Thursday, March 9, 2017

Handicapper's Corner: Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1)

Dortmund Tries Turf in Kilroe Mile

By: Nicolle Neulist, Blinkers Off

Race 9: Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1), four-year-olds and up, one mile on the turf, post time 4:30pm PST

This year marks the 58th running of the Kilroe Mile, a $400,000, top-level race for turf milers.

Originally christened the Arcadia Handicap in 1960, the race was renamed in 2000 in memory of racing executive Frank E. Kilroe. Kilroe started his racing career working in the racing office at Jamaica Race Track in New York, and by the 1950s he was splitting his time managing racing in New York in the summer, and at Santa Anita in the winter. He relocated to the west for good in the 1960s, and by the 1970s had built Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Hollywood Park into a coherent yearlong circuit. Originally a 1 1/4 mile race on the grass, it was shortened to its current one-mile distance in 1987 and was first granted Grade I status in 2005. 

Champions who have won the Kilroe Mile include Australian and German champion Strawberry Road (1986), prominent sire Leroidesanimaux (2005), and 2009 Arlington Million winner Gio Ponti (2009). Only one horse has won the Kilroe Mile twice: Ga Hai, who won in both 1975 and 1976.  2015 winner Ring Weekend will try to match that feat here, but given his spotty recent form and his trainer’s cold record at The Great Race Place this winter?  Spoiler alert: this space will look elsewhere.

They say pace makes the race, and that maxim matters here.  There are two real front-end horses in this race: What a View and Dortmund.  What a View can hang with this class of horses...if he gets a comfortable enough lead.  Thanks to a certain hulking Big Brown baby who is going first-time turf, that seems unlikely.  

Dortmund, on the other hand, should shake out the speed of the speed.  Even if What a View makes a race of it early, Dortmund has shown the ability to get the best of a contested pace.  Yes, he didn't win in four starts last year...but in three of those four starts he faced the likes of California Chrome and Beholder.  He has shown the ability to fire off a lay.  And, for a first try on grass, he couldn't have picked a better spot since the real titans of the turf mile division (looking at you, Tepin and Miss Temple City!) are still on the shelf.  His breeding suggests he could take to the green stuff.  Sire Big Brown is not only from the Danzig sire line, but Big Brown himself relished the green stuff.  And, dam Our Josephine has produced a turf winner already: Dortmund's (cooler) older brother, Joseph the Catfish (Mineshaft).  All in all?  This looks like shrewd placing by new trainer Art Sherman.  Between Dortmund's likelihood to be the one who survives the pace and the strong chance that he'll enjoy grass, this space will give him a chance.

Bolo won the Arcadia (G2) last out, a mile on the Santa Anita grass against several of the horses he faces here.  On a whole, this field skews tougher than the Arcadia's, but Bolo's affinity for the course and distance demands respect.  In five tries over the grass at Santa Anita, he has four victories and a second -- and, that second came behind a loose-on-the-lead What a View in last year's Kilroe.  What a View doesn't stand to get that this year, making Bolo dangerous over his home turf.  Bolo also has three wins in five starts at a mile on grass.  He keeps Mike Smith in the irons, and though trainer Carla Gaines has not been all that hot this season -- the only win she has came thanks to Bolo's last outing.  Given his tactical speed and his trainer's tendency to deliver on big race days, Bolo may well get first and best run on Dortmund.

The third slot was a tough call between Conquest Enforcer and Flamboyant. Flamboyant has a strong record over the Santa Anita grass...but against this class of horses, a mile may prove a bit short for him.  Thus, this space instead leans toward the defensive inclusion of Conquest Enforcer, the west coast grass division's young gun.  The son of Into Mischief was third last out behind Bolo in the Arcadia -- but his foot took a bit of a beating.  That is a perfectly cromulent excuse, given Conquest Enforcer showed good form against salty older horses at three.  He has come back with two solid five-panel works since that start, and should make good account of himself here.  He keeps Flavien Prat in the irons; Prat booted him home to victory in the Mathis Brothers Mile (G2) two back, and also opts to ride him instead of Bal a Bali.  All in all, Conquest Enforcer should figure again here.

#4 Dortmund
#3 Bolo
#6 Conquest Enforcer

Longshot:  This winter, #1 Bal a Bali had been listed on Calumet Farm's stud roster for 2017.  The seven-year-old Brazilian-bred entire disappeared from that roster...and reappears here in Calumet's black and yellow.  Bal a Bali has been working regularly since the end of December for strong layoff trainer Richard Mandella, so he should be fit.  He also cuts back to his best distance, a flat mile on the grass, after testing the waters at ten furlongs over both dirt and turf last year.  Though he loses jockey Flavien Prat to Conquest Enforcer, he gets an excellent turf rider in Javier Castellano.  And, he has tactical speed -- one can depend on Bal a Bali not gunning it with the likes of Dortmund or What a View, but he can set off the pace wherever Castellano judges to be appropriate.  It means something that Papa Mandella puts Bal a Bali right back in Grade I company after nine months off -- and Bal a Bali's best could put him in the frame at long odds.

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