Racing continues to be the only game in town, and the only outlet for your gambling dollar. While other professional sports continue to sit on the sidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, thoroughbred racing has figured out how to operate safely without fans in attendance. Churchill Downs has a fantastic 11 race card today full of fascinating handicapping challenges sure to test even the savviest of horse players. The late pick 5, featuring all stakes races, including the Matt Winn – now a prep on the road to the delayed Derby in September – should provide a nice reward to those who can efficiently navigate the sequence.
Race 7 – The Shawnee
This main track contest for older fillies and mares features the return of two upper echelon contenders in the distaff division last year. Chad Brown finally gets his chance to see Dunbar Road underneath the twin spires this afternoon. He desperately wanted to run the filly in last year’s Kentucky Oaks, but her runner-up finish in the Gulfstream Park Oaks left her just shy of the necessary qualifying points. The daughter of Quality Road went on to win the Grade 2 Mother Goose at Belmont and the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga last summer in the sophomore division prior to respectable showings against older fillies in the Spinster and Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Brown does a great job getting his runners ready to perform off the bench, but this is no easy task for her first start in over six months.
She’s A Julie became a grade 1 winner over this track on Oaks Day last year by defeating eventual Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Blue Prize in the La Troienne at this distance. She has a tactical edge over the field in that she is really the only horse in the race with any early lick at all. She has put in some spirited works at Keeneland in preparation for her five-year old debut, but the Steve Asmussen trainee must overcome a layoff of over seven months.
Vault has a recent race under her belt. She endured a rough trip in an allowance race at Oaklawn just three weeks ago. The Jump Start filly will be making her second start for Brad Cox, who excels with horses second off the layoff (34%). Prior to heading to the sidelines at the end of November, she reeled off 3 straight victories by a combined 19 lengths. The display of confidence in running her back quickly in a much tougher spot could indicate that she is now ready for a big performance.
Race 8 – The Tepin
This is a wide open affair for three-year old fillies on the lawn. Sharing took the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last fall to cap an impressive 3 for 4 campaign. Trainer Graham Motion can certainly have his runners ready to fire off the bench, but he has picked an incredibly difficult spot for the daughter of Speightstown’s sophomore debut. Alms is perfect in 4 starts and will likely head straight to the front under Paco Lopez. She has yet to be truly tested, but certainly faces a stiff challenge breaking from the far outside post. A stakes winner in France, Outburst is now 2 for 2 stateside after her gutsy triumph in the Florida Oaks. Javier Castellano takes the return call on the daughter of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Outstrip, and it is telling that he had been the regular rider of Moral Reasoning for Chad Brown.
Race 9 – The Blame
Diamond King will look to control the pace from his outside draw in this one-turn mile for older runners, a solid prep for next month’s Stephen Foster. The son of Quality Road is a major threat to take this group all the way. Mr. Money is 3 for 4 at Churchill Downs including wins in the Pat Day Mile and Matt Winn last year. His first start as a four-year old was forgettable, a sixth place finish beaten more than 10 lengths against a tougher group of horses in the Oaklawn Mile. He may not have taken to the wet track that day and could certainly rebound back at his home base.
Owendale took home three Grade 3 trophies last year, and also ran a bang-up 3rd in the Preakness. His runner-up effort in the Clark last fall indicates a fondness for the Churchill surface. While his best effort is certainly good enough, this is a tall task in his first start in over 5 months. Global Campaign is the top choice. He has the benefit of a tightener, having conquered decent foes in a Gulfstream allowance event late last month. The one-turn mile should suit him perfectly, and he picks up Jose Ortiz in the saddle.
One last contender worth consideration is Everfast. He showed considerable promise with a cracking podium run in last year’s Preakness and makes his second start for trainer Jack Sisterson here. He prepped with a very respectable second place finish behind a decent horse in Dessman, in an allowance at Oaklawn a month ago. He showed some new found early speed that day and backed that up with a bullet breeze at Keeneland last Friday. Furthermore, Joel Rosario takes the irons for the first time since that breakthrough effort at Pimlico last May. Don’t sleep.
Race 10 – The Matt Winn
Maxfield may well have been the favorite in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after his tour de force in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, but an injury discovered the week of the race forced him to the bench for an extended recovery. He has been training exceptionally at Keeneland for his highly anticipated return, and his class may be just enough to carry him in this spot.
Pneumatic is an intriguing prospect for Steve Asmussen. The Uncle Mo colt has done nothing wrong in two starts and probably has enough speed to avoid too much trouble from his inside draw. Ny Traffic looks very dangerous in this spot. He is cutting back in distance from a second best effort in the Louisiana Derby, and certainly has the speed necessary for Paco Lopez to control the pace to his liking.
Race 11 – The War Chant
One of the more difficult pieces of the late pick 5 puzzle, this one mile challenge for three-year olds on the grass could see anyone end up in the winner’s enclosure. Hieronymus reeled off three straight in Louisiana over the winter, and if that form shipped with him to Kentucky he should be tough in here. Smooth Like Strait will likely go straight to the front under Johnny Velazquez. The mile is probably as far as he wants to go, but the lack of pace is certainly to his advantage. Field Pass is perfect this year with a pair of neck victories in the Dania Beach over the Gulfstream lawn and the Jeff Ruby over Turfway’s poly track. A horse moving in the right direction, he is clearly capable of finding the wire first in this test.
Best of luck with your wagering. Follow me on Twitter @chadlashbrook for more racing insights and selections.