- Saturday’s Lexington Stakes at Keeneland is the final Kentucky Derby prep race this year
- Several Run for the Roses hopefuls must do well in Lexington to make it to Louisville
- Where can we find betting value as horses scramble to reach the Kentucky Derby?
Under normal circumstances the Lexington Stakes is a nice race for second tier three year olds that either got going too late to reach the Kentucky Derby, or simply were not good enough.
Not this year.
While the top contenders in this year’s Run for the Roses took part in major prep races over the last month, just look at the current Kentucky Derby odds, which still gives plenty of horses a good shot to win.
With opportunity comes interest. The final few slots available to race in the Kentucky Derby are still up for grabs, and the 20 qualifying points the winner earns in the Lexington, or eight second-place points, could be the difference between getting in and being forced to stay at home. The third-place finisher gets four points, with two awarded to the horse that arrives fourth.
Let’s discuss several of the contenders, what they need to do in order to reach the Kentucky Derby, and consider a betting strategy.
2022 Lexington Stakes Odds
|In Due Time||+300|
|Call Me Midnight||+600|
|We All See It||+1500|
|Skate to Heaven||+3000|
Odds as of April 15
The Lexington Stakes is a mile-and-a-sixteenth test over the dirt course at Keeneland. It began in 1936, and has been an off-the-radar Derby prep since the early 1970s. Twice horses who ran in the Lexington have won the Kentucky Derby, Swale, who finished second in 1984, and Charismatic who won it in 1999.
Post time is slated for 5:16 pm ET with TVG providing television coverage. Temperatures in Lexington are expected to be in the low 60’s with no rain.
Right now Tawny Port has accumulated 40 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, barely enough to reach the Run for the Roses unless someone in the Lexington is able to tie or pass him. If he finishes in the top four he will guarantee his spot in the Run for the Roses field. In Due Time (20 points), Ethereal Road (20), Call Me Midnight (10), Dash Attack (10), and Major General (10) all need more points and/or defections from the Derby if they are going to run in Louisville.
In the Driver’s Seat
What an interesting predicament for Eclipse award-winning trainer Brad Cox. He is the defending Derby winner, though it doesn’t really feel like it. Medina Spirit was disqualified, and Cox’s Mandaloun declared the winner months after the race was run in May. Cox has Cyberknife and Zozos in the Derby field, but wants Tawny Port to have an opportunity. Tawny Port ran second two weeks ago in the Jeff Ruby Steaks.
That runner up effort came on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park. Three of his four races, and both wins are on synthetic. His only race on dirt, the Risen Star Stakes, was against much tougher competition and he finished fifth. A win would be fine, but a third or fourth place effort that doesn’t take too much out of Tawny Port and cements his spot in Louisville is probably the ideal result.
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In Due Time and Ethereal Road All In
In Due Time and Ethereal Road very likely will be in the Derby field if they can win the Lexington. In Due Time won two of his first three races, and stepping up in competition ran second in March’s Fountain of Youth Stakes.
He may have been the cause of the spill at the top of the stretch but he wasn’t disqualified, and there is no doubt he made a big move. Trainer Kelly Breen said he was “tired,” following that race, and that is why he passed on major prep races and choose to go all in on the Lexington.
Speaking of fatigued, Ethereal Road ran last Saturday in the Blue Grass Stakes. He finished a well beaten seventh. He looked like a Derby player when he finished third in February’s Rebel Stakes.
A shorter distance than last week could help Ethereal Road, and maybe he will try to a mount more of a rally than he did on Saturday when he was close to the pace. That said, racing in back-to-back weekends is very unusual and difficult.
But That’s Not All, There’s More
While getting into the Kentucky Derby looks really difficult right now, the bottom line is horses will scratch during the next three weeks, they always do. If you grab 20 points in the Lexington, your chances of being able to run in Louisville are significant.
Call Me Midnight is a deep closer who didn’t get out well in March’s Louisiana Derby, finishing sixth behind Epicenter and Zozos. However, he beat Epicenter, the likely Derby favorite, in January.
While Call Me Midnight has only two wins in eight tries, buy his two races at Fair Grounds (one win and one ok effort despite bad racing luck against top horses) make him interesting.
Major General won his first two races but was off between mid-September and early March. He stumbled out of the starting gate in the Tampa Bay Derby and was essentially finished at that point. Trainer Todd Pletcher has won this race a record five times.
Major General cost $420,000, so there have always been high expectations. Pletcher puts blinkers on and there is just one blemish on his record. He is a bit of an unknown.
Lexington Stakes Best Bet
A short price on a horse that doesn’t really need to win seems like a poor value. The same can be said for someone racing for the second time in eight days. In Due Time feels like the most likely winner, but the approach, not running in a major prep race that would guarantee a spot in the Derby, is bizarre. In the end, while Major General is not one of Pletcher’s top Derby candidates, we trust him and his one loss can be excused
Pick: Major General (+400)
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