Named after one of history’s greatest geldings, the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap is a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup event for the Dirt Mile and is looking like one of the toughest fields running in the star-studded Super Saturday lineup at Belmont. New York heavyweight Rick Dutrow has four of the eight contenders, with 3 other field entries possessing a G1 win at the mile distance.
The weather looks sketchy for Saturday, and a 40-50% chance of rain might mean the two heavy favorites will be particularly vulnerable.
$400,000 Kelso Handicap (II) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 mile on dirt at Belmont Park. Post Time: Saturday, September 29 at 3:30pm EST
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Isn’t He Perfect - Michael Luzzi, 114 lbs, Rick Dutrow - With just 2 wins this year out of 9 starts (both at Belmont), the Pleasantly Perfect colt is finding some middle ground between his two most popular distances in the Kelso’s mile, and while his figures are consistent, they are neither impressive nor enough to scare. Between his off record and his snail-slow 4 panels in :53, he’s the longest shot here to do much.
2) Golddigger’s Boy - Jose Lezcano, 115 lbs, Ramon Preciado - The son of Jump Start has landed on the board in every one of his 2012 starts, but all were at the G3 level or lower. He was well-beaten in last year’s Kelso by 18 3/4 lengths on a sloppy surface, not giving him much hope here.
3) Jersey Town - Javier Castellano, 116 lbs, Barclay Tagg -The blaze-faced Speightstown gelding hasn’t had a win since his Cigar Mile (I) in 2010, but has made some good efforts since then, coming in third last out in the Forego (I). He’s missing that edge he used to have and seems to tire even more on an off going. New jockey Castellano will need a magic touch.
4) Tapizar - Corey Nakatani, 117 lbs, Steve Asmussen -The Tapit colt has been digging the mile-and-change distance, winning 2 starts and a second in 4 total this year, and a slight cutback should only aid him in his near-the-pace running style. With the weight break, he should be ready to improve even more off his last win.
5) To Honor and Serve - John Velazquez, 121 lbs, Bill Mott - The Bernardini colt has the ‘11 Cigar Mile (I) and ‘12 Westchester (III) win to his credit and was a tangled third in the Met Mile, drifting out lazily after being boxed in for most of the ride. He came back with a vengeance to win the 1 1/8 mile Woodward in champion spirit, and will cut back to a cozier distance here. He’s capable of throwing some awesome runs as well as some clunkers. If you believe in “on-off” theories, THAS likes to win at least twice in a row before he throws in a bad race, but will need to be at his best. Also not cozy knowing that he’s never been on an off track!
6) Shackleford - Ramon Dominguez, 121 lbs, Dale Romans - The brilliant son of Forestry could possibly top the campaign he had last year as a Preakness-winning sophomore after his Met Mile (I) win over Caleb’s Posse. Shack has shown he does not favor a sloppy track, over which he dragged far back to finish last in the Vanderbilt (I), and he wound up scratching from the Forego (I) with a cough. Definitely ready to get back to work, he blasted a hole through the Churchill dirt whizzing through 4 panels in a dizzy :46 and change. A record of going 1-2 in 2 starts at a mile, Shack is going to be the deserving favorite and one to beat… unless of course the track is a mess… Shack obviously does not like the mud.
7) Gallant Fields - Joel Rosario, 114 lbs, Rick Dutrow - Winless in 7 starts this year, the ex-claimer Smarty Jones gelding has his work cut out for him. Claimed two starts back by J.W. Singer (that’s Teeth of the Dog’s owner), the gelding was third last out in a $75 op claimer to Vosburgh runners Little Drama and Zero Rate Policy after a bumped start. Is he better than the 98 Equibase figure? His works look ok, but he’ll need to return to better form to stand a chance of not being left in the dust.
8) Pacific Ocean - Wilmer Garcia, 116 lbs, Rick Dutrow - The chestnut Ghostzapper gelding is for 5-for-9 in lifetime starts, with his biggest success being the winner of this year’s 7-furlong James Marvin (III) at Saratoga. Sure to be a fast pacesetter whether or not Shackleford decides to go, this may be a furlong or two too far for this sprinterly type who probably likes synthetic more than dirt anyway.
9) Trickmeister - Cornelio Velasquez, 116 lbs, Rick Dutrow - Fed up with the beating he’s taken going further, the raucous Proud Citizen horse aims to return to the top of things by taking an appropriate cut back to the mile distance for the first time. Likely to be up on the pace, Trickmeister has faded well off his old form, but has never been beaten by a bad horse. If he’s lively enough, he can bounce back but I’m not counting on a win here.
Picks in Order: (based on a predicted “good” track)
1) To Honor and Serve
This is a race that is really up in the air. If it stays fast and dry, Shackleford wins it. If it’s downgraded, I see To Honor and Serve or Tapizar taking the win; horses like Shackleford and Golddigger’s Boy are quick toss-outs if it’s sloppy.
Value Pick: Tapizar