Smile Politely

Playing hooky from the BC pays off for some

With so many horses skipping the Breeders’ Cup this year, other stakes races are filling up with quality fields outside of Santa Anita. This Saturday, Laurel Park will feature the Grade I De Francis Dash and Keeneland will run the Grade II Lexus Raven Run Stakes for fillies. Those races will star such notables as Vineyard Haven, Flashing, and Just Jenda.

Physically, Vineyard Haven won his last start by a head in the Grade I King’s Bishop, but the gray was disqualified to second place after severely bumping with Capt. Candyman Can in the stretch. Vineyard Haven was at that time coming off a six-month layoff and impressed in his first start since his fourth place finish in the UAE 2000 Guineas in Dubai. In 2008, Vineyard Haven headlined as a 2-year-old rising star, winning the Champagne Stakes and the Hopeful. After finishing out of the money for the first time in the 2000 Guineas, Vineyard Haven skipped the Triple Crown and made his comeback in tested graded stakes company; the Grade I De Francis Dash should be a cinch for this quality colt, even though it will be his first start against older horses. Perhaps his biggest adversaries in the sprint will be from the home team, who already know and love the track; Roaring Lion and Ravalo fit that bill. As for an outsider, look for Fleet Valid to try to spring the upset.

Over in Kentucky, closing weekend at Keeneland will be marked by a parade of the Budweiser Clydesdales (I, for one, would rather see a Clydesdale race than a parade, but for some reason, this idea has been omitted from the agenda) and the Grade II Lexus Raven Run Stakes, headlined by Flashing and Just Jenda. Though Just Jenda is the sentimental favorite, as the filly will be trainer Larry Jones’s last stakes contender at Keeneland before his retirement, the same track he saddled his first stakes winner in 2004, Flashing holds the better credentials. Flashing has already run and placed over a synthetic surface, while Just Jenda has not; as Keeneland’s Polytrack has proven to be one of the most difficult of all fake surfaces to traverse, this detail cannot be overlooked.

In Flashing’s last start, the Grade III Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes run at Presque Isle Downs, the filly ran third her first try over a synthetic surface, but the loss came to the indomitable Informed Decision. Of her six starts in 2009, Flashing has never been out of the money and stands as the clear horse to beat in the Raven Run. In contrast, Just Jenda is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Grade II Fitz Dixon Cotillion at Philadelphia Park; Just Jenda also faced a monster in her previous start, namely Careless Jewel, who may be the second-best 3-year-old filly in the nation to Rachel Alexandra. The large field in the Raven Run will prove a tougher task for these favorites; 16 starters will break from the gate and try to cinch one last graded stakes victory at Keeneland before the season’s end.

Macho Again, Rail Trip, and Gitano Hernando will skip the Breeders’ Cup. Macho Again would miss a breeze thanks to a cough, while Rail Trip has accrued a foot bruise and would also miss a workout in preparation for the Classic, making it impossible for both horses to be fit enough for the biggest race of the year. Gitano Hernando’s connections feel the horse needs a break after turning in an impressive victory in the Grade I Goodwood at Santa Anita.

One Caroline is making her comeback since being upset for the first time in the Grade II Louisville Distaff on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. She is being pointed toward the Grade II $150,000 Chilukki Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov 7th.

Justwhistledixie is making her return to the track since finishing second in the Grade I Acorn, and is being pointed toward the Grade I Gazelle at Aqueduct November 28th.

The Grade I Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Stakes will air live from Laurel Park on HRTV. Post time is scheduled for approximately 5:07pm ET.

The Grade II Lexus Raven Run Stakes will air live from Keeneland on TVG at approximately 5:13pm ET.

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