The curtain comes down on Keeneland’s fall meet on Saturday – it’ll come straight back up for the Breeders’ Cup next Friday – with the G2 2022 Fayette Stakes as highlight, boasting a tight field led by Last Samurai, Fulsome and First Captain. On the undercard, a dozen three-year-olds including G1 winner Classic Causeway clash in a competitive renewal of the G3 Bryan Station.
G2, $350,000, 1m 1f, 3yo+, 5.16pm ET
Will the Last be first? And will the First be last? The ancient mantra comes into the spotlight at Keeneland on Saturday, when the Fayette takes centre stage.
If the former is to happen, it demands a return to form for Last Samurai, who shone in the spring when winner of the G2 Oaklawn Handicap over a mile-eighth, but lost the thread in summer for new trainer Wayne Lukas.
He was off slow and could never get his favoured position on or near the lead when a drab fifth in the G2 Charles Town Classic last time, and prior to that didn’t have the kick over a mile in an Ellis Park stakes, beaten a length into third place. The extra yardage today will help and he figures as the likely pace angle in a race that doesn’t have a lot of speed.
Ellis Park runner-up West Will Power was three-quarters of a length ahead of Last Samurai on his first start for 11 months, and showed the benefit of the exercise when going gate-to-wire in an allowance optional claimer at Churchill Downs over a mile-eighth. He is yet to win at stakes level but this is a good spot for him.
West Will Power’s barnmate Fulsome is another bidding to rebound from a slack performance, fifth in the G3 Ack Ack at Churchill Downs when never a threat. On his previous start he had looked good against moderate opposition in the G3 West Virginia Governor’s at little Mountaineer over a mile-sixteenth, but these are better horses and it’s fair to say that a mile-eighth stretches his stamina.
Now back to the original question. First Captain probably won’t be last, as he was in the G1 Carter at Aqueduct in April, and has good claims here after progressing well off victory in the G3 Pimlico Special in May. He was beaten just a nose in the ten-furlong G2 Suburban at Belmont Park and then upgraded to the ten-furlong G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Saratoga, where he rallied late for third behind the high-class Olympiad, with the outclassed Chess Chief a distant seventh.
The issue with First Captain is the cutback and the race set-up – will he have the time and space to close into the speed at a mile-eighth? He has a touch of class but that’s not always enough.
Twelve months ago King Fury was a well-beaten third in this race and hasn’t won since. He was third behind Hot Rod Charlie and Rich Strike in the G3 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs, but was never a player and just kept on through beaten horses; good form but he’s not guaranteed to repeat it.
|ODDS BY JAZZSPORTS
|West Will Power
|Brian Joseph Hernandez, Jr.
2022 Fayette Stakes Odds & Betting Pick
He may not be the class of the race but LAST SAMURAI could get his own way on the lead, and is the choice to bounce back to his fine form of the spring.
Bryan Station Stakes
G3, $300,000, 1m turf, 3yo, 4.44pm ET
A full field for the Bryan Station, with a few former big reputations bidding to prop up their campaigns against a competitive bunch of upgrading types.
The key to the race may well be the G2 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame over a mile at Saratoga in August, contested by five of today’s runners. The outcome was an all-the-way success for Ready To Purrform, who always looked comfortable in the driving seat and held off the rallying Wit by a half-length, with Double Clutch fading into fifth, beaten three and a half lengths, longshot Wow Whata Summer never at the races in sixth and Stolen Base a big disappointment in seventh.
That was a career-best for Ready To Purrform and he should be forgiven his showing in the G3 Dueling Grounds Derby, over a mile and five-sixteenths at quirky Kentucky Downs, when a lukewarm sixth (Double Clutch eighth). This distance and conventional circuit will play more to his strengths.
Wit boosted the Hall of Fame form when winning a stakes at the Spa next time out and this G1-placed juvenile brings a touch of class to the table. He should go well again.
It has been a chaotic year for Classic Causeway, a legitimate Triple Crown contender after his win in the G2 Tampa Bay Derby, then reinvented as a turf horse to win the ten-furlong G1 Belmont Derby (Stolen Base last of 12), before edging into a gradual decline that brought him a never-dangerous seventh place in the G1 Coolmore Turf Mile here last time. Class relief helps but it’s debatable whether he has the speed to lead over a mile, as he prefers.
California shipper Balnikhov was favourite for the G1 Del Mar Derby but got a long way back before rallying into fourth, and his tactical preference could give him problems in a big field, while Portfolio Company will need to move up a fair way from his victory in an allowance optional claimer at Saratoga, and was beaten a length and a half by Fort Washington in a stakes at Monmouth Park in June.
Next time out Fort Washington dropped the ball with a tardy start in a mile stakes at Kentucky Downs and could only get fifth behind Play Action Pass and Fuerteventura, who were on or near the speed throughout and were separated by a length and a half at the wire.
Play Action Pass was making his stakes breakthrough there and seems to like Kentucky Downs, so may not reproduce that level here, but Fuerteventura had previously dead-heated for second place with subsequent G2 winner Celestial City in the G3 Saranac at Saratoga and is one for the short-list on that evidence.
|ODDS BY JAZZSPORTS
|Ready to Purrform
|Brian Joseph Hernandez, Jr.
|Corey J. Lanerie
|Jose L. Ortiz
|Wow Whata Summer
|John R. Velazquez
|Play Action Pass
|Julien R. Leparoux
Bryan Station Stakes Odds & Betting Prediction
Plenty with chances, notably Ready To Purrform and Wit, but FUERTEVENTURA has strong claims on his best form and can make his breakthrough at this level.
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