Elkhorn Stakes Preview: North Dakota offers plenty of value

Keeneland hosts the Grade II Elkhorn as the feature race on the card this Saturday
Keeneland hosts the Grade II Elkhorn as the feature race on the card this Saturday

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It might not be the biggest Saturday of this Spring Meet at Keeneland but as part of their ongoing Handicapping Challenge - our turf-man and in-house handicapper both preview the $200,000 Grade II Elkhorn Stakes.

Sean's take . . .

As always, the G2 Elkhorn is a fun and competitive race led by Say the Word (#2), who I believe is a very deserving favorite as he ships in from the West Coast. Normally I’m a bit leery of California shippers in these types of races, but in his case I’m willing to make an exception. This horse was a shocking winner at Saratoga last summer at 51-1, a victory that’s proven to be a watershed moment for him as two starts later he won the G1 Northern Dancer at Woodbine before heading west to join the barn of Phil D’Amato. In California, Say the Word has run two terrific races. Three starts ago in the G2 Hollywood Turf Cup he finished third beaten a length by top marathoner Arklow, and last out he was narrowly beaten by the classy United. Sandwiched in between those efforts is a subpar outing in the G1 Pegasus World Cup Turf at Gulfstream, but I’m not going to hold that race against him as he seems to be better at longer distances.

Say the Word is certainly formidable here, but I’m going in a different direction with my top pick. I think most bettors are going to choose between him and Red Knight (#10), who figure to vie for favoritism, however I’m more interested in North Dakota (#7) at a bigger price. North Dakota and Red Knight traded decisions in a couple of turf marathons to close out 2020, with Red Knight taking the G3 Sycamore over this turf course and North Dakota winning the G3 Red Smith at Aqueduct. While his local victory would seem to give Red Knight a home-court advantage here, I actually think North Dakota ran just as well as him in the Sycamore as he was stuck rallying inside in the stretch and never got optimal clearance. A late-developing type, North Dakota proved unequivocally that he can beat Red Knight in the Red Smith, in which he ran down Red Knight despite that one getting the jump on him in an oddly run race. Like Say the Word, I’m not overly concerned with North Dakota’s flop in the Pegasus Turf as I think he’s better suited to these distances, and if anything I like that he’s able to fly under the radar a bit in this spot based on that poor showing. At two or three times the price of the favorites, North Dakota is a strong play for me in the Elkhorn.

 

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J.N.'s take . . .

The Grade II Elkhorn Stakes begins and ends with Mike Maker’s Cross Border #1. He is the best horse in this distance turf race, and should win. I am supremely confident that will happen, especially with Tyler Gaffalione riding for the Three Diamonds veteran. A couple of races back, he acquitted himself well in the Gulfstream Park Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1), finishing 3rd behind star sod king, Colonel Liam. That was at odds of 14/1, and he followed that up with another 3rd in the Pan American (G2) on the same course. Gaffs was aboard then, and this distance is one that he can excel in. Others in here will take money, but I am banking on Maker’s Keeneland record to pull his charge through. A New York bred that is fit as ever, and long overdue for a win, in my opinion.

Wagering Recommendation: $100 Win #1

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