Hit the Road allows Dan Blacker to call himself a Grade 1-winning trainer. He also allows Blacker the luxury of having “the right horse” for a course, like in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile.

Hit the Road-Maker's Mark
Hit the Road scored his first Grade 1 win in last month’s Frank E- Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita. He goes east in search of No. 2 in Friday’s Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland. (Image: Benoit Photo)

And, Hit the Road allows Blacker the luxury of hitting the road – taking his West Coast dominance east for the first time. Blacker has that luxury because, with Hit the Road, he has an energetic, hungry, 4-year-old who brings a four-race winning streak into Keeneland.

The Maker’s Mark Mile anchors Keeneland’s Friday slate. The $300,000 Grade 1 provides a nice early barometer for male older turf milers. And Hit the Road is one of the top members of that genus.

“He’s a really good horse. He’s a Grade 1 winner and there is not much better than that,” Blacker told Keeneland’s Amy Owens about the son of More Than Ready.

Hit the Road 2-for-2 in 2021

That became true last month at Santa Anita Park where Hit the Road hit the gas down the stretch for a neck victory over Smooth Like Strait in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile. He passed Smooth Like Strait and the fading Flavius in the stretch, then held off the surging Count Again, who closed from ninth entering the stretch to finish third by a half-length.

The Kilroe Mile victory at 4/1, in turn, came a month after Hit the Road rolled to a 3 ¾-length victory in the Grade 3 Thunder Road Stakes. This came after a seven-month layoff, bringing with it a career-best 111 Equibase Speed Figure as the 3/1 third favorite. In fact, only once during his four-race winning streak did Hit the Road hit the gate as the race favorite.

That came in the start before the Thunder Road – the Black-Type Oceanside Stakes last summer at Del Mar. Hit the Road went off at 8/5 and dismissed his 11 rivals. Before that, Hit the Road hit his win-streak road in May 2020 with an allowance optional claimer win at Santa Anita.

How well will Hit the Road hit the road?

“A couple of things I am looking for is to see how he handles the ship, and I am doing my anti-rain dance,” Blacker said. “I would prefer it to be firm tomorrow.”

Heavy rain is in the Lexington forecast for Friday, which may explain why 4/1 Hit the Road isn’t the Maker’s Mark Mile morning-line favorite. Or maybe, it’s the presence of another turf mile monster, Raging Bull (7/2).

Another Grade 1 winning miler, Raging Bull finished third by a neck to War of Will in the Maker’s Mark Mile last year. He finished fourth in 2019. The 6-year-old Raging Bull, who owns Grade 1 wins in the 2018 Hollywood Derby and 2020 Shoemaker Mile, gets Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz.

Raging Bull, Sacred Life a formidable Brown contingent

Raging Bull and co-second favorite Sacred Life (4/1) come to Keeneland from Chad Brown’s turf armada. Both are making their 2021 debuts.

Speaking of the Shoemaker Mile, Blacker said that’s Hit the Road’s likely next start. Back on his home Santa Anita turf on Memorial Day. Blacker said he considers Hit the Road a miler, ruling out the nine-furlong Grade 1 Old Forester Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby undercard May 1.

“My gut feeling is that he is a miler,” Blacker said. “If I did run him a mile and an eighth, it would be at Santa Anita.”

Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile/Keeneland

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

  1. Get Smokin, 8/1 (Junior Alvarado/Thomas Bush)
  2. Hit the Road, 4/1 (Florent Geroux/Dan Blacker)
  3. Somelikeithotbrown, 6/1 (John Velazquez/Mike Maker)
  4. Sacred Life, 4/1 (Javier Castellano/Chad Brown)
  5. Darain, 8/1 (Luis Saez/Brad Cox)
  6. Ride a Comet, 6/1 (Tyler Gaffalione/Mark Casse)
  7. Fling Scotsman, 30/1 (Corey Lanerie/Jack Sisterson)
  8. Raging Bull, 7/2 (Irad Ortiz Jr./Chad Brown)
  9. Field Pass, 8/1 (Joel Rosario/Mike Maker)

Hit the Road owns six victories and nearly a half-million dollars in nine career starts. Meanwhile, Blacker is building a reputation as one of the most underrated turf conditioners in the country. This year, he’s winning nearly 24% of his grass starts. There’s nothing wrong with niches like that.

Of course, having a turf monster like Hit the Road certainly allows Blacker that luxury.

The pick: Hit the Road. It’s tempting to give Raging Bull the nod here, and the wet turf could swing this any which way. But this is clearly a horse in form, running his preferred distance with an A-list rider (Florent Geroux) who knows Keeneland. Why can’t Hit the Road win his fifth consecutive race?