On Sept. 9 the spotlight shines on Kentucky Downs, the countryside phenomenon that annually tops the Horseplayers Association of North America's track ratings.
The formula for success is pretty simple: Huge purses attract large and competitive fields (well over 10 horses per race in the latest HANA listings), and low pari-mutuel takeouts whet the appetites of bettors nationwide.
The four stakes that comprise Saturday's pick four—at a bettor-friendly 19% bite—are worth a combined $1.7 million, anchored by the 26th running of the $600,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup (G3T). Assuming only the two also-eligible horses in the last leg are scratched, the number of possible permutations in the sequence stands at 11,616 (8x11x11x12).
The 44 horses entered in the four stakes last raced at 15 different tracks in North America. If their penultimate races are considered as well, add five more U.S. tracks and Royal Ascot to the list.
That makes for some challenging handicapping. So in the spirit of confusing you even further, here are some thoughts in race order:
Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf Stakes (KD, race 7, 4:18 CT): Due to the unique dips, turns and undulations of the turf, the horse-for-course factor at Kentucky Downs is amplified in my contender-selection process. I'll typically upgrade horses like Linda (2) who have run well on the layout before. Linda is the 5-1 third choice off a solid second at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino behind a rail-skimming Beauly (1). She has her work cut out for her, though, against Miss Temple City (5), a three-time grade 1 winner at the distance, and Zipessa (4), who set the pace in the Beverly D. Stakes (G1T) and scratched from Wednesday's $150,000 One Dreamer Stakes to await this.
Even though she only managed fourth in the Ladies Turf Stakes last year, Susie Bee (7) may be worth throwing in at a price. She has rallied from the rear half of the field in every single one of her career victories, yet somehow found herself on the lead in the 2016 Ladies Turf and actually ran on fairly well, all things considered.
A - 2, 5
B - 1, 4
C - 7
Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint Stakes (KD, race 8, 4:46 CT): The prospect of a pace duel between Corby (3) and Scatter Gun (8) looms large, because that would help set the table for last year's winner and morning-line favorite Mississippi Delta (1). It also could help second choice Fair Point (2), although the latter is not firing as consistently as she did last year when she went 4-3-0 from seven appearances.
Scatter Gun hasn't run in three months, and could wind up being deep-fried early by Corby, who ran the six-furlong split of her previous race in 1:08 and change. Be that as it may, I've still got to use the Scat Daddy mare, who has won at Kentucky Downs each of the past two years when fresh.
For the third time since June, the full sisters Marquee Miss (9) and Marquee Cal Gal (11) square off. The latter has gotten the best of the sibling rivalry so far, and is not without a chance at double-digit odds.
A - 1, 2
B - 8, 11
C - 3, 5, 6
Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint (KD, race 9, 5:14 CT): Elevated to grade 3 status this year, the Turf Sprint goes through Hogy, who was second by a neck at 15-1 in the 2016 renewal. This time around, the 8-year-old gelding is the 5-2 chalk after being claimed by Mike Maker for $80,000 out of a tough-trip second at Saratoga Race Course.
Hogy has never won at the 6 1/2-furlong distance, but neither has anyone else except Dimension (11), who won this race in 2014 (when it was called the Turf Dash) in a multi-horse photo over third-place finisher Undrafted (7).
Bondurant (5) has been freshened since getting outkicked in the one-mile Forbidden Apple, and is likely to benefit from the cutback in distance. He had major stretch trouble attempting to rally through midstretch over this course last fall, and has been running in one tough spot after another since then.
Commend (1) is razor sharp after winning two of his last three starts.
A - 5, 10
B - 1, 7
C - 6
Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup (KD, race 10, 5:42 CT): Mike Maker won the last two runnings of this race with Da Big Hoss , a horse he claimed for $50,000 back in June of 2015. He will send out not one, not two, not three, but four horses in this year's edition.
Heading up Maker's quartet are 3-1 morning-line favorite Enterprising (7), who was beaten less than a length in the Arlington Million XXXV Stakes (G1T) at 80-1 last out; second-choice Oscar Nominated (4), who romped in the Dueling Grounds Derby over the course as a 3-year-old; and Taghleeb (11), who comes off a runner-up finish behind Postulation (1) in the American St. Leger (G3T). He'll also send out longshot St. Louie.
Blinkers really seem to have made a difference with Postulation, who won the Cape Henlopen by six lengths prior to the St. Leger.
If everything breaks the right way in the earlier legs, we'll have bust-out potential with Bullards Alley (8), who ran second to Da Big Hoss at 18-1 in last year's Turf Cup.
A - 1, 4, 7
B - 3, 11
C - 8