by Margaret Ransom
Saturday’s $200,000 Lexington Stakes (GIII) at Keeneland, named for the beautiful central Kentucky city where the famed track and sales company is located, is the last Road to the Kentucky Derby (GI) points race, offering 20 to the winner and 8-4-2 for second through fourth.
And while it’s not one of the more marquee preps, it has done its fair share in contributing to Triple Crown history over the years. The most recent — though it has been 20 years — is Robert and Beverly Lewis’ former claimer Charismatic, who took the Lexington Stakes just two weeks before he went on to win under the Twin Spires, capping that win off with a score in the Preakness Stakes (GI) before suffering a career-ending injury three strides before the wire in the Belmont Stakes (GI).
Though the D. Wayne Lukas trainee is probably the most famous of the previous Lexington winners, some other recognizable names to have taken home the trophy over the years include champion Rockhill Native, Preakness winner Master Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes winners Hansel and Risen Star Stakes (GI) and Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold.
Retired Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey remains the most successful Lexington Stakes jockey, having ridden six winners in his career (1982, Stage Reviewer; 1990, Home at Last, 1991; 1993, Grand Jewel; 1999, Charismatic; and 2004, Quintons Gold Rush.) Yes, Bailey rode dual classic winner Charismatic to victory in the Lexington in 1999 but opted to ride Worldly Manner for Godolphin in that year’s Kentucky Derby (they finished seventh).
Todd Pletcher has tightened the girth on five winners so far (2005, Coin Silver; 2008, Behindatthebar; 2009, Advice; 2010, Exhi; and 2013, Winning Cause) to lead all trainers in Lexington wins.
And the much beloved Charismatic, who died at Old Friends Farm two years ago after returning to America from a 14-year stint at stud in Japan, still owns the stakes record of 1:41 for the 1 1/16-mile distance.
This year, ten will try for the 20 points, including some who really need them to move on to Louisville in three weeks and some who hope to upset their rivals’ chances at earning a spot in the Derby starting gate.
This Steve Asmussen trainee rides a four-race win streak, including two Louisiana-bred stakes races. The trainer saddled Quintons Gold Rush to victory in this race in 2004 (he would later be pulled up in the Derby) and Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. looks for his initial Lexington Stakes wins. Shang has no Derby points, so he’s here to just win and add to his resume.
2. Hawaiian Noises
This son of 2010 Derby winner Super Saver also rides a win streak — three — heading into this event, including the Animal Kingdom Stakes at Turfway Park last out and his maiden score over this track back in October. Trainer Wesley Ward owns and bred this colt, so a second win here for the horseman would be nice (he also saddled All Squared Away to the victory in 2012). Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez has surprisingly never won this race. This colt hasn’t been pointed to the Derby and, so far, has no points.
Keith Desormeaux-trained son of Atreides, a former claimer, has earned 28 points so far, which currently puts him below what is needed (37.5) heading into this weekend, with only a couple major contenders below him running for points. He was second in the Sham Stakes (GIII) and Southwest Stakes (GIII) before finishing third in the Louisiana Derby (GII) and is the most seasoned Derby-intended runner in the bunch. Desormeaux saddled My Boy Jack to victory in this race a year ago. Local top jockey Corey Lanerie hasn’t yet won a Lexington.
The El Camino Real Derby winner was second last out in his second dirt attempt in the Sunland Derby and is back on that surface again here in search of the 20 points awarded to the winner to add to his current point total of 30, which will surely get him in the Derby gate. The California-based son of Scat Daddy is trained by Blaine Wright and gets a rider switch to Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, who won this race on Collected on 2016 but has yet to win a Kentucky Derby in his stellar career.
5. Harvey Wallbanger
Another one who needs the win, as he has only earned 10 points so far thanks to his Holy Bull Stakes (GII) win back in February. This Ken McPeek-trained son of Congrats was a somewhat troubled eighth last out in the Florida Derby (GI) at 8-1 and has been training well both at Gulfstream and now Keeneland for this race. Senior Investment won for McPeek in 2017 and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. hasn’t yet to visit the Lexington winner’s circle.
6. Chase the Ghost
Trainer Dallas Stewart sends out this longshot after two dismal graded stakes performances in Louisiana in his last two. The well-bred son of Ghostzapper seems to be in a little tough here.
7. Knicks Go
This KRA Stud Farm-owned son of Paynter was considered one of the top Derby hopefuls last year after winning the Breeders’ Futurity (GI) and his strong runner-up finish to champion Game Winner in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), but has struggled as a sophomore, failing to hit the board in two graded stakes starts. The Ben Colebrook trainee, who has 18 points, would be firmly on the bubble with a win, but needs to show the form he had when winning over this track last October to accomplish that. Albin Jimenez rides.
Was eighth in his lone graded stakes start in the Risen Star Stakes (GII) nearly two months ago, but, in his defense, the $200,000 son of Into Mischief, who is trained by Brad Cox, had a very wide trip and might have finished closer. He’s a longshot looking for just the win and not points, but he has earned numbers in his career so far suggesting he could have a say here.
Son of Fed Biz has five points thanks to his second in the Swale Stakes (GI) and fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby, so its clear this is a race for a win and lion’s share of the purse. He’s put up some big numbers sprinting, but will the two turns here do him in? Victor Barboza Jr. traines and Tyler Gaffalione rides — both are winless in this race.
His point total currently rests at 10, so a win for this Tom Amoss-trained son of Successful Appeal would make the Derby questionable, though his best could earn him a larger chunk of the pot in here. His best suggest he’ll fit well against this level of competition under jockey James Graham.
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law in Kentucky known as the “Borell Law.”Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time.She lives in Robinson, Texas, with her longtime beau, Tony. She is the executive director of the 501(c)(3) non-profit horse rescue, The Bridge Sanctuary.