Keeneland Horse Racing Analysis for April 17

Keeneland hosts another tremendous 10-race card on Saturday
Keeneland hosts another tremendous 10-race card on Saturday

A terrific renewal of the G2 Elkhorn highlights Saturday's card at Keeneland, with some showers in the forecast for the afternoon that could potentially jeopardize the turf races. As usual, our in-house handicapper has made picks for every race and provided detailed analysis of his best value plays of the day.

If you're looking for picks elsewhere around the country on Saturday, be sure to check out our Free Horse Racing Picks via the gold button below.

Free Horse Racing Picks

Race 5

Fresh off an 84 Beyer Speed Figure at Fair Grounds in his first start with trainer Mike Maker, News Break (#9) is probably the horse to beat in this starter allowance race. His prior form wasn’t anything spectacular, but he’s been making steady progress since returning from a long layoff, so his recent improvement isn’t entirely surprising. That said, I do wonder if that Beyer, which is the reason he’s going to be such a short price, is a bit high. The winner from that race was thrown to the wolves in his next start in the G1 Maker’s Mark Mile and regressed sharply, and the runner-up is a horse I’ve never been a fan of that turned in a career-best effort I’m a bit dubious of. Furthermore, News Break got a very good trip and could only finish a well-beaten fifth. He’s obviously a major player given the drop in class, but I have a feeling he’s going to be overbet.

Just to his outside is a horse I much prefer from a value standpoint. Casanova Kitten (#10) doesn’t have any flashy speed figures in his PP’s, however he’s made good progress this year and ran really well last out at Gulfstream Park when he was put in an untenable position in the stretch but stayed on nicely anyway. Shedding blinkers feels like the right kind of move for a horse who looked uncomfortable rallying among horses in his last race, and what trainer would you want more at this meet than Wesley Ward, who is winning races at a torrid clip. Despite the obvious trouble this guy had last out and the presence of Ward, I still expect Casanova Kitten to end up a square price given the amount of false contenders in this race.

Race 8

At 9-2 on the morning line, Royal Mesa (#2) has been tabbed my ‘Most Likely Winner’ of the day, which means he easily could’ve been penciled in as my ‘Best Value’ play, as well. The reason I’m so enamored with him is twofold: 1. I think he’s a quality horse, and 2. There are so many other runners in this field I believe are eminently beatable. Horses like South Bend (#3), who finished fourth in last year’s G1 Travers, and Mighty Heart (#6), runaway winner of the 2020 Queen’s Plate and Prince of Wales, are going to have substantial backing, yet I question how good they really are. South Bend earned a 97 Beyer for his Travers performance, which looks rather imposing on its face, however I don’t think he did all that much running that day and the turnback to a mile and a sixteenth isn’t going to be advantageous. Even his prior runner-up finish in the G3 Ohio Derby looks a lot worse in retrospect considering the winner Dean Martini hasn’t come close to replicating that kind of effort in a bunch of subsequent tries. I think Mighty Heart is the classier of the two, but even he has some major questions to address. For one, I’m not sure his victory in the Prince of Wales (his lone dirt start) is as fast as it looks considering the horses he left in his wake are suspect at best on the surface, and this is also a curious placement for a dominant Queen’s Plate winner who tailed off measurably at the end of his sophomore campaign. Given the surface and class level, I’m assuming this race is just a starting point as his connections await the opening of Woodbine.

Despite coming off a bit of a layoff, I have no such concerns with Royal Mesa. He may not have the same kind of signature race as South Bend or Mighty Heart, but he’s an honest performer that fits very well at this level of competition. He routinely Beyers in the low 90’s, which I believe is going to be good enough to get the job done here, and he seems to be at his best over this racetrack, where last year he finished third behind G1 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Knicks Go and a close second to graded-stakes winner Title Ready. Either of those two efforts would make him very tough to beat in this spot, and I believe he’s going to work out an ideal trip given the lack of early speed signed on. Anywhere in the vicinity of 9-2 would represent an extreme bargain.

Race 9

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.

Sean's Keeneland 2021 Results
  • Date
  • Daily Winners / Places
  • Daily Biggest Winner / Place
  • Daily $
  • Overall $


  • April 2
  • April 3
  • April 7
  • April 8
  • April 9
  • April 10
  • April 11
  • April 14
  • April 15
  • April 16
  • April 17
  • April 18
  • April 22
  • April 23
  • April 24

Daily Winners / Places

  • 3 Win / 6 Place
  • 3 Win / 5 Place
  • 4 Win / 5 Place
  • 4 Win / 6 Place
  • 2 Win / 5 Place
  • 4 Win / 5 Place
  • 3 Win / 3 Place
  • 3 Win / 4 Place
  • 0 Win / 3 Place
  • 2 Win / 4 Place
  • 4 Win / 4 Place
  • 2 Win / 7 Place
  • 2 Win / 3 Place
  • 4 Win / 6 Place
  • 1 Win / 6 Place

Daily Biggest Winner / Place

  • $10.20 (Win - R7)
  • $8.60 (Place - R7)
  • $13.00 (Win - R8)
  • $38 (Win R8)
  • $18.20 (Place - R5)
  • $14.40 (Win - R1)
  • $6.80 (Win - R8)
  • $13.00 (Win - R5)
  • $16.20 (Place - R1)
  • $6.80 (Win - R5)
  • $9.40 (Win - R10)
  • $30.60 (Win - R5)
  • $7.20 (Win - R2)
  • $9.60 (Win - R5)
  • $7.00 (Place - R1)

Daily $

  • $35.80
  • $39.60
  • $46.00
  • $77.40
  • $44.20
  • $55.80
  • $21.80
  • $38.20
  • $21.80
  • $22.00
  • $45.40
  • $72.30
  • $24.60
  • $45.10
  • $30.20

Overall $

  • $35.80
  • $75.40
  • $121.40
  • $198.80
  • $243.00
  • $298.80
  • $320.60
  • $358.80
  • $379.60
  • $401.60
  • $447.00
  • $519.30
  • $543.90
  • $589.00
  • $619.20
Keeneland Picks, Entries & Results
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