June 24, 2024

Honorable Duty, McCraken headline Fayette at Keeneland finale

Honorable Duty has not been worse than second in five 2017 starts (Coady Photography)

A generational clash in the $200,000 Fayette (G2) highlights closing day of the Keeneland fall meet on Saturday. The protagonists include multiple graded stakes-winning older horse Honorable Duty and the three-year-old McCraken.

For both horses, the 1 1/8-mile Fayette will serve as a tune-up for next month’s Clark H. (G1) at Churchill Downs. While McCraken was only third in the Blue Grass (G2) in his only other try at Keeneland, he owns a four-for-five record at Churchill, including a victory in last year’s Kentucky Jockey Club (G2).

Exiting an eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1) with a cut on a hind leg, McCraken rebounded to take the Matt Winn (G3) and then missed by a nose to Girvin in the Haskell Invitational (G1). He failed to fire last out in the Travers (G1), finishing a distant seventh to West Coast.

“I though about running him in the Lukas Classic (G3) at Churchill [on September 30],” trainer Ian Wilkes said, “but it didn’t make sense to run him and then take two months off before running him back in the Clark. I just wanted two more races.”

Honorable Duty captured the Lukas Classic by 4 3/4 lengths as the 3-5 favorite, showing rare speed in leading gate-to-wire. A maiden winner over 1 1/4 miles at Keeneland at the 2016 spring meet, the Brendan Walsh trainee has turned into a veritable powerhouse since being gelded late last year.

In addition to the Lukas Classic, Honorable Duty scored in the New Orleans H. (G2) and Mineshaft H. (G3) at Fair Grounds last winter, and finished second in Alysheba (G2) and Stephen Foster H. (G1), the latter behind seven-length winner Gun Runner.

Neolithic is looking for his first stakes win. The Todd Pletcher charge finished a distant third to Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) and Dubai World Cup (G1), and to Gun Runner in the Woodward (G1) last time.

The field also includes Grade 3 winner Fear the Cowboy, fourth in the Lukas Classic last time; The Player, runner-up in the Ack Ack (G3) most recently; the three-year-old Giuseppe the Great, who’s placed in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and Jim Dandy (G2) this year; and Canterbury invader Malibu Pro.

The forecast calls for unseasonably cool temperatures in the upper 40s with a strong chance of rain showers at Keeneland on Saturday. Racing on the circuit shifts to Churchill on Sunday for a 21-day meet that runs through November 26.