The G1 Maker's Mark Mile highlights Friday's 10-race card at Keeneland
Turf milers take center stage on Friday at Keeneland with an intriguing renewal of the G1 Maker's Mark Mile carded as Race 9. As usual, our in-house handicapper has broken down the whole card, providing picks for every race and detailed analysis of his best value plays throughout the day.
Another turf maiden race means I get to uphold the tradition of picking another Rusty Arnold second-time starter to win. This is an eclectic group of maidens, and I can say unequivocally that I want no part of one of those likely to vie for favoritism, Nineeleventurbo (#6). This horse does enlist the services of Irad Oritz, Jr., however he was a money burner of epic proportions during the Turfway Park, something I know all too well as I chased him on a few occasions. I just don’t think he has the will to win and while he could move forward on turf with Ortiz aboard, he’s not one I could play with any degree of confidence.
Mike Maker’s other runner Absam (#8) makes a lot more sense to me. He’s coming out of a much better maiden race at Gulfstream Park, and though he didn’t do too much running he’s getting a good deal of class relief here. I’ll be using Absam, but I have to go with Arnold’s El Kabong (#4), who is going to be a much more appealing price. El Kabong got loose prior to the start of his first race and had to be reined in by an outrider, but that didn’t seem to impact him much as he put forth a solid debut effort in a race that’s proven to be demonstrably faster than it was given credit for. El Kabong also didn’t have a great trip in that spot, and I’m expecting huge improvement out of him in his second start for Arnold, who likely had this race in mind for him all along.
Editor At Large (#1) and Stunning Princess (#2) are the fillies to beat in this allowance race, but I’m not sure how good either of them really are and they’re going to take a ton of money. The former is almost certainly going to go off favored for trainer Chad Brown as she returns to the races following a seventh-place finish in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, but she really didn’t do too much running as a 2-year-old. I have a slight preference for Stunning Princess of these two, who responded to the addition of blinkers with a career-best performance in her last start. It remains to be seen if Editor At Large takes a step forward in her first race at 3, but Stunning Princess is going to be the bigger price and has already shown improvement in 2021.
Since these two are both a bit vulnerable, however, I’m going with longshot Bullseye Beauty (#12) as my top pick. This filly made a wildly successful debut on the synthetic track at Turfway Park on March 5, and I think there’s reason to believe she steps her game up in this spot considering her trainer Andrew McKeever isn’t known for winning first out. Furthermore, this filly has a good deal of turf pedigree and is a full-sister to a buzz horse that ran earlier in the meet on the surface. She has the early speed to overcome her wide draw and I’m expecting her to outrun her odds. I also wouldn’t discount the chances of Lijana (#3). She was disappointing last out in the G3 Herecomesthebride at Gulfstream, but prior to that she was an impressive winner at Fair Grounds and even finished second to top 3-year-old turf filly White Frost in her debut. If she gets back to either of those races she can absolutely beat this field.
I probably would’ve liked Aloha West (#3) anyway based on his own merits, but given the amount of questionable contenders in this spot I really like his chances. A curious recent private purchase by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners following his last start, a fifth-place finish at Oaklawn Park that earned him a 75 Beyer Speed Figure, Aloha West should fly under that radar a bit in this spot despite a very impressive debut win on February 7 at Oaklawn. While it appears that maiden score was a product of a wet track as he regressed sharply in his next start, I thought Aloha West ran much better than it looks in his most recent outing. As the comment line suggests, he was pinched badly shortly after the start and lost a half-dozen or so lengths before rushing up to regain contact as the field hit the far turn. From there he didn’t get a horrible trip, but he was pinned inside and forced to rally through kickback, which he did willingly. Overall I think it was an effort at least comparable to his debut, and I expect him to move forward here.
As I alluded to earlier, part of the reason I like Aloha West so much is that I don’t care for any of the likely short prices in this race, particularly Gozilla (#1). Once the talk of the town at Saratoga Race Course as a juvenile, Gozilla just hasn’t improved at all since his 2-year-old campaign. It may seem that he ran a strong race in his 2021 debut in at Aqueduct Racetrack, however he rode a gold rail that day and still finished third behind a pair of mediocre allowance types. I think Answer In (#5) is a much better play than Gozilla, but he, too, has plateaued since his juvenile season and has major questions to answer. He usually shows up and runs a good race, but he’s been a chronic money burner in his career and I’m not sure the turnback in distance works for him.
It’s by no means a vintage G1, but this is a really fun edition of the Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland that lacks a clear favorite. I suppose that role will go to Hit the Road (#2), who has been a completely different animal in 2021 and is coming off a win in the G1 Frank Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita Park. This horse has always hinted at having a ton of quality, but it really hasn’t been until this year that he’s put it all together. He obviously has a lot of talent, however my problem with him is that I don’t see him replicating his Frank Kilroe score as he ships cross-country for Dan Blacker, who rarely ventures outside of California. Also, he got a very good trip in the Frank Kilroe and he’s likely going to be too short a price in this spot.
As far as potential favorites go, I’m more interested in Raging Bull (#8), who makes his seasonal debut in the Maker’s Mark. This horse can be frustrating to bet, at times looking like a true G1 type and then inexplicably turning in a subpar performance, however I think he’s primed for a good effort off the bench, as he was last year when he won the G1 Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita. I don’t know that he’s going to get as much pace in front of him as he did in the 2020 Shoemaker, but between Get Smokin (#1) and Somelikeithotbrown (#3) there should be enough to set up his late kick.
I like Raging Bull, but I couldn’t possibly lean on him at a short price, which is why my top pick is Ride a Comet (#6), a horse that’s following a similar path to War of Will, who won this race last year for trainer Mark Casse. After being away from the races for over two years, Ride a Comet has pulled off one of the most remarkable comebacks you will ever see, with three wins from his last four races, including an impressive tally two back in the G3 Tropical Turf at Gulfstream Park. He disappointed last out in the Frank Kilroe, however he had to ship across the country for the race and got stuck behind a tepid pace. I think there’s a strong chance he rebounds here, and if he gets back to his effort in the Tropical Turf he’s going to be a major player at square odds.