The 43rd running of the Grade III Coolmore Lexington Stakes will take place this Saturday at the Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky. It offers a total purse of $200,000, but the main goal is to win the 20 Kentucky Derby qualifying points that goes to the winner.
Up for grabs are a total of 34 points: a distribution of 20-8-4-2 to the first four finishers in the race. It will take at least 20 points to get a spot in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby starting gate. Ties among the horses on the bubble will be broken by unrestricted graded stakes earnings.
The Lexington Stakes and the Derby Trial next Saturday are part of the wild card races on the new Kentucky Derby qualifying points system in place this year. They are the last two races offering qualifying points for the Derby.
It’s unlikely that the Lexington Stakes—or the Derby Trial next weekend—will produce a starter, or even a quality contender, in the Kentucky Derby on May 4. The last time we saw a winner of the Lexington Stakes return and win the Kentucky Derby was Charismatic in 1999.
Four of the race top-five contenders are not looking forward to running in the Kentucky Derby for different reasons. Those are the Grade I winning filly Pure Fun, Examen, Winning Cause and Irish-bred Cerro.
Examen, Winning Cause and Cerro are looking forward to use the race as a prep for the May 18th Preakness Stakes.
Pure Fun, trained by Ken McPeek, is looking to win the 20 points and use them as a springboard for the Kentucky Oaks on May 3. For the fillies, points earned in open company are transferable towards qualification for the Oaks.
This would be a quick turnaround, but Pure Fun has raced only once this year after winning the Grade I Hollywood Starlet last Dec. 8 at Hollywood Park. She ran third in the Grade III Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park on Mar. 23.
She advanced between horses midway and was within striking distance of the leader Marathon Lady. But she toiled in the final furlong and failed to threaten eventual winner Silsita and Marathon Lady.
Her Beyer figures are on par with the best here, but she has a tough assignment on trying to beat the boys starting from the 11th post on the gate.
Garrett Gomez was aboard for her last two races; Rosie Napravnik takes over the reins on Saturday.
Gomez switches to the saddle of the Thomas Proctor-trained gelding Examen. He is a lightly raced gelding, shipping in from Santa Anita and winner of his last two races over Turf and Sloppy dirt tracks.
He has been constantly improving and we have to consider he is a May-born colt. He will make his synthetic track debut on this race, but has two recorded workouts over the Keeneland turf track for this race.
Having worked over the track and the fact that his regular rider, Garrett Gomez, is back to ride him is an indication of his good chances at winning.
Winning Cause, trained by Todd Pletcher, turns around to make his graded stakes debut two weeks after winning over allowance company. This alone makes it unlikely that he will be back in two weeks to run in the Derby even if he earns the 20 points.
He is a late running colt that looks like he would relish more distance than the 8.5 furlongs of this race. Another factor to be considered is that he has not shown an affinity for the turf yet.
Although his pedigree suggests he would like turf, his first two races were over the Saratoga turf track and were very average. He would need to improve upon those, as well as his recent performances, to contend here.
Team Valor International’s Irish-bred Cerro could not fire his best race after pressing the fast early pace on the Grade II Fountain of Youth on his last start. His previous race was a front-running win over optional claiming colts.
So far, on American soil he has failed to impress on his two graded stakes starts. It’s granted that the Fountain of Youth was against the likes of Orb and Violence, but he needs to fire his best race to win here.
Red-hot jockey Joel Rosario has been aboard him twice before and will ride him on Saturday. Rosario rode Animal Kingdom to win the Dubai World Cup for Cerro’s connections.
The horse to beat should be Sunbean, who makes his first start after having a nightmare trip on the Grade II Louisiana Derby on his last start. He had won his previous three after losing by a nose on his debut race.
His bullet work of 46.60 over four furlongs at Churchill Downs shows he is primed for a big move forward on this race. He should be closing fast in the stretch, provided that he is able to handle the synthetic track.
He will be making his first start for his new trainer Michael Maker after being previously trained by Al Stall Jr. Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens takes over the saddle after Colby Hernandez rode him on all his previous starts.
Pick of the Litter warrants consideration. His effort in the Grade I Florida Derby was a big disappointment after his impressive romping win while breaking his maiden on Feb. 27. He earned a race-best 95 Beyer figure for that win.
Like Sunbean,it will be Pick of the Litter's first time to run over a synthetic track and his chances are based on how he is able to handle it.
Likely pacesetter River Rocks, Hip Four Sixtynine, Where’s Dominic, Wings of Fortune and General Election complete the field.
Win: Sunbean (6)
Place: Pure Fun (11)
Show: Pick of the Litter (2)
Possible Longshot: General Election (10)
Lexington Stakes | Grade 3 | Purse: $200,000
Keeneland Race Course | 9th Race | Post Time: 5:13 p.m. ET
Distance: 1700 Meters (8.5 furlongs)
|1 ||Winning Cause||Julien R. Leparoux||Todd A. Pletcher||5/1|
|2||Pick of the Litter||Jesus L. Castanon||Dale Romans||6/1|
|3||River Rocks||James Graham||Wayne M. Catalano||12/1|
|4||Hip Four Sixtynine||Gabriel Saez||Bobby C. Barnett||50/1|
|5||Where's Dominic||Edgar S. Prado||Michael J. Trombetta||20/1|
|6||Sunbean||Gary L. Stevens||Michael J. Maker||4/1|
|7||Examen||Garrett K. Gomez||Thomas F. Proctor||5/1|
|8||Cerro (IRE)||Joel Rosario||H. Graham Motion||5/1|
|9||Wings of Fortune||Calvin H. Borel||Michael J. Maker||15/1|
|10||General Election||Joseph S. Rocco Jr.||Kellyn Gorder||15/1|
|11||Pure Fun||Rosie Napravnik||Kenneth G. McPeek||7/2|
Morning Line odds by drf.com.