After former claimer Charismatic won the 1999 Lexington Stakes (GIII) en route to his upset score in the Kentucky Derby (GI) and subsequent Preakness (GI) victory, no racing fan will ever think of this race without remembering the flashy colt and his two-week turnaround into greatness under the control of Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.
Keeneland’s 1 1/16-mile final Kentucky Derby prep used to sit two weeks out from the first Saturday in May, but after last year it now sits a more comfortable three weeks before, making it a more reasonable spot if runners hope to pick up any last-minute points to make the gate for the big dance. Three this year already carry points and are no doubt hoping a win will earn them the last golden ticket for the Derby.
The weather in Kentucky has finally turned to spring and, on Saturday, nothing but sunny skies are expected with highs in the mid- to lower 70s, assuring a fast track for the racing at Keeneland all day.
Swipe hasn’t raced since his runner-up finish to champion Nyquist in the Oct. 31 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), which was his fourth straight second-place finish in graded stakes company to the current Kentucky Derby favorite. The reason he’s been out of action for more than five months is because he had a “very slight” bone chip removed from his ankle following the Breeders’ Cup and also received some R &R over this past winter.
He has been training forwardly since February at his home base of Santa Anita and, yes, he has some catching up to do, but he hasn’t ever run a bad race so a victory on Saturday against a field that does not include Nyquist wouldn’t be too much of a surprise. If he earns the 10 points up for grabs to the winner to go with the eight he earned in the Breeders’ Cup and the four he earned for his second in the Frontrunner Stakes (GI) he’ll be hovering on the bubble of eligibility to the Derby considering last year’s 22-point cutoff level.
Collected won the Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes, which used to be the rich Sunland Park Derby, but was demoted and lost its Derby points value after the track fought (successfully) an equine herpes outbreak throughout the winter. So, he has the talent, but only 10 points thanks to his Sham Stakes (GIII) victory at Santa Anita earlier this year. With one exception — a dull fourth-place finish as the favorite in the Southwest Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn in February — Collected has been very consistent, winning three starts and finishing second in Del Mar’s Cecil B. DeMille Stakes (GIII) over the turf in late November.
Back on the dirt, the son of City Zip has trained extremely well for Bob Baffert and will have top jockey Javier Castellano in the saddle for the first time — two things that help his chances but will also cause him to be heavily bet. He didn’t draw the most ideal post position (the far outside of 10) to help his preferred spot up near the pace, but with a clean break should be able to get to where he needs to be with a little hustle out of the gate.
After three tries and more distance with each attempt, Godolphin’s well-bred Direct Message finally put it all together and broke his maiden in his fourth attempt, a 1 1/4-length score in a nine-furlong maiden event at Gulfstream Park last month. Yes, this is a jump in class for the $800,000 yearling purchase. Yes, he will have his work cut out for him. But the son of Bernardini is learning with each start and a win in his first stakes attempt for trainer Tom Albertrani and jockey Luis Saez would not be a surprise. A pace stalker, he drew a great post position of number two, which should allow him the comfort of getting to his preferred spot early and be in a great spot when the speed in front of him begins to falter.
Post time for the ninth race Lexington Stakes will be at 4:59 p.m. EDT.