Ward, Hancock Runners Look Live in Keeneland’s Opening Race

Ward, Hancock Runners Look Live in Keeneland’s Opening Race

The field turns for home in the opening race of the 2016 Keeneland Spring Meet – Keeneland Photo/Coady Photography

Opening day of the Keeneland spring meet is here at last! The eagerly-anticipated meet will kick off with an excellent ten-race card that includes the $150,000 Transylvania Stakes (gr. III), where Oscar Performance and Ticonderoga will square off in an exciting showdown (click here to read my analysis of the race).

The first race on opening day is a 4 1/2-furlong maiden special weight for two-year-olds, which marks the first two-year-old race of the year outside of a few small races at Sunland Park. Fourteen unraced two-year-olds have been entered, though three of them–#1A I’m Corfu#2B Jersey Town Cat, and #5 Mugrosito–have been scratched.

Much of the attention in this race will be focused on #8 Kitty Kat Kate and #10 Fairyland, two fillies trained by Wesley Ward. Both are daughters of Scat Daddy and have posted just three modest workouts apiece in preparation for this race, but given Ward’s fantastic record with juveniles at this meet (he won five of the ten two-year-old races at Keeneland last spring!), you have to think that both will be ready to roll.

On that note, the trainer statistics published in the Brisnet Ultimate Past Performances paint a vivid picture of how successful Ward has been with first-time starters. Check out the debut runner win percentages for each trainer that has a starter in today’s first race at Keeneland:

William Brumley – 0%
Carl Deville – 3%
John Hancock – 7%
William Helmbrecht – 3%
Paul McEntee – 0%
Tommy Short – 2%
Wesley Ward – 22%
Rice Wayne – 7%

Ward’s impressive 22% win rate is more than three times as high as the percentages posted by John Hancock and Rice Wayne, who rank closest to Ward with win rates of 7% apiece.

Making the assumption that at least one of the Ward runners will be ready to win their debut, the difficult part becomes choosing one over the other, as both will be short prices. My slight preference is for Kitty Kat Kate, who will start from post position six as opposed to Fairyland, who will break from gate twelve and could be in for a wider trip.

However, if you want to try and split the expected Ward exacta and get a bit of a longshot in the mix, I would give #9 Waki Patriot a close look. The daughter of Awesome Patriot has posted eight workouts dating back to January, and while none have been particularly fast, trainer John Hancock has quietly compiled an excellent record with two-year-olds at the Keeneland spring meet. From limited starters, Hancock has sent out one juvenile winner at each of the last two spring meets, and four others have hit the board during that timeframe.

Furthermore, three of Waki Patriot’s half-siblings won races as two-year-olds, and her productive dam has produced seven winners overall. Since Hancock doesn’t attract nearly as much attention as Ward, Waki Patriot will surely offer much more enticing odds, and I view her as a prime candidate to finish in the exacta and contribute to respectable payoffs.

Here’s how I would consider playing the race:

$5 exacta: 8,10 with 8,10 ($10)

$3 exacta: 8,10 with 9 ($6)

$2 exacta: 9 with 8,10 ($4)

Good luck on opening day at Keeneland!

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Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin's quest to become North America's richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.

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