The 2022 edition of the $1 million, Grade 1 Coolmore Turf Mile Stakes, an opening weekend staple at Keeneland and run since 1986, drew a full field of 12 plus four also-eligibles. Among the group vying for the top share of the purse and a qualifying spot in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile in four weeks back at Keeneland are seven horses that have banked over $1 million in their careers.
Ivar, who won this race two years ago, is one of that group and his last effort may have him ready to become a repeat winner as he was second in the similar Grade 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes last month. Casa Creed proved he belongs with these following a win when last seen in August in the Grade 1 Fourstardave Handicap. Similarly, Somelikeithotbrown enters the race off a win in the Grade 3 WinStar Mint Million Stakes. Santin just won the Grade 1 Arlington Million Stakes and adds more depth to the field. Order of Australia won the Grade 1 FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile Presented by PJDF in 2020 at Keeneland and was most recently second in the Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp in France. Smooth Like Strait won the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile Stakes in May 2021 and although winless in seven races since he has been second in six of those. Classic Causeway is the only one of the seven who has yet to win at one mile on turf, because he’s never run the distance, but he did win the Grade 1 Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes in July in wire-to-wire fashion.
Next, there are a number of recent graded stakes winners who have the potential to step up their game to this level. Annapolis is one of those, as he enters the Coolmore Turf Mile off an easy 5 ½-length win in the Grade 3 Saranac Stakes. Emaraaty won the Grade 3 Barnard Baruch Stakes last month. Masen won the Grade 3 Poker Stakes at the distance of this race in June before a third-place finish behind Casa Creed in the Fourstardave. Set Piece enters the race off a win at the distance on grass in the Grade 3 Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup Stakes. Another recent stakes winner is Gray’s Fable, who won the Evan Williams Turf Mile Stakes before finishing fifth behind Somelikeithotbrown in the Mint Million, a race in which Atone (one of the also-eligibles) was second. Dark Shift is another also-eligible, bringing a six for 12 record into the race including a neck defeat in a handicap race in England when last seen in July. Natural Power and Greyes Creek round out the field, both also-eligibles entering Saturday’s race off allowance level wins and never having been competitive in a stakes race to date.
Top Win Contenders:
Ivar has been adeptly handled by trainer Paulo Lobo and may be able to duplicate the feat of winning this race in 2020, which he did at odds of 14.40-1. Prior to that, Ivar had raced three times in his native Brazil, winning all three races impressively. After getting acclimated to U.S. racing and winning his second stateside start in June 2020, he was rested two months and returned to finish third in the Tourist Mile Stakes at Kentucky Downs – and then four weeks later won this race with a career best 122 Equibase Speed Figure which remains the best figure earned by any horse in this field in a North American race. After a fast-finishing fourth behind Order of Australia in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile, also run at Keeneland that year, Ivar was rested for six months, returning in 2021 to finish fourth in this race in his second start off the layoff. He then finished a rallying third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, held last year at Del Mar. Once again rested for many months, Ivar ran a lot better in his 2022 debut than one year earlier off the layoff, winning the John B. Schuster Memorial Stakes in July. Given a short rest similar to 2020, Ivar made his next start at this level in the Woodbine Mile Stakes, and although he was no match for 5 ¼-length winner Modern Games, he rallied from 10th in the early stages to get second by a neck. That effort earned him a 113 figure, which could set him up to repeat his win two years ago on Saturday.
Casa Creed finished fourth behind Ivar in the 2020 edition of this race, and then checked in 12th of 14 in the Breeders’ Cup Mile that year. Returning in January of 2021, Casa Creed earned a 117 Equibase Speed Figure when second in the Tropical Turf Mile, and then three races later won the Jaipur Stakes, earning his first Grade 1 stakes win. That form was short-lived as he lost three in a row including an eighth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile, in which Ivar as noted above finished third. This year has been a different story, particularly his two most recent races. In June Casa Creed repeated as the winner of the Jaipur Stakes with a 105 figure, and then two months later won the Fourstardave Handicap, earning a 112 figure in the process. Now on a pattern for another improvement in form and figure, Casa Creed could have a big say in the outcome of Saturday’s Coolmore Turf Mile.
Set Piece appears to be another top miler who is on the improve and who can do well in this situation. He proved that when closing from last of six to win the Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup Stakes last month with a 112 figure, the same figure he earned winning the Wise Dan Stakes in June 2021. Set Piece has experience over the course, having been beaten just two lengths this past April in the Maker’s Mark Mile Stakes, the spring equivalent of this race. That effort came after he took seven months off and I’m pretty sure trainer Brad Cox had wished for a race under the horse’s belt before attempting to win the Maker’s Mark Mile. Now, with four races since then, including two wins in graded stakes on turf, Set Piece has a similar potential to Ivar to be closing fastest of all in the stretch and win this year’s Coolmore Turf Mile Stakes.
Here are some notes about three others who are contenders but may be ever so slightly a cut below the three above. Santin is two-for-two at this mile turf trip and four-for-eight in his career. The wins at a mile came two years ago, but one of them was at Keeneland and that’s a positive factor. He enters the race off a 113-figure effort winning the Arlington Million, and two races before that he won the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic Stakes on Kentucky Derby Day with a 115 figure which, if repeated, would be competitive against the top choices.
Order of Australia is attempting to use this race as a prep to become the fifth horse to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile more than once. When winning the BC Mile at odds of 73.20-1 in 2020, he was making his first start in the U.S. and coming off a ninth-place finish in Ireland. In 2021, Order of Australia finished 12th and last in the Keeneland Turf Mile and then went back to Europe instead of competing in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Similar to last year, Order of Australia enters Saturday’s Turf Mile off a runner-up effort in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, earning a very strong 122 figure, but it remains to be seen if he will run as well as he did in 2020 or as poorly as he did last year.
As for Smooth Like Strait, the best description about him is that he shows up with his “A” game every time. However, his “A” game hasn’t been good enough to win at this level in his last seven races, all in Grade 1 or Grade 2 company. He has finished second in six of those seven races, and third in the other, which happens to have been the Maker’s Mark Mile this past spring, where Smooth Like Strait led from the start and for the first six furlongs, then battled head and head for the last quarter mile before losing by a neck and a nose. He ran just as well in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Mile five months earlier, leading from the start and coming up a half-length short at the wire to be second with a career-best 119 figure. He’s a good bet to be on the lead early but battling with Somelikeithotbrown, who has the same running style. Smooth Like Strait will likely fight hard to the wire as always, but just like in his last seven races, he could give just enough ground to other horses in the final strides to come up short.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Annapolis (107), Atone (111), Classic Causeway (110), Dark Shift (102), Emaraaty (110), Gray’s Fable (114), Greyes Creek (106), Masen (110) Natural Power (108), and Somelikeithotbrown (118).
Win Contenders (in probability/preference order):