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Derby Day Handicapping Guide


Churchill Downs has loaded up the Derby card with a plethora of high quality graded stakes action, and with all the inexperienced gamblers fueling enormous betting pools, enticing wagering opportunities abound.

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Game Winner triumphs in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. Image via upi.com.

RACE 6, the Grade 1 HUMANA DISTAFF

Amy’s Challenge and Spiced Perfection set a contested pace in last month’s Grade 1 Madison at Keeneland, tiring through a final furlong in a slow :13 and 2.  Adding Mia Mischief to the mix up front this time around should not be to their benefit.  The two Madison returnees were fortunate that field did not include anyone with the closing ability of Marley’s Freedom.  Mike Smith can do as he pleases from the outside draw and mow them down late with this classy daughter of Blame.

RACE 7, the Grade 2 CHURCHILL DISTAFF TURF MILE

The French Guineas is on par with any three-year old turf race restricted to fillies in North America.  A list of its recent conquerors is littered with names like Zarkava, Darjina, Divine Proportions, and Musical Chimes.  Precieuse added her name to that illustrious list with a victory in 2017.  She was given over a year away from the races after a disappointing effort in the Coronation at Royal Ascot and returned last August at Saratoga, missing by just a head to Grade 1 winner Uni.  The Chad Brown trainee tuned up for this with a trip to the Gulfstream Park winner’s circle in the Honey Fox.  She is the class of this field, proven over softer ground, and will be terribly tough to beat in this spot.

RACE 8, the Grade 1 CHURCHILL DOWNS STAKES

Bobby’s Wicked One, Promises Fulfilled, and Mitole are going to go bonkers on the front end and set things up for Whitmore.  This race looks that simple.  If you’re searching for bombers:  Do Share, Majestic Dunhill, Wild Shot, and Uno Mas Modelo are all proven over wet tracks and will be coming from off the pace as well.  Of those, Do Share may benefit the most from the track condition.

RACE 9, the Grade 2 AMERICAN TURF

Avie’s Flatter took the Cup and Saucer by a widening 5 lengths on a yielding turf course over a next-out winner at Woodbine last fall.  He proved his class in his 2019 debut in the Transylvania at Keeneland and should be tracking the pace set by A Thread of Blue from the garden spot.  Josie Carroll can train with the best of them and looks like a major threat to have her picture taken on Derby day.  Chad Brown is always dangerous, especially on the grass, and Digital Age has plenty of upside and will likely appreciate some give in the ground.

RACE 10, the Grade 3 PAT DAY MILE

Most will simply hand this race to Instagrand and that’s a tough opinion to argue against.  He will be forwardly placed in a race without much pace.  By Into Mischief out of a Lawyer Ron mare, he should handle a sloppy race track just fine.  His close 3rd place finish behind two of the Derby favorites at Santa Anita puts him in a class by himself amongst this group.  Interesting alternatives include the 2 horses drawn widest of all, Last Judgment and Global Campaign (if he draws in).  Both should get nice stalking trips just behind the leaders and be ready to pounce should the pace begin to fall apart.  An off-track would be of little concern and the cut back in distance will benefit both.  Captain Von Trapp broke his maiden over a muddy track and is another that should move forward cutting back to a one-turn mile.

RACE 11, the Grade 1 TURF CLASSIC

Bricks and Mortar ran the best race of his life over yielding ground, besting a tougher field than this in the Pegasus Turf Invitational at Gulfstream.  The son of Giant’s Causeway is perfect in his 3 starts since returning from a near 15 month hiatus in late December with 3 triple digit Beyer figures to boot.  Prime Attraction’s best races have been on the grass, and if he can handle the softer going he is a real threat to take this field gate to wire as there is no other early pace to consider.  Synchrony should benefit from the addition of blinkers.  Ticonderoga and Next Shares have both run credible races over less than firm courses in the past.

RACE 12, the Grade 1 KENTUCKY DERBY

Much has been written this week about the 2019 edition of the Run for the Roses being a wide-open race.  While it’s certainly true that any horse entering the starting gate can cross the wire first, the pool of likely winners actually feels relatively small.  This year’s three-year old crop feels very mediocre thus far, and a small handful of colts seems to have separated themselves from the rest of the pack.  Simply put, there are three horses that can win this race.  Game Winner will be a deserving favorite.  An undefeated two-year old champ with a Breeders’ Cup win over the track, the son of Candy Ride suffered the first two defeats of his career in his only outings this year.  The loss to Omaha Beach in the Rebel is pretty meaningless as it was his first start since the Breeders’ Cup and that foe is now on the sidelines.  He had a tougher trip than stablemate Roadster in their Santa Anita Derby battle.  Pedigree suggests neither the off-track nor the 10 furlong distance will be an issue for him.  He is the one they all have to beat.  Tacitus is the leader in qualifying points thanks to victories in the Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial.  He’s done little wrong in a 4 race career and is getting better with each start.  The biggest concern with the son of Tapit is whether he might be a touch too far back early and leave himself at the mercy of finding the right trip.  Roadster was the favorite in the Bob Baffert barn last summer, and then hit the sidelines after a throat issue and subsequent surgery emerged following the Del Mar Futurity.  He returned with a facile score in an allowance event on the 1st of March and then made the most of his one opportunity to qualify for a trip to Louisville.  His half-brother Ascend was a Grade 1 winner at the 10 furlong distance and that grassy piece to his pedigree could also play well on a sloppy race track.  Given his time off following the throat surgery, this colt has been playing catch up and may very likely make another big jump forward on the biggest of stages Saturday night.

Best of luck and Happy Derby Day!

Article written by Chad Lashbrook