Race 7: The Churchill Distaff Turf Mile – 11-2-9
This race is #11 La Coronel’s race to lose. She’s winless in three starts since the Queen Elizabeth II at the Keeneland fall meet, but has not embarrassed herself in those races, finishing second by four lengths, third by 3/4 of a length, and fourth by three lengths. Even so, her speed figures are the best in the field and she is a classy filly with the tactical speed to position herself well behind expected pacesetter #10 Psycho Sister. However, she’s far from invincible in a race with plenty of other talented fillies and mares, and my top pick to upset her is #2 Thundering Sky. She hasn’t been off the board in her three 2018 starts so far, and is another filly in this race with enough speed to secure decent position in the early stages of this mile on the turf. In her first race of the year, she finished third behind Madame Stripes and Insta Erma in the G3 Megahertz Stakes. She will be facing both of those rivals again in here, but she was most recently seen getting the better of Madame Stripes by half a length when finishing second in the G2 Royal Heroine at Santa Anita, despite being in tight quarters and steadying at the eighth pole. #9 On Leave, for Stuart Janney and Shug McGaughey, is coming off a close defeat in the G3 Honey Fox at Gulfstream Park behind Lull and Res Ipsa. She has never been off the board at the distance of one mile. She’s an incredibly consistent five-year-old daughter of War Front, and can be counted on to run her race. She won’t let the speed get too far away from her, and Jose Ortiz will have options from the nine post.
Race 8: The Churchill Downs Stakes – 10-3-1
#10 Awesome Slew ran his first race off a five-month layoff on April 7th, 2018, following up his third-place finish in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with a runner-up effort behind budding star Army Mule in the G1 Carter Handicap. While his closing style may not be condusive to the way the Churchill Downs main track has been playing the last two days, I believe that he is the best horse in the race and the horse that everyone will need to be looking out for late. He’s never been worse than second in five tries at seven furlongs, a distance that should suit this son of Awesome Again beautifully. #3 Imperial Hint is the 9-5 morning line favorite, and with the way that speed has been holding over this track, he deserves favoritism. He is wickedly fast, and even if he is outsprinted to the early lead by the speedball #2 Chief Cicatriz, he has shown the ability to rate and close in the past, though it hasn’t been necessary as of late. Imperial Hint’s only loss since December 17th, 2016 came in the G1 Breeders Cup Sprint where he was second defeated only a length by Roy H. He won a $100k race for Florida-breds at Tampa Bay Downs in his comeback, receiving a rather inferior Beyer of 92 compared to his six straight triple digit Beyer figures, but the race was so easy for him that it’s hard to gauge what, if anything, he got out of the race. He has two quick works since, though – a bullet four furlongs in :47 1/5 at Tampa Bay Downs and five furlongs in :59 2/5 over this track on April 26th, a move that was the second fastest of 32 on the day. He is the most likely winner of this race due to his style and the way the track has been playing, but I’m willing to give the edge to the classy Awesome Slew in the hopes that a fairly fresh Imperial Hint gets at least a little weakened by the other speed in the race. #1 Whitmore has been off the board only once since cutting back to sprint races following a 19th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. That single poor effort came in the Breeders Cup Sprint, but he has been victories in both of his 2018 starts, posting Beyer figures of 102 in each. He is as consistent as they come at the sprint distance, and while he is known for his big finishing moves, he is plenty capable of getting involved in the race and not allowing the early speed to get away from him.
Race 9: The American Turf Stakes – 1-6-11-3
#1 Speed Franco should be the controlling speed in here, something I think is often underestimated in turf races. His last three Beyer figures have been 90-88-89, and no other horse has posted anything over an 88. I don’t think there’s a horse in here with more talent than him, and the fact that he will likely get an easy lead make him doubly tough in this race. If he is anywhere near the 6-1 morning line price, he is a must-play across the board. Next to him, I think the most likely winner is #6 River Boyne, another horse that I believe has a big future. After three unsuccessful starts in Europe, he ran second in his American racing debut to Blended Citizen, and while he was only an also-eligible in the Derby field, I believe he is a colt with a lot of potential. Following that, River Boyne broke his maiden by five lengths in December of his two-year-old career. He hasn’t lost in his two starts since, including his most recent win in a $200k stakes race at Santa Anita.
#11 Untamed Domain was beaten 2 3/4 lengths by Speed Franco in his most recent turf race on February 3rd – he most recently tried the dirt to no avail in the Tampa Bay Derby. However, he was beaten only a length when finishing second to Mendelssohn in his race prior to that. I’m willing to believe that this colt has improved for Graham Motion since February, and even the slightest improvement puts him right there in this race. #3 Threeandfourpence is making his first start in the United States for trainer Aiden O’Brien, and this colt was only beaten 3/4 of a length by Mendelssohn two starts back on a synthetic surface (he, like Untamed Domain, experimented with dirt in his most recent start; for Threeandfourpence, that was in the UAE Derby, where he was never involved). This son of War Front was fourth behind U S Navy Flag and Mendelssohn in the G1 Darley Dewhurst Stakes, which was his last turf effort. He is a horse to be taken seriously, but a major unknown factor in here.
Race 10: The Pat Day Mile – 7-1-8-3
This race promises to be a competitive affair, and I think it’s a tough race to handicap. I ended up with #7 Madison’s Luna on top. I am looking forward to seeing this 2-for-2 son of Tapit go two turns for the first time. He’s a half brother to two G1 winners and he was very impressive in his score in the G3 Hutcheson last time out, receiving a 92 Beyer in the process. #1 National Flag is another horse that must be respected. After an uninspiring debut as an odds-on favorite, National Flag broke his maiden in his second start in a race where he showed some courage after getting bumped around some in the stretch. He was disappointing in the G1 Hopeful, but returned as a three-year-old to win an Allowance at Gulfstream Park – where he got an exceptional 100 Beyer, – and then took the Bay Shore at Aqueduct in his most recent race. He showed a new dimension in that race, being forced to rate after getting squeezed at the start but making a big move to win by a widening four lengths. He’s by Speightstown, who was himself a sprinter but whose offspring prove exceptionally versatile time and time again, and his dam is by Bernardini and a half-sister to Eddington, who was competitive in graded stakes at up to ten furlongs, so I think the added distance will only help him.
#8 Mask is a very exciting Chad Brown trainee making only his third start after a debut win by 3 and a win in the mile $100k Mucho Macho Man Stakes by over 6 lengths. He