Transylvania Stakes Preview: Horse-by-Horse Analysis of Friday's Grade III Race @KEE

The Transylvania Stakes continues to be a highlight on Opening Day at Keeneland. See who draws in for the key race for 3-yr-old colts, as our turf-man, J.N. Campbell previews the Grade III contest.
The Transylvania Stakes continues to be a highlight on Opening Day at Keeneland. See who draws in for the key race for 3-yr-old colts, as our turf-man, J.N. Campbell previews the Grade III contest.

1 1/16th (Turf), Transylvania Stakes (G3), Purse $150k, 3

When it comes to the 3-yr-old colt division on the turf, one of the major highlights before Kentucky Derby weekend is Keeneland’s Grade III Transylvania Stakes. Normally, it pits some of the best budding males that are looking to pocket a race of this magnitude before they go their separate ways over the course of the summer. Some really stellar routers have found their way to the Keeneland winner’s circle over the years. They include Silver Max, Jack Milton, Medal Count, Night Prowler, Shakhimat, Big Score, Analyze It, Avie’s Flatter, and last year’s winner, Field Pass. Each of these blossomed into some quality runners. Medal Count, in particular, transferred his abilities to the dirt, maneuvering along the 2014 Derby Trail—finishing 3rd in the Belmont Stakes (G1). You never know who will use this race as a springboard to greater accomplishments.

Now, let’s find out about this field…


#1 Scarlett Sky (Jky: J. Rosario/Trn: S. McGaughey):

A Stuart Janney homebred, this colt out of Sky Mesa has some quality efforts under his belt, as he races at Keeneland’s Haggin Course for the first time. His past couple of races at Gulfstream Park were solid 1-2 efforts, the last being the Palm Beach 100k. He lost that one by a whisker. Clearly, Shug McGaughey has him pointed in the right direction, and they are hiring Joel Rosario to pilot. Interesting choice… there was a time when Rosario broke in that he absolutely dominated this Meet. Maybe he can do it again. With solid works for Shug down at Payson, this one is going to be tough to beat, in what is shaping up to be a salty field.

Grade: B+


#2 Palazzi (Jky: C. Landeros/Trn: M. Casse):

Earlier in the week, I interviewed Hank Nothhaft of HnR Nothhaft Horseracing LLC. for a Q&A that is published on this site. As the owner of Kindle, this colt’s dam, he is hoping that he runs well in a spot like this one. Nothhaft partnered with the Pioneerof the Nile Syndicate to produce a turf router, who originally ran on dirt for trainer Mark Casse and owner John Oxley. Back in December, the then 2-yr-old tried the Fair Grounds turf for the first time, and it led to a score. Then, he shipped over to Houston for the Texas Turf Mile, and he won that competitive race by a nose. Though he failed to make it 3 wins in-a-row in the Black Gold 75k @FG, he still comes in with much promise. I could not applaud the move more to sub in Chris Landeros as jockey. Nothhaft should be proud of this runner that came from Kindle. Should be a square price at post time. Don’t count him out.     

Grade: B


#3 Breadman (Jky: L. Saez/Trn: J. Terranova):

Trainer John Terranova does not enter “Graded” affairs like this one often, and he does not regularly come to Keeneland. He thinks highly of his colt out of Constitution because he is shipping him in here against a tough crowd. It is hard to get a sense of this one’s level fitness, since the last time we saw him was in late November at Aqueduct, right before their turf course closed for the winter. That effort was fairly poor, as he finished 7th, 15-lengths from victory. The best news, even though it seems like there is not much, is the fact that Luis Saez (fresh off his Dubai World Cup win) gets the call. He is one of the top up-and-coming turf jocks in the country. His riding has progressed exceedingly well. Still, that may not matter much if this runner cannot make the class jump. Going to be very tough.

Grade: C+


#4 Fire At Will (Jky: T. Gaffalione/Trn: M. Maker):

Last fall, there was no hotter 2-yr-old male turf router than this Mike Maker-trainee. He exhibited versatility by winning on a sloppy dirt track at Saratoga, but really scored in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He was a bright spot at the Keeneland BC, amid so much success that was garnered by the Europeans. Maker then tempted fate and tried the Derby Trail in the Fountain of Youth (G2). Many, including me, thought it was a good play. He did not take to the Gulfstream dirt. Now, back on turf, his natural surface, he will be the favorite once Friday’s race arrives. With Tyler Gaffalione riding him for the first time, he is in good hands. This jockey was the leading rider at the boutique Lexington track for Fall Stars. He can rate, is patient, and has the skills to rival Rosario and Saez. Maker has a long history of success at Keeneland, which makes this runner a “deserving favorite.”

Grade: A-


#5 Barrister Tom (Jky: D. Van Dyke/Trn: M. Ewing):

Drayden Van Dyke had enough with the SoCal scene, especially since the riding crop issues were rampant. He comes back to Keeneland with much hope for success after being fairly average on the grass out on the West Coast. Mike Ewing is handing him the keys to this colt out of Artie Schiller. That sire for several seasons had some significant turf routers, but it seems like he has not continued to the previous level of proficiency. Granted, all those comments could dissipate rapidly with a win in this spot. Interestingly, this colt gave the Haggin Course a go last fall in the Bourbon (G2). Even though he was 8th, that kind of experience can be of assistance. The biggest concern is the layoff, as he makes his 3-yr-old debut. A chance to hit the board is probably the best one could expect.   

Grade: B-


#6 Earls Rock (Jky: F. Geroux/Trn: P. D’Amato):

Trainer Phil D’Amato has a rising turf star that he wants to send to Keeneland after a couple of nice wins at Santa Anita on their grass course. Bred in Ireland, this son of Fascinating Rock (IRE) looks more like a sprinter, but if you look at his dam, Ajaadat (GB) he should be able to stretch out nicely. His conditioner has major talent when it comes to turf, and he has been to Central Kentucky to race many times before. A quick survey of his work tab draws interest. I see this entry as sort of an “X Factor,” since we are unsure of how he will handle the course, plus the class hike. My sense is that he is one to use underneath in some exotic wagers. Getting Florent Geroux to ride only strengthens that statement, since his turf riding ability is smart.

Grade: B


Join us Friday for all of our Keeneland selections, as Handicapper Sean and Turfwriter J.N., go head-to-head in what promises to be a fabulous Handicapping Challenge! Should be a great set of races as the April Meet gets underway!