Keeneland Picks and P6 Analysis: Essential Quality Preps for Derby Win in the Blue Grass (G2)

Jockey Luis Saez (pictured above) won the Dubai World Cup last week for Godolphin... Now, he comes to Keeneland for more 'Graded' glory, and will be collecting the Blue Grass Stakes next aboard Essential Quality... See J.N. Campbell's rationale below, as he plays the Pick 6 on a Super Saturday.
Jockey Luis Saez (pictured above) won the Dubai World Cup last week for Godolphin... Now, he comes to Keeneland for more "Graded" glory, and will be collecting the Blue Grass Stakes next aboard Essential Quality... See J.N. Campbell's rationale below, as he plays the Pick 6 on a Super Saturday.

Welcome to Keeneland and their Super Saturday with the Grade II Blue Grass Stakes serving as the feature! Is there anything better than Keeneland? I should think not!

With hefty pools and cards that offer wonderful betting opportunities, all announced by Keeneland's one and only track announcer, Mr. Kurt Becker, this is surely a welcome sight after what we faced last year at this time. Along with my excellent colleague, our lead, Sean, we will be engaging in Day 2 of our "Battle of the Handicappers Challenge." It will be good sport, and hopefully bring you some major scores. Follow us, each and every day, as we sort out Keeneland!

Along with that challenge, I will also be offering my full card selections, and analysis of the 1.00 Pick 6. You will not want to miss this ticket because it offers a mix of value coupled with some old standard favorites that will wet your wagering appetite. Enjoy! 

If you're interested in seeing picks elsewhere around the country on Friday, be sure to check out our Free Horse Racing Picks via the gold button below.

Horse Racing Picks

Keeneland’s Saturday PICK 6…

LEG 1: (Race 6: Turf, 1 Mile, Appalachian S. 200k, 3F)

A Super Saturday is on tap at Keeneland, and I am ready for the Pick 6… bring it on! Rem acu tetigiste… Those that have it today will live on as champions. Enough pomp and circumstance… on with the selections and rationales. The Appalachian Stakes is the female version of yesterday’s Transylvania. This is not a large field, but that does not mean that it presents a clear choice.

A copious amount of money will probably be split 3 ways here… Todd Pletcher’s Jouster #1, Mark Casse’s Spanish Loveaffair #2, and Christophe Clement’s Plum Ali #4 will be recipients. Brad Cox, ever present at these types of events now, will tail these, but not by much, with Saranya #6. That leaves 2 other runners that are basically wild cards… the out of towner coming for her American debut, Brian Lynch’s Gift List #5, and Brendan Walsh’s Flown #3. That last filly was excellent on the Haggin last October with a win over the course in a MSW70k.

This is what we call a pretty even field to my eye. Any of these could win. Some as I mentioned, will be an unattractive short price (#1/#2/#4), while others are either, off the bench and making their first start of 2021 (#3/#4/#5), while others are class rising (#3/#5/#6). There are a mix of accomplished lawn jockeys in here too. I do not like betting against Javier Castellano at Keeneland. He wins, and with James Graham and Chris Landeros pretty hot, and coming in from the Fairgrounds and Turfway, you cannot count them out.

There is no way that I want to go down in the first leg, so for that reason I am hitting the “All” button. Sometimes, you just want to know that you have this going into the rest of the sequence. This is especially true when a major favorite is anchoring the finale. Btw… if I were forced to choose (and I am…), I would slightly lean towards Joel Rosario’s mount, Plum Ali #4. She just seems like a Keeneland turf horse, even though she was 5th in the BC Juv. Fillies Turf. That race was owned by Cox’s Aunt Pearl, and no one could catch her that beautiful day. Clement is a master of preparation. Ready to fire…

Selections: 1-6 (All)


LEG 2: (Race 7: Dirt, 7F, Commonwealth S. 200k, 4+)

Speaking of Rosario, he has a mount in the next leg, the Commonwealth S., that looks pretty inviting. John Sadler headed to Oaklawn for their meet, bringing a string of strong runners. Among them was Flagstaff #1 who had a nice 2020 competing in G2s and G3s out in SoCal. The 7-yr-old gelding is a sprinter, through and through.

Last out in the Hot Springs 200k, he took on Whitmore and C Z Rocket, and ended up 3rd behind them both. “C Z” somehow bested local legend Whitmore, but Sadler’s entry (with Rosario aboard) did not run that poorly. Coming into this KEE race, he should appreciate the distance extension, and his fitness looks strong.

I am also a fan of another OP shipper called Mucho #6. John Ortiz is not exactly a household training name, but he has a solid stable, and this son of Blame ran well 2-back after Ortiz took over for Paul McGee. The 5-yr-old did not care for the slop back in early February in the King Cotton 150k—6th, 11-lengths back. I am liking the addition of Javier Castellano. The price should be right as it drifts into overlay territory at 10/1.    

