Grade III Lexington Stakes Analysis, Keeneland Race Course – 4/19/14

Keeneland Green LogoThe Grade III Lexington Stakes will be run at Keeneland Race Course on Saturday, with post time set for 5:13 ET. Although the Lexington does offer points toward qualification for the Kentucky Derby, none of the entrants are being pointed toward the starting gate two weeks from now at Churchill Downs. That being said, the Lexington will serve as a nice stepping stone for some turf and synthetic runners whose connections have bigger stakes races in mind down the line. A solid field of eleven is scheduled to go postward; let’s take a look at some of the contenders in this year’s Lexington Stakes.

Divine Oath is one of three entrants that trainer Todd Pletcher sends out in this race, and he may be the best of the lot. This son of Broken Vow is two for two in his early career, with both of those victories coming over the Gulfstream Park turf. What really stands out about this horse’s unblemished record is the way in which he’s done it. When breaking his maiden, Divine Oath sat within a length of the lead for the duration of the 7.5 furlongs, ultimately prevailing by a half length over next-out winner (and possible Kentucky Derby entrant) Ring Weekend. In his subsequent start, Divine Oath trailed the pacesetters by 10 lengths and proceeded to close furiously late to win against an allowance optional claiming field which has yielded some nice runners. Javier Castellano stays aboard, and you’ve got to believe if this horse can transfer its turf form to the polytrack, he’ll be very tough.

Supermonic is another of the Pletcher triumvirate that runs in the Lexington. Although his victory seven days ago at Keeneland was achieved on the front end, the fractions were rather soft and with the presence of Solitary Ranger in this spot, I can’t envision any scenario where Supermonic has things so easy throughout. It’s definitely notable that Castellano gets off and hops on Divine Oath…although picking up Joel Rosario isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m going to take a wait and see approach – if Supermonic beats me on short rest, so be it.

Speaking of Solitary Ranger, he’ll be returning in the Lexington after delivering a sub-par effort in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park last month. I believe this horse is the speed of the speed and will have command of the tempo throughout. The biggest question surrounding this son of U S Ranger? How far does he truly want to go? There’s no doubt that he’s talented and that he loves the synthetic surfaces – but there should be some questions regarding his distance limitations. The biggest thing this horse has going for him might be the short stretch run that goes along with this 8.5 furlong trip over the Keeneland main track…to quote my friend and Horseplayers castmate Lee Davis, “Come and catch me!”

Poker Player was a “buzz” horse headed into the Spiral Stakes last month, and he surely seems to be a “buzz” horse headed into the Lexington. Winner of the Grade III Bourbon over the polytrack at Keeneland last fall (washed off turf), Poker Player is a horse that does his best running late and should enjoy getting back over a surface which he’s had success on in the past. The only problem I have with him here? The 10-1 morning line is an absolute pipe-dream. I’ll be shocked if he’s much higher than 5-1 come post time.

I believe Josie Carroll’s Ami’s Holiday is a talented colt, but I’m not sure he’s going to be ready to roll off the bench in this race. Ami’s Holiday was a graded stakes winner at two in Canada, taking the Grade III Grey at Woodbine last October. Although this is a graded stakes race, I’m of the opinion that the connections have bigger and better things in mind for the son of Harlan’s Holiday – namely the Queen’s Plate in early July. He’s got some ability, but I’m going to have to side against this horse coming off a four month layoff.

When it comes to the Lexington Stakes, I think it begins and ends with Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker is the class of the field, having faced the likes of Cairo Prince, Intense Holiday, Storming Inti, Gala Award and Bobbys Kitten. He’s also incredibly versatile, having won races both on the lead and from well off the pace. His effort in the Grade III Palm Beach at Gulfstream last month was a bit of an odd one, as he was off a hair slow and then got squeezed prior to the first turn. A middle move had him improve his position significantly, only to ultimately end up running second by less than a length. All in all, I thought he was many lengths the best in that race, and I think he has a world of talent. If his :46 and 1 work over the polytrack on April 6 is any indication, Mr Speaker should have no issues taking to the synthetic surface. Trainer Shug McGaughey has stated that the goal all along for Mr Speaker is the Belmont Derby on July 5, so the Lexington is a nice intermediary goal for this son of Pulpit. He may not offer much value in this spot, but at the end of the day I think he’s clearly the most talented horse in this field. I like Mr Speaker to win the Grade III Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.

SELECTION: 1 – Mr Speaker, Jose Lezcano; ML 5-2

Matt Bernier picMatt Bernier was the youngest qualifier to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) last year and he is one of the stars of the recently concluded Esquire TV series Horseplayers. is pleased to offer his educational and expert analysis of major stakes races.

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