Roiland – This race can be won by nearly any horse in the race, including this runner, who has won two of three career starts. From a speed figure standpoint, he will have to get a bit faster, which looks to be the biggest knock against him coming into this spot.
#8 Royal Urn – The son of Kantharos broke his maiden on the dirt; however, his best race seemed to have come on the turf last time out in an allowance win at Gulfstream Park West. This move back to the dirt seems a bit surprising based on that last strong effort on the turf.
Also Eligibles: #15 Everfast, #16 Kentucky Allstar
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