There’s plenty of star quality at Keeneland on Saturday, with the feature G2 Elkhorn Stakes shaping up into a speed duel over a marathon route with Two Emmys, Channel Maker and Phantom Currency all likely to pitch for the lead. On the undercard, the improving Warrant, Proxy and Scalding will be strong opposition for dual Canadian Horse of the Year Mighty Heart in the G3 Ben Ali.
Some old favorites face the starter for the long-distance Elkhorn, the main event at Keeneland on Saturday, and the pace is likely to be a key factor as so many of these route turf races are run at a crawl.
That job may fall to the old man of the party Channel Maker, who would have run these out of town in his prime but, alas, his best days are now behind him. His most recent run, when fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, still puts him in the picture today, but he is riding a seven-race losing streak and although this represents class relief and a reasonable opportunity, he may just end up as a target for his rivals to shoot down.
He may have competition out front from Two Emmys, who got loose on the lead when longshotting the G1 Mr D at Arlington in August, and enjoyed another freebie when going gate-to-wire in the G2 Muniz Memorial Classic at the Fair Grounds over a mile-eighth last time out, when Another Mystery was a never-in-it eighth.
Two Emmys has (relative) speed that several of his rivals don’t possess, which should help him on the front end, and coped with the mile and a half well enough when runner-up in the G3 Sycamore over course and distance in October, when Bama Breeze was six lengths back in fourth, Another Mystery a half-length further away fifth, and Sole Volante an extra three-quarters of a length back in sixth.
We haven’t seen much of Phantom Currency recently but when we have it’s been good. He’s had only three starts since the beginning of 2021 and is three-for-three, running a huge race on his comeback from 13 months on the shelf when leading at every call in the G3 Appleton at Gulfstream Park three weeks ago, digging in gamely close home to stay ahead. That was only a mile, but he stays a mile and three-eighths well and is another pace contender, although it’s a quick enough turnaround after such a long layoff.
Mike Maker has two chances, primarily with Bemma’s Boy, who has had only two starts since winning the G2 Pan American over today’s distance at Gulfstream in March 2020. He’s had two recent tune-ups at the Fair Grounds in minor company over a mile-sixteenth and should be ready to roll now, and looks a better prospect than barnmate Tiberius Mercurius, who is zero-for-two in stakes and usually works a quieter beat.
The field is completed by Cullum Road, who is zero-for-13 in stakes and hasn’t won away from Turfway Park’s synthetic surface since April 2019.
|Horse||Jockey||Horse Racing Odds courtesy of JazzSports|
|Bemma’s Boy||Umberto Rispoli||+500|
|Sole Volante||Julien R. Leparoux||+2000|
|Two Emmys||James Graham||+350|
|Phantom Currency||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||+400|
|Channel Maker||Luis Saez||+200|
|Tiberius Mercurius||Tyler Gaffalione||+1200|
|Cullum Road||Joseph Rocco, Jr.||+3000|
|Bama Breeze||Corey J. Lanerie||+1200|
|Another Mystery||Flavien Prat||+600|
Our Elkhorn Stakes Betting Prediction
The pace will make this race and two or three of these want the lead. Two Emmys won’t get an easy route in front so PHANTOM CURRENCY is the choice after his recent comeback victory.
Ben Ali Stakes
The Ben Ali is blessed with the presence of a Horse of the Year – Canadian version, with the one-eyed Mighty Heart recently honored for the second year running. The five-year-old is a star north of the border but has never shone so brightly on the south side, going just one-for-six on his travels.
It was the same old story in the G3 Harlan’s Holiday at Gulfstream Park on his final start of 2021, Mighty Heart setting the fractions until they ran right by him and relegated him to third, beaten five and a quarter lengths at the wire, and it could be the same old story again as he goes up against some improving younger rivals.
Foremost among them could be Warrant, who comes here off easily a career-best when runner-up in the G1 Santa Anita Handicap over ten furlongs, beaten just a head by Express Train after a stretch duel that left the third horse nine lengths adrift. This is solid class relief, as before that he’d followed Mandaloun and poor Midnight Bourbon home in the G3 Louisiana at the Fair Grounds, and today’s distance is ideal.
It was also a last-time-out career-best for Scalding, who made his stakes breakthrough in the G3 Challenger over a mile-sixteenth at Tampa Bay Downs in March, digging in hard from mid-stretch to get the job done by a neck, with Dynamic One two and a quarter lengths back in third on his first start after six and a half months on the sidelines.
With just five runs under his belt Scalding is entitled to find further improvement and he remains a step ahead of Dynamic One, who is still hunting for a first Graded score after four attempts.
Another up-and-comer is Proxy, who has done all his winning at the Fair Grounds and came close to making his stakes breakthrough when runner-up in the G2 New Orleans Classic on his second start off a ten-month layoff. Last year he split Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon in the G2 Risen Star and would be right in the mix if bringing that form back to the table.
Elder statesman Title Ready had an interrupted campaign in 2021 and hasn’t got his mojo back since his return, finishing eighth in the G1 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park and then fourth in an allowance optional claimer at Oaklawn Park. This is a tough spot for him against several in-form rivals.
It’s back to the main track for Tartufo, who ran a longshot third on his stakes debut over a mile-eighth on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park, and who along with Cowboy Diplomacy, himself making his stakes debut today, looks to have too much on his plate.
|Horse||Jockey||Horse Racing Odds courtesy of JazzSports|
|Cowboy Diplomacy||Colby J. Hernandez||+2000|
|Mighty Heart||James Graham||+450|
|Proxy||Brian Joseph Hernandez, Jr.||+350|
|Dynamic One||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||+400|
|Title Ready||John R. Velazquez||+800|
Our Ben Ali Top Choice
Last time out WARRANT ran a lifetime best when a narrow runner-up in the Grade 1 Big ‘Cap and, despite taking on some improving rivals, makes plenty of appeal now down in class.
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