CoxTalks Keeneland Picks – Opening Day

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Frequent Kentucky-based This Is Horse Racing contributor John Cox is on the scene at Keeneland Race Course for the opening of the spring meeting Friday and carved out some time this week to provide some handicapping insight for Day 1.


I hate giving out chalky picks, but after looking at this field, how can you get away from Wesley Ward’s pair of fillies 8 – KITTY KAT KATE and 10 – FAIRYLAND? Ward has a history of success with 2-year-olds at Keeneland in the spring, so why should this meet be any different? Those two are clearly the class of this big field of first timers.

• I’d go heavy on an 8-10 Exacta Box, expecting the two favorites to run first and second. Looking at the remainder of the field, I circled 3 – BAYTOWN LEX and 6 – JUST BE FRANK as the best of the rest.


Not a lot of value here and I’m going chalk once again. 2 – RHODIUM has posted the highest speed figures of any other filly/mare in this field, and she’s also been running in more competitive races so far this year. 3 – ANNOY is the other one I like here, as she comes off a 5-length victory at Fair Grounds in her last start. Annoy’s Fair Grounds win Feb. 28 was the first and only start she’s made under current trainer Eric Heitzmann. Annoy has had more of a layoff than most of her rivals in this one, which makes me think Heitzmann was aiming for Keeneland with her and maybe taking a more methodical approach. Maybe I’m making too much of it, but I like the two favorites once again.

• 2-3 EXACTA BOX, 1-2-3 TRIFECTA BOX. Put a little more money down on these exotics when you using strictly favorites.


1 – MONEY FLOWS has been working well since finishing a respectable third beaten 4 1/2 lengths in the Maxim Gold Cup at Sam Houston in late February. He probably would have run better had that race been only 1 mile. I like the fact that he’s cutting back to a mile today and think he should be able to stalk 3 – CLEAR THE MINE and 5 – DECEMBER SEVEN for most of the way and make a late charging move with Joel Rosario in the saddle.

• If I’m only using two horses in an exacta box here, I’m taking the second and third choice in 1-3 EXACTA BOX and leaving out the favorite for the first time today. I’d also maybe bet the 1 to WPS.


With my first somewhat longshot play of the day, I’m taking a shot on 8 – BARRY’S SWING here for Mike Maker and Jose Ortiz. Barry’s Swing placed third and second in his last two starts at Gulfstream, knocking on the door late. Without a ton of speed in this one, I think he has a big chance. My second choice would be the favorite 1 – ROUSTABOUT for Al Stall Jr. I could see Roustabout going to the lead early and I’m hoping Barry’s Swing can stalk and get him at the wire. I might also throw 3 – STARINTHEMAKING into the exotic mix, hoping he can improve when stretching out to 1 1/16 miles for the first time.



Once again, I found it difficult to get away from the chalk here. 7 – DELUSIONAL K K, 8 – SMART KIT, and 9 – LOVETHISLIFE all seem to be a step above the rest of the field. But at least with 10 horses in here (hopefully) we can get some value. If you’re looking for more value with some of the others, or if any of those three scratch, I’d say 6 – PRINCESS DINAH and 3 – SECONDHAND JUSTICE are the best bets of the rest.



I look for this one to be the most fun betting race of the day, simply because there are so many promising fillies and I think all but four have a chance to win. The four NOT to bet: 1, 5, 6, 7.

When making a case for the best one of the eight contenders I think are legit, I had to give the advantage to 4 – DANCELAND. I would say she is my PLAY OF THE DAY. I don’t know what will happen with the others, but give me Shug McGaughey with a 3-year-old filly in her second start off the layoff against most of the other contenders making just their first start off a layoff. The also-eligibles are a different story, but if I had to categorize the other seven of the ones I think have a shot, 9 – TALAAQY and 3 – CHUBBY STAR are the ones I would put into the second tier right below Danceland. Pending multiple defections, I’d also put 15 GRATEFUL and 16 ENCHANTING KITTEN into that second-tier category.

My third tier fillies here are as follows, in this order: 8 – FOLK MAGIC, 12 – SWEEPING DADDY, 11 – ENSTONE, 10 – LIPSTICK CITY, 13 (if eligible) SUMMERTIME SKY, and 2 – JOUST is literally my least favorite of all those mentioned, even though she’s listed as the morning-line 4-1 actual favorite.

• So I’m definitely putting some WPS on 4. Then I may do some exotics where I do a $2 EXACTA 4 with 3,8,9 ($6) and $2 EXACTA 3,8,9 with 4 ($6). If there are a ton of scratches, you’re on your own to make due with my analysis.


Maybe I should have titled this post, “CoxTalks Chalk at Keeneland Friday,” because I have the morning-line favorite circled as my top choice once again in this one. 6 – TIGER EYES is the only horse in this field that has done anything to really impress me in a prior start, finishing second by a half-length in her debut at Fair Grounds last month. As for my second choice, I’ll roll the dice on a first-time starter in 2 – MISS ADELE for trainer Roger Attfield. Attfield has a decent in-the-money percentage with first timers this year and the filly has logged some solid works of late down at Payson Park. I also think that 11 – TRUE BOOTS has improved with each start of this year and could run even better going an extra furlong.

• 2-6-11 EXACTA/TRIFECTA BOX and maybe throw some WPS money on 2 with hopes she hits at a price.

• Oh yeah, and if we’re looking to play a ticket in the $200,000 guaranteed Pick 4 ($0.50 minimum), here’s an impromptu ticket using not much effort: 2,6,11 w/2,3,8 w/4,5 w/3,7,9,11 – It’ll cost you $36.


I went with the 2 – FORGE AHEAD FRANKI in this one as my top choice. Can’t go chalk on top every time and his last start was against as good of competition as any of the rest of the field has seen. I thought he ran well last out and I think he should improve in his second start off the layoff. You’ll notice that is a bit of a theme for my picks today, taking a horse in its second start off a layoff. My second choice was the favorite, 3 – MUTARAAMY who was pretty impressive in taking his maiden in February at Gulfstream by 3 1/2 lengths. 8 – LOOKIN FOR A KISS has the ability to win this, but his style has been inconsistent and I just can’t really figure him out. He tries to stalk, he tries to come from behind, he runs at 1 1/16 miles, 6 furlongs, and 7 furlongs. He just seems like a wild card.



There’s a pretty decent chance the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner 4 – OSCAR PERFORMANCE gets out to an early lead as the lone speed in this race and goes gate-to-wire. But if anyone in this field can beat him, it’s the 5 – TICONDEROGA, who I am circling as my pick to pull off a slight upset in the featured race on Friday. Remember how I said you’d see a theme with horses in their second start off the layoff? That happens to be the case for Ticonderoga, who enters the Transylvania off an impressive victory in the Grade-3 Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream on March 4.

While Ticonderoga finished fourth 4 3/4 lengths behind Oscar Performance in the Breeders’ Cup, he got a crappy break and a less-than-ideal trip overall, starting the race in 14th and last and going into the stretch six-wide still trailing by 10 lengths in 12th. It certainly benefits Ticonderoga to have less horses (nine total) in this one.

Oscar Performance is the lone speed in this race, but he’s going an extra eighth of a mile longer than he did in the Breeders’ Cup. If Ticonderoga is going to challenge Oscar Performance late, he needs a decent break, and needs someone else in this field to press the pace a little in hopes of wearing Oscar Performance down with a :22 opening quarter-mile. Will it happen? Who knows? But I’m still going to take a chance on TICONDEROGA.

• WPS on 5, EXACTA BOX 4-5.


It’s late and I’ve already spent entirely too much time on some mediocre handicapping for the past couple evenings. I like 3 – HEARTBREAK HILL and 7 – BAYSHORE DRIVE in the Friday finale. Just because.