The $250,000, Grade 2 Lexus Raven Run Stakes Saturday at Keeneland typically showcases some of the top 3-year-old filly sprinters in North America and this year's edition is no exception. Horses who have made their most recent starts in New York, Pennsylvania, Canada and of course, Kentucky make up the 13 who are entered to run, with almost half the field entering the Raven Run following wins.
Leading the group in terms of recent accomplishments is Cilla, who posted the upset at 10.70-1 odds in the Grade 2 Prioress Stakes at Saratoga last month. Another top performer at this level is Obligatory, runner-up in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes in June and the Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes last month. Souper Sensational brings top credentials into the Raven Run as well as she finished second in the Prioress and second in the Grade 1 Longines Test Stakes prior to that. Just Read It won the Cicada Stakes in March and returns off a seven-month freshening, while recent Grade 3 Dogwood Stakes runner-up Someone Said So is yet another who appears competitive in this situation. Strong Silent, Zainalarab and Shalimar Gardens all step up into stakes company off wins in maiden or allowance level races and may need to improve, but they have potential to do just that. Miss Speedy won the Duchess Stakes at the seven-furlong distance of the Raven Run in her most recent start in Canada and may have the early speed to lead from the start. Caramel Swirl could only manage fourth in the Grade 3 Charles Town Oaks in her most recent race but won powerfully at the distance of the Raven Run prior to that. Joy's Rocket won the Letellier Memorial Stakes last December and makes her second start since returning from eight months off and following an eighth-place effort. Minute Waltz finished third in the Audubon Oaks one race before her last and has been competitive in many of her 10 races but only won one of those while finishing second or third in seven of the other nine. Feeling Mischief rounds out the field off fourth- and ninth- place finishes against lower level stakes competition.
Miss Speedy will be my top pick to win this year's Lexus Raven Run Stakes based on her very strong effort last month in the Duchess Stakes at Woodbine. Although Miss Speedy had won the first two starts of her career, after a poorer fourth place effort in the Bison City Stakes in August trainer Mark Casse took blinkers off the filly and that resulted in her leading from start to finish while giving no other horse a chance to catch her in the Duchess. She earned a 91 Equibase Speed Figure two races ago, and then improved to 95 and then to 98 with the removal of blinkers for her win in the Duchess Stakes. Miss Speedy was also flattered when the Duchess runner-up (Aug Lutes) came back to beat a strong field in the Glen Cove Stakes at Belmont Park last week with a 102 figure. Since all four of Miss Speedy’s races to date were on the all-weather track at Woodbine, Casse made it a point to ship the filly to Kentucky last month where she worked out twice on conventional dirt at Churchill Downs, and she picks up top local jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. for Saturday’s Raven Run. In this year's Raven Run field there are a few other "early" speed types, but Miss Speedy appears faster than they are. Furthermore, in her last race she actually showed a late kick as her middle pace figure was 84 whereas her final figure was 98. This suggests that no matter the pace scenario, Miss Speedy may be able to repeat the feat of another filly trained by Mark Casse three years ago, when Shamrock Rose shipped down from Woodbine off a win to take the Raven Run Stakes.
Obligatory won the Eight Belles Stakes Presented by Smithfield at the distance of the Raven Run back in April and earned a 105 Equibase Speed Figure. Then she nearly won the tougher Acorn Stakes in June, closing from 4 ½ lengths back with an eighth of a mile to go to come up just a half-length shy of winner Search Results. After a fifth-place finish in the Longines Test Stakes (mostly owing to losing her footing at the start and getting away last of eight), Obligatory returned to good form when second last month in the $1 million Cotillion Stakes, tying her previous best 105 figure with that effort. Cutting back in distance from one mile and one-sixteenth to Saturday’s seven furlong trip, Obligatory certainly has a shot to run well and could catch Miss Speedy if that filly can't lead from start to finish.
After finishing second in her first three starts on dirt and third in a turf race to start her career, Caramel Swirl earned her first career win in her fifth career start at Keeneland this past spring and did so with aplomb, winning by 10 ¼ lengths. She completely regressed when seventh behind Obligatory in the Eight Belles, but then rebounded to win with something left at the seven-furlong distance when she defeated older fillies and mares at Saratoga in July. Caramel Swirl earned a career-best 98 figure in that victory, but then the regressed again and only managed fourth in the Charles Town Oaks at the end of August. However, it must be noted that the seven-furlong distance at Charles Town is contested around two turns, so Caramel Swirl could run much better Saturday racing the same distance at Keeneland but cutting back to one turn.
Both Cilla and Souper Sensational deserve honorable mention. Cilla took the Prioress Stakes in September for her third stakes win in a row, but after earning 99 and 95 figures in her two races prior she regressed to a 91 figure in the Prioress, and she may be a cut below the best in this race. Souper Sensational earned a 105 figure winning the Victory Ride Stakes in July then ran even faster when second in the Test Stakes to earn a career-best 105 figure in August before settling for second behind Cilla after leading in the stretch in the Prioress Stakes last month.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Feeling Mischief (95), Joy's Rocket (91), Just Read It (90), Minute Waltz (85), Shalimar Gardens (89), Someone Said So (95), Strong Silent (91) and Zainalarab (94).