Maker's Mark Mile Stakes
Slightly weak for a G-1 race but it has it's fair share of intrigue. Thorn Song has a solid record at Keeneland, in mile races and on the turf in general. He's a worthy favorite for this race and I think he's become a bit of a fan favorite as well. I know I grew attached to him a few summers back when he had that profitable winning streak at Saratoga. Simply put, no horse could catch him and ever since that time he's been a big factor in all of his races. He's a G-1 winner at course and distance and will likely be tough to deny here. The dangers to him are three fold. The first is that he's coming off a layoff. This horse likes to build up to his best and appreciates a solid serving of races. This might not be the spot where we see his best. The second problem is the other speed in this race. You can't let Thorn Song go by himself, you simply won't catch him but if can deny him the lead or push him through a sub :23 first quarter he's vulnerable to a late run which brings me to the third danger. Twilight Meteor is in the best form of his life. It's taken a while to get here but I think Pletcher has him in a good place and he's finally ready to go out there and win a big race. With the rest of the speed in here he should sit back a bit further off the pace but he'll be right at Thorn Song's neck when the real running begins. From there it'll be a question of how much energy Thorn Song expended up to that point. My gut says that Twilight Meteor out games him to the line.
The favorite Rebellion looks a bit vulnerable because of the poor form of his stable. Motion's string has been pretty cold so I'm inclined to think that Rebellion just might have a hard time catching this field as he has done in past years. There is some real quality in the race but the form comes from all over so it's hard to get a great read on it. I don't think anyone has the speed to go with Ravalo and so far at Keeneland lone speed has been deadly, especially in sprints. Ravalo relishes synthetics tracks, his only loss on the fake stuff came when he tried to go a mile. He is definitely better at sprints. I think he's poised to roll from gate to wire.
Jenny Wiley Stakes
This is just a situational spot play. I think Forever Together is a tough and legitimate favorite but I do see an opportunity to get her beaten if the ground comes up less than firm. Forever Together has a powerful late run and on firm ground she is nearly impossible to deny but as we saw last year at Woodbine, on soft ground she doesn't have the same fire. The second best horse in this race, Backseat Rhythm, absolutely adores off ground so if the turf is anything less than firm Backseat Rhythm is the play. She is somewhat ordinary on firm ground but a real powerhouse with a bit of give in the ground. She just recently came into McLaughlin's barn, I don't think Reynolds was doing a bad job but this move can't hurt.
Backseat Rhythm (Only on Turf less than firm)
Blue Grass Stakes
It seems like the Blue Grass is the only major Derby prep that didn't attract any of the established talent in the division. There are only two horses in the race that have won Graded Stakes this year. Hold Me Back recently won the Lane's End Stakes and figures to be favored because of it. He earned a lofty 97 Beyer Speed Figure for that race and the next best figure earned on synthetics is a 90 by Massone. Handicappers have to decide whether that race was a fluke of if he's really that good. He had never run anywhere near that fast before but he's undefeated on synthetics. As much as I'd love to go against him he scares me too much to leave off the ticket. Terrain is a classy little gem that I've had a soft spot for since last summer. I thought his Louisiana Derby was a perfect setup race for this one. He hasn't earned many big figures but I do think he's capable. His trainer is pretty good with young horses. He might be better for a minor piece though. He isn't a horse with a winning habit. General Quarters is my longshot for this race. His performance in the Sam Davis was excellent. It was easily the best prep performance until Quality Road hit the scene. He had some trouble last time and the bubble burst but he's shown some ability at Keeneland before and if he can get a better trip under Coa this time he will be live for an upset. He's got a lot more tactical speed than Hold Me Back so he might be able to make this race his before the favorite even gets rolling. We saw what happened in the Ashland when there wasn't a strong pace. Join The Dance is likely going to lead this field and he's probably not going to be setting very fast fractions. Tactical speed will be a big advantage.
Hold Me Back