All eyes will be on the very fast PATCHES O’HOULIHAN (#9) in Saturday’s Kennedy Road Stakes (G2), a six-furlong sprint on the Tapeta surface at Woodbine. Can this Ontario-bred and -sired gelding remain unbeaten in 2023 while meeting his toughest field to date?

He’s just a three-year-old, but Frank DiGuilio’s homebred Patches O’Houlihan, trained by Robert Tiller, has caused a stir this year with six wins in six races including four stakes, two of them graded. Some have even mentioned him in the same sentence as Tiller’s great Pink Lloyd, considered one of the best sprinters in Canadian history.

Okay, it’s a little early to be comparing Patches to Pinkie, who, by the way, won the 2017, 2019 and 2021 editions of the Kennedy Road in his illustrious career. But Patches O’Houlihan comes into the Kennedy Road fresh, having not raced since the September 16 Vigil Stakes (G3) which he won by a nose.

‘Patches’ will be odds-on despite meeting nine very good older sprinters, some of whom might try to rough up the youngster on the pace. It’s a great time to shop for a value play.

Class Angle

Class handicapping looks at how good the competition has been that a horse has been racing against. When a horse is meeting tougher rivals, he is going ‘up in class’. Patches O’Houlihan has won consecutive Grade 3 stakes and is now trying a Grade 2. A look at the horses behind him in the Grade 3 events, however, suggest that those rivals likely were not of Grade 3 standard.

In both the Vigil and Bold Venture, Patches defeated Last American Exit (coincidentally bred by DiGiulio), a runner who has never had much success in rare stakes attempts. Last American Exit came back from his near miss to Patches in the Vigil to finish 12th in the Nearctic Stakes (G2) on turf.

Two horses in the Kennedy Road field this Saturday are coming off strong efforts in the Nearctic Stakes and also have solid Grade 1 and/or Grade 2 form. ICE CHOCOLAT (Brz) (#10) is a stretch-runner for the powerful combination of owner Gary Barber, trainer Mark Casse and jockey Sahin Civaci. The five-year-old gelding was third in the Nearctic, just a neck from winning. Ice Chocolat, also third in a Grade 1 in New York on turf this year, was second in the 2022 Kennedy Road.

Ice Chocolat is seeking his first win since October 2022, 10 starts ago.

Trip Angle

The other horse in the Kennedy Road who ran well in the Nearctic was DREAM SHAKE (#3), an American-owned and -trained five-year-old who won on Tapeta at Woodbine in allowance company in July before taking the Connaught Cup (G2) on turf. After failing to handle the turf at Colonial Downs for the Grade 2 Turf Sprint, Dream Shake returned to Woodbine for the Nearctic, which was run on a yielding turf course. Breaking from post 1 in a big field, Dream Shake was shuffled back and outrun early before he launched a big rally, albeit very wide off the turn.

Nearctic Stakes (G1) replay (Dream Shake is #1):

It should be noted that the winner of the Nearctic, Big Invasion, came back on November 5 to finish a close second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita, a terrific frame of reference for Dream Shake and Ice Chocolat.

There should be plenty of early speed for Dream Shake (6-to-1 in the morning line) to run at and the gelding comes in for trainer Michael Stidham off some very sharp workout times at Fair Hill Training Centre in Maryland.

The Kennedy Road wager for bet365:

$10 to win on #3 Dream Shake
$2 Exacta Box #3, #9, #10

Good luck with your wagers!

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