Potential contenders for the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve are set to square off on Saturday in the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs, an important late-season Grade 2 race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The 1 1/16-mile race awards 17 qualification points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 basis, sufficient to attract a deep field of nine horses to the mix. While there are many viable contenders for victory, it’s safe to assume bettors will focus their attention on three horses: #2 Sittin On Go, #4 Keepmeinmind, and #8 King Fury. All three are proven stakes performers exiting the prestigious Grade 1 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at Keeneland three weeks ago.
Of the trio, Keepmeinmind figures to attract the most support. Although he’s never won a race, the Robertino Diodoro trainee has placed twice against Grade 1 company, parlaying a runner-up effort in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity into a third-place finish in the Juvenile. On both occasions, Keepmeinmind was beaten by probable champion 2-year-old and early Kentucky Derby favorite Essential Quality.
But Keepmeinmind is no lock to win the Kentucky Jockey Club. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile unfolded at a rapid pace favorable to late runners, so in charging from last place to finish third, Keepmeinmind was capitalizing on a perfect setup. On talent alone, the son of Laoban can vie for victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club. But there isn’t much speed in the field, so with a less favorable setup, Keepmeinmind might be hard-pressed to step forward and secure his first career victory.
For the same reasons, Sittin On Go appears vulnerable. The stretch-running chestnut relished a fast pace when rallying to victory in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes Presented by Ford at Churchill Downs two starts back, but he failed to fire in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, finishing ninth after racing near the back of the pack early on. Even if he bounces back with a better effort on Saturday, a slow pace could make it difficult for Sittin On Go to improve on his Iroquois form.
With this in mind, King Fury seems like the most appealing of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile alumni. A beautifully-bred son of Curlin out of the Grade 1-winning mare Taris, King Fury turned in an even effort at Keeneland, racing seventh at almost every call to split the field. Considering the chestnut colt was running back just 12 days after battling to a gritty victory in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs, this wasn’t a bad effort by any means.
Speaking of the Street Sense, King Fury turned in an excellent performance in the 1 1/16-mile race. Running at the same track and distance as the Kentucky Jockey Club, King Fury settled a few lengths behind modest quarter-mile fractions of :24.60, :49.51, and 1:14.34 before finishing fast through the stretch. Sprinting the final five-sixteenths of a mile in less than :30 seconds, King Fury rallied to defeat Grade 1-placed Super Stock by half a length, with the rest of the runners another 3 3/4 lengths behind.
A return to the form of his Street Sense triumph can place King Fury in the hunt for victory on Saturday, though he may need every ounce of his talent to catch #1 Swill, a dangerous front-runner conditioned by hot trainer Brad Cox.
Although Swill was beaten in his first two starts, the son of sprinter-miler Munnings showed improvement when switching to front-running tactics for a Sept. 24 maiden sprint at Churchill Downs. Sent straight to the lead by high-percentage jockey Florent Geroux, Swill carved out a steady pace before drawing away to beat next-out maiden winner Santa Cruiser by three lengths.
Swill is stepping up in class for the Kentucky Jockey Club, but this shouldn’t be a big concern. Historically, this race has been a proving ground for up-and-comers more than division standouts, as evidenced by the fact only one Breeders’ Cup Juvenile participant has won the Kentucky Jockey Club since 2006.
With this intriguing fact in mind, let’s play Swill in equal strength with King Fury on top of three trifecta tickets. Underneath, we’ll respect Keepmeinmind and Sittin On Go while tossing in #6 Inspector Frost (a second maiden winner trained by Cox) for good measure.
Wagering Strategy: Trifectas on a $30 Budget
$1 trifecta: 1,8 with 1,2,4,6,8 with 1,2,4,6,8 ($24)
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, 11th race, $1 trifecta 1,8 with 1,2,4,6,8 with 1,2,4,6,8 ($24)
$0.50 trifecta: 1,8 with 1,8 with 2,4,6 ($3)
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, 11th race, $0.50 trifecta 1,8 with 1,8 with 2,4,6 ($3)
$0.50 trifecta: 1,8 with 2,4,6 with 1,8 ($3)
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, 11th race, $0.50 trifecta 1,8 with 2,4,6 with 1,8 ($3)
Good luck, and enjoy the race!