Selections: 1/6 (2 Deep) or 1 (Single), if you are looking for some cost savings…


LEG 3: (Race 8: Turf, 5½F, Shakertown S. 200k, 3+)

It is time for one of my favorite races of the April Meet, and who doesn’t like a grass sprint to really get the blood pumping. You need to look for wild long shots in this spot because “thar is gold in them thar hills.” I can say from the start that I am against most of the favorites in this race. Imprimis #2 looks tired, and does not have a shine like he used to. I also do not like playing against Wesley Ward, but this is the first year after 3 Shakertowns, that I am not backing Bound for Nowhere #13. I will not be using either them in this ticket.

For my money… the best play appears to be a split between Graham Motion’s Kanthaka #7 and Michelle Lovell’s Just Might #9. Both have different advantages… Motion doesn’t possess a bevy of grass sprinters, so this one is rather an anomaly. The gelding reached a heightened class level as a dirt sprinter in SoCal before coming to Herringswell in mid-2020 from Hollendorfer’s fledgling stable. He then took on some good East Coast turf sprinters like Oleksandra, Silent Poet, and of course, Imprimis. Those 3 efforts that ended in the Nearctic (G2) proved Motion’s move was a good one. I love the addition here of Javier Castellano. His turf riding prowess, like his trainer, is geared more towards routing (where improvisation is mandatory). Still, take him… it is a gift, especially if this entry ends of 6/1 or higher.

The other choice I fancy is Lovell’s play, who was cut-off royally in last year’s edition of this race. Once again, she sends this son of Justin Phillip into the “Shaker” after a brilliant frontend score in the off-the-turf Colonial Power 100k @FG. Did you see who drew into that race—Brendan Walsh’s Extravagant Kid. Anyone recall what he did last week? … won the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) in Dubai against a massive favorite in Space Blues… among other solid burners. Lovell has prepared him for this spot, and she used to train his dam too—Dynamite Babe, who was bred well for the grass in her own right. Big chance at a great price on this 5-yr-old, if 12/1 holds…

I like both these runners and intend to use both…

Selections: 7/9 (2 Deep)


LEG 4: (Race 9: Dirt, 1 1/16th, Ashland S. 400k, 3F)

We are halfway through the sequence, and now it is time to get serious as we take this one home. As I mentioned, I am going to have a “Single” in the finale for sure, so finding some spots to go deeper in the next 2 races is possible. Wait, aren’t we always serious… it’s horse racing, after all!

For the Ashland, a race I have witnessed several times in person, there are a number of angles to examine. This is not a huge field, and for that reason, we have a similar situation that we had with the Appalachian Stakes. When you have a ton of parity, it makes it difficult, especially sans a definitive opinion. I know Moon Swag #4 is one of my top selections, as Brendan Walsh continues his hot streak. This filly may not look like much, but she has made superb progress since her debut back last year with Todd Fincher out in New Mexico. I shudder to think what she would be like if she had remained with his outfit.

The transfer to Walsh was an interesting move, and I think her work down in Louisiana, graduating through a 3-yr-old series, yielded a 3rd Place finish in the Rachel Alexandra (G2). This daughter of Malibu Moon has way more ability than you might see… don’t let her results speak for themselves. Adam Beschizza just completed a resurgence of riding ability during the Fair Grounds Meet. I am hoping he can keep it going with his arrival in Central KY.

The rest of the field is worth including, just in case Walsh’s charge cannot get the job done. Todd Pletcher brings a strong filly, Malathaat #5 in, who happens to be 3/3. She will take a ton of money with Rosario aboard. Don’t count out Kenny McPeek, who is stellar with these types. He has Simply Ravishing #3 racing from off the bench. Last fall, she failed when she should have won in both the BC Juv Fillies (G1) and the Golden Rod (G2). Luis Saez has the ability to right the ship.

Finally, don’t sleep on Jon Court’s mount, Will’s Secret #6 because she has major ability. Talk about a nice win streak that includes scores at both FG and OP. The Honeybee (G3) was her raison d’erte when it comes to favoritism. Major ability…

“All” button does not seem like a poor play here, since we saved some money in the previous 2 contests. Let’s hope we can get to this point because if we can, we have a major chance to cash a ticket!  

Selections: 1-6 (All)


LEG 5: (Race 10: Dirt, 7F, Madison S. 300k, F&M 4+)

The bookend to the Commonwealth S., this race, the Madison S., has major implications for this division. Since there are not a plethora of opportunities for older females to sprint at the “Graded” levels, it represents a chance to take the stage. What makes this pretty exciting is that we have a salty group of 7 that have drawn in here, trained by some of the best in the business… McCarthy, Cox, and Ward, just to name a few of the celebrated conditioners.

Everything begins with Bell’s the One #4, who is beginning her 2021 year in fine fashion after running well in the last. Her Keeneland record of 5 starts, 2 “Wins” and 2 “Shows,” is pretty impressive considering she has plied her trade in the higher echelons for Neil Pessin. This is one of his prize runners out of Majesticperfection, and you know he is going to have her as primed as possible. She is now 5-yrs-old, and I am sure getting better with age, after running at CD, KEE, FG, BEL, and SA over the years.

I like her, and inclusion is certain on this ticket, but I also like a couple of other shots in here. Wesley Ward seems to be transitioning the versatile Kimari #5 from the turf to the dirt. He actually sent this prized filly, one of the younger ones in the race, down to Oaklawn for the Spring Fever 200k, and she did not disappoint. Powering down the lane, she eclipsed 5 others enroute to a 4-length score. She was just fabulous travelling to Royal Ascot last year, and Ward doesn’t choose to send them out of Turfway often. In other words, OP was a key race.

The other entry that looks interesting is Javier Castellano’s ride, Sanenus #1. Mike McCarthy’s reach continues apace, as he sends his runners into some very difficult spots. He did that on a past Pegasus Day @GP, and the result was telling. Now, he comes to Keeneland from the West Coast hoping for more loot. This daughter of Scat Daddy ran extremely well last time in the La Canada (G3) at Santa Anita, and if he can cutback, he should be more than a square price at over 6/1. Castellano makes this Chilean homebred look even more special. Perhaps, he can work out a sprint strategy that will include navigating the temporary rail that sits like Charybdis, once the inside runners exit the starting gate.

In the end, this is my top selection. Trust in McCarthy…     

Selections: 1/4/5 (3 Deep)


LEG 6: (Race 11: Dirt, 1 1/8th, Blue Grass Stakes, 800k, 3)

I could spend copious amounts of time delineating why this year’s edition of the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) is going to be won by Godolphin’s homebred, Essential Quality #4.

The ashen gray, trained by Brad Cox has all the talent in the world, and his style as a 2-geared power runner continues to be my top Derby pick. He is going to bring the “Boys in Blue,” and His Highness Sheik Mohammed that coveted trophy that has remained empty all these years—The Kentucky Derby.

I look at this race at Keeneland as another freshening (as were his recent works), and it will be the opportunity for Cox, a rising conditioner in all of the divisions, to assess his strategy for Louisville. There is no one, I mean no one, in this race that can beat this colt. They will try… but it will be to no avail.

I was thinking about Cox and the expansion of his stable, especially as I vote in the weekly NTRA Poll. Realize he has in his arsenal, Monomoy Girl, Aunt Pearl, Knicks Go, Shedaresthedevil, and on and on and on… The stable is littered with progressive talent that includes female and male runners across dirt and turf. His triangle of the Fair Grounds, Oaklawn, and Churchill, also includes entering races at Gulfstream, NYRA, SoCal, and any other venue that has a bunch of horses running around a track.

Cox makes everyone better because he has built a strong team under him. He is a student of the game, and has been one since he used to cut class and head over to Churchill Downs to place bets as a kid.

Studying angles and anticipation, when it comes to this Tapit colt, is part of his milieu. That also includes trusting a capable pilot. That is the other aspect that makes this horse so potent… his ability in the hands of someone like Luis Saez. This jockey can adapt his mount to almost any situation. Saez’s rise to the top of the jockey ranks in North America, now including a Saudi Cup and Dubai Cup set of wins, did not happen overnight. It took years of study of his craft. I would argue that what happened to him in the 2019 Derby might actually have worked to his advantage because he came through it with a new perspective about surfaces, trainers, and his assignments. His work ethic, already strong, became even more so. Derby business unfinished.

Those are some of the reasons why Essential Quality #4 is a single in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1), and beyond, as he marches to a Derby win for his connections.

Selection: 4 (Single)



$216.00 or $432.00, higher-priced ticket, if you choose to go “2-Deep” in the 2nd Leg

Enjoy some action from Lexington, Kentucky! The tradition of Keeneland continues…

  • Keeneland Picks
  • Picks (Sean)
  • Picks (J.N.)
  • Picks (Neil)

Keeneland Picks

  • Race 1:
  • Race 2:
  • Race 3:
  • Race 4:
  • Race 5:
  • Race 6:
  • Race 7:
  • Race 8:
  • Race 9:
  • Race 10:
  • Race 11:
  • Most Likely Winner:
  • Best Value Play:

Picks (Sean)

  • 4-5-1-3
  • 5-7-3-2
  • 2-6-10-3
  • 11-1-4-7
  • 8-9-1A-7
  • 1-4-2-6
  • 4-7-1-2
  • 7-2-13-9
  • 5-3-6-2
  • 3-1-4-5
  • 3-4-1-2
  • Jouster (Race 6)
  • Special Reserve (Race 7)

Picks (J.N.)

  • 1-5-4-3
  • 8-5-7-1
  • 2-7-11-5
  • 8-4-2-3
  • 8-7-6-9
  • 4-1-2-6
  • 1-6-2-5
  • 9-7-11-2
  • 4-6-5-3
  • 1-5-4-6
  • 4-1-3-9
  • Essential Quality (Race 11)
  • I Hear You (Race 4)

Picks (Neil)

  • 5-1-4-3
  • 7-8-5-4
  • 7-10-11-5
  • 1-4-2-11
  • 7-2-5-10
  • 2-1-4-5
  • 1-7-6-2
  • 5-2-9-11
  • 5-3-2-1
  • 3-4-5-7
  • 4-3-9-7
  • Essential Quality (Race 11)
  • King's Mischief (Race 3)
Keeneland Picks, Entries & Results
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