With a full field of twelve horses and the strong possibility of a wet turf course, the $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. I) is shaping up to be a very difficult race to handicap. That’s only fitting since the nine-furlong race directly precedes the Kentucky Derby and is a key part of all the multi-race wagers that end with the Derby.
Since it’s possible to make a logical case for every horse in the race—and that’s no exaggeration!—I’m tempted to take a shot singling Divisidero and hoping for the best. Trained by Buff Bradley, Divisidero has long shown flashes of significant talent, and when he’s at his best, his turn-of-foot in the homestretch is fantastic.
In fact, he’s used that acceleration to win two previous races on Kentucky Derby day. In 2015, he came from out of the clouds to win the American Turf Stakes (gr. II) by three-quarters of a length, and the following year he prevailed in a long stretch battle to win the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic by a neck.
Although Divisidero hasn’t won since then, his form this year has been muddied by troubled trips. In the Ft. Lauderdale Stakes (gr. II), he was beaten just a length despite rallying extremely wide into the homestretch and gaining 5 ½ lengths in the final furlong. A month later, he finished a disappointing sixth in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (gr. I), but was beaten just four lengths after racing close to a quick pace, which didn’t suit his running style at all.
After that race, Divisidero was shipped to Kentucky, where he has reportedly thrived in the cooler weather. On April 9th he contested an 8.5-furlong allowance race at Keeneland (a race that drew a graded stakes-caliber field) and was beaten just a nose while rallying up the rail and running the final five-sixteenths of a mile in :29.02 seconds per Trakus. That marked his first start with Julien Leparoux in the saddle, and Leparoux will be back in the saddle on Saturday.
Getting away from Gulfstream Park could very well be the key to Divisidero’s success, as he’s just 1-for-6 at Gulfstream and 2-for-2 at Churchill Downs. Drawing post position two should allow Divisidero to save ground, and being a son of Kitten’s Joy, he shouldn’t mind a wet turf course. Some of Kitten’s Joy’s most successful foals, including Stephanie’s Kitten, Big Blue Kitten, and Bobby’s Kitten, all relished yielding or soft turf courses.
Furthermore, the 101 BRIS speed figure that Divisidero earned in last year’s Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is tied for the highest BRIS speed figure earned by any of his rivals in their last ten starts. To put it simply, I have a lot of confidence that Divisidero is ready for a very big run, and I’d rather take a shot with him alone than spread deep in a race where almost anyone could potentially win.
If I had to include one other (for backup purposes on smaller tickets), I might take a close look at Ballagh Rocks. Trained by Bill Mott, the four-year-old son of Stormy Atlantic won three straight turf races last winter, including a nine-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream, before returning from a three-month layoff to finish fourth in the Maker’s 46 Mile (gr. I) at Keeneland, beaten just a half-length. A mile might be slightly short of his best distance, so he could appreciate the extra furlong of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. The only concern is that drawing the far outside post position could lead to a wide trip, but I expect to see Ballagh Rocks closing strongly in the homestretch.
Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic?
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