The $300,000 Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) lost its biggest attention-grabber with the defection of champion turf horse World Approval, who reportedly hasn’t been training to Mark Casse’s satisfaction. But as a major stakes at Keeneland, Friday’s feature has plenty of appeal from a number of angles.
Gutsy front runner Heart to Heart will try to hold on after finishing second in the past two editions. Run down by Miss Temple City in the 2016 Maker’s 46, the Brian Lynch trainee was mugged by American Patriot here last year. It was a similar story when Heart to Heart returned to Keeneland last fall for the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1), only to be caught late by British shipper Suedois. The classy son of English Channel finally shed his status as a Grade 1 bridesmaid in the February 10 Gulfstream Park Turf (G1) last time out, but now must concede five pounds all around as the 123-pound highweight. Heart to Heart also figures to have a pace scenario complicated by California shipper Om. A free-running type, Om snapped a prolonged losing skid when new rider Flavien Prat let him roll in the Thunder Road (G3) two starts back. Prat now regains the mount after his sixth in the Kilroe Mile (G1), where Om forced an unsustainable pace and wound up sixth.
Four-year-old Frostmourne was a star on the rise last season for Christophe Clement, and the half-brother to 2010 Maker’s hero Karelian can make an immediate impact in his first Grade 1 try. The Speightstown colt is a perfect three-for-three at a mile, a record highlighted by his sharp score in the Penn Mile (G2). Most impressive in his six-length romp in the nine-furlong Kent (G3), Frostmourne unfortunately had to miss the Secretariat (G1) with a setback. He was seen only once more as a sophomore, finishing a short-on-fitness fourth in the Hill Prince (G3). Resuming with a Gulfstream allowance score at this trip March 16, Frostmourne rates a major threat with Irad Ortiz Jr.
Bill Mott’s “nearly horses” Ballagh Rocks and Forge, each placed to World Approval, hope to break through at last. Ballagh Rocks’ signature win came in last summer’s Poker (G3), but he’s been competing well at the Grade 1 level, particularly at Keeneland. The well-bred son of Stormy Atlantic was beaten all of a half-length when fourth in last year’s Maker’s 46, despite an extremely wide trip, and he missed by the same margin when third in the Shadwell. His third to World Approval and Time Test in the Fourstardave (G1) was creditable too, considering he was forcing the pace on yielding ground. Projecting a ground-saving trip, Ballagh Rocks should get the genuine pace to suit his preferred closing style. Juddmonte homebred Forge hasn’t lived up to his pedigree as a son of Dubawi and Heat Haze, but he’s had his moments. An eye-catching second to Heart to Heart in the Bernard Baruch (G2) at Saratoga, Forge forced World Approval to pull out all the stops in the Tampa Bay (G3) in February. Forgive his too-keen-early flop in the Mervin Muniz (G2) at Fair Grounds, over a 1 1/8-mile distance that stretches him.
Also eligible to do better cutting back from the Muniz is Mr. Misunderstood, who’s four-for-four at a mile. Yet the Brad Cox pupil had reeled off five straight stakes wins, up to nine furlongs, versus fellow sophomores, and his two ensuing losses are more a matter of bumping into better elders. Second to Synchrony in the Fair Grounds H. (G3) in his four-year-old bow, Mr. Misunderstood was fourth to the same rival in the Muniz.
Former Mott charge Next Shares, switched to Richard Baltas after selling for $190,000 at Keeneland last November, has placed in all three of his outings in his new Santa Anita home. A fast-closing second in the Joe Hernandez down the hill set him up for his next tries at a mile, and his furious rally has fallen a half-length short of Om in the Thunder Road and Bowies Hero in the Kilroe. Corey Nakatani, who helped Bowies Hero beat him with a clever ride, now bids to make amends aboard Next Shares here. Baltas and Nakatani have already teamed up for a Keeneland score courtesy of Gas Station Sushi in Sunday’s Beaumont (G3).
Multiple Canadian Grade 2 winner Tower of Texas, runner-up to Tepin in the 2016 Woodbine Mile (G1), has had a productive winter for Hall of Famer Roger Attfield. The Street Sense gelding captured the Col. E.R. Bradley at Fair Grounds in between thirds at Gulfstream in the Tropical Turf (G3) and Hal’s Hope (G3), the latter in his first dirt attempt. This may be a target of convenience on the way back north to Woodbine, but Tower of Texas is a fairly consistent sort.
Nine-year-old millionaire Hogy just turned over a new leaf for trainer Mike Maker by winning the 1 1/16-mile Canadian Turf (G3) at Gulfstream. Although he’d handled a mile earlier in his career, notably taking the 2013 Hanshin Cup (G3) and Presque Isle Mile on synthetic surfaces, he was best known as a turf sprinter in recent years. Maker, who claimed him for $80,000 at Saratoga last summer, kept him in that division. Hogy repaid the investment a few times over with a victory in the lucrative Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint (G3), and he added the Frontier Utilities Turf Sprint at Sam Houston before stretching out. As easy as he is to root for, Hogy encounters a far stiffer challenge against these than he did in the Canadian Turf.
Nileator, notwithstanding his name reminiscent of the Standardbred legend Nihilator, is up against it as an exposed allowance-class runner making a Grade 1 debut.