The feature race this week is the Grade 1, $500,000 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. By contrast it is a much different handicapping puzzle than the formful Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita last week for handicap horses.
The biggest thing to keep in mind when handicapping these juvenile (2-year-old) races is that horses are constantly establishing themselves and learning from race to race. This race is a full field and features many horses doing something new whether it be distance, class, or facing winners for the first time. For this week's five questions I mixed it up, reaching out and asking for questions on Twitter. I received some great responses and really appreciate the input and transforming this into something to be shared with the racing community.
1. “I like Mind Control (post 13) and Standard Deviation (post 14), but are those outside posts troublesome at that 8 ½ (furlong) distance at Keeneland? —@BeemieAwards (Jason B.)
To answer this question I looked back at some old OptixPLOTs (optixEQ.com) to look at both race shape and post position. This gives a bit more context than just post position alone in my opinion. Overall I would not say those posts are necessarily favorable, nor are they the “kiss of death.”
I looked back at the Breeders’ Cup races at Keeneland from 2015 considering the full fields and found some favorable outside post position results. In the Distaff on Friday, Sheer Drama broke from post 13 and finished fourth going 1 1/8 miles (nine furlongs). The following race, Bailoutbobby won the Marathon from post 12. On Breeders’ Cup Saturday, Songbird won after going went wire to wire from post 10. Future Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, won the Juvenile from post 12 with Swipe finishing second from post 11. In 2016, Classic Empire won this race from post 11, and filling out the exacta was Lookin At Lee from post 12.
Oftentimes, like that day in 2016, the outside paths on the Keeneland main track are favorable and can help those posts even with ground loss. I would handicap both those outside horses based on pace and trip from the post and factor that into overall handicapping, which leads to the next question …
2. “Mind Control looks like a Q1 (front-running) horse. Does he have enough speed to get into a decent position going into the first turn from post 13?” —@onions712 (Lawrence R.)
Short answer is yes, and those that are familiar with OptixEQ he is a well-positioned square in Quad I on OptixPLOT. There is decent run into the first turn and Mind Control has legit early speed. He is coming out of sprint races and is the speed of the speed early. He should have no issue getting out to the lead and being out front heading into the first turn. Jockey John Velazquez is a smart rider and was aboard last out he knows his strength is his early speed and will be using it to his advantage. Stamina is a question but not too much of a concern, as noted from interviews and from my own observations. Getting back to #14 Standard Deviation, he won from a stalking trip on debut and they could try for similar here and will be wide trying for that trip. I could also see a scenario where his rider Javier Castellano takes back early, like a turf trip, save ground and make a late run. Trip for him can go a number of ways unlike the clear plan for Mind Control.
3. “Can Derby Date step up in class even though he is a maiden? Looks like his last race was a throw out with the gate stumble.” —@norbertma
Sometimes with spot-watching races it is tough to get a full picture of what happened in a trip or what took place on the day. With Derby Date last out in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes he did take a legitimate bobble at the break and for a horse that likes to be forwardly placed that might have hurt him slightly. I think it was a positive he was able to recover quickly, that gives credit to his talent and athleticism. The fact that he was caught widest out on the track stalking the pace hurt him more than losing his footing at the break. The outside part of the track did not seem ideal. As far as stepping up in class there is some ability there, and he ran a solid speed figure in his prior race finishing second against straight maidens. Physically he is a rangy type and has some scope. He looks like one that will handle a route of ground and the two-turn distances. Whether this is the day remains to be seen, but anyone who wanted to take a shot with him, I would not talk off of this colt.
4A. “Will the early pace heat up?”—@Derby1592
This is tough to tell and often with these young, lightly raced types, all running over the track for the first time with riders from all over the country, it becomes more of a jockey’s race. The pace should be honest. The pace should not be extreme, neither fast nor slow. As mentioned earlier, I expect Mind Control to be out in front early. His contention looks to come from #4 Unionizer, #7 Knicks Go, #10 Mr. Ankeny, and even #12 Derby Date will be close up to the pace early.
4B. “Which horses will improve first time routing?” —@Derby1592 (Chris gave out a “coupled entry” question, and I will allow it)
The horse that looks to have the most upside making his two turn debut is #5 Dream Maker. From his debut he looked like a horse that would handle more ground, and then last race in the Hopeful Stakes he really stamped himself as horse with the physicality to go long. #14 Standard Deviation needs to move forward off his debut, but looks capable to handle more ground. #9 Moonster did run at a flat mile last race to break his maiden, but will debut around two turns in this spot and should handle today’s distance. Still need to see more from him to determine whether or not he’s a classic-type distance horse.
5. “Who will win the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity?” —@Mikepike5Rao
Tough to know who will win, but Dream Maker will be the key horse in here. He has shown ability in each start, and looks to handle the distance. His speed figures and class fit with this field and he seems capable of getting the right trip with his running style. Both #6 Everfast and #8 Tobacco Road are coming into this race with less than ideal trips in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes last month and are worth a look off those efforts. #9 Moonster looked good breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs and seems to come out of a good race.
As always I welcome comments about this race (or any race really), and welcome questions for future “Five Questions” articles. There is a lot of good racing this weekend from coast to coast as we look ahead to the Breeders’ Cup next month.
Follow Emily Gullikson on Twitter @EmilyOptixEQ and check out more of her race analysis on YouTube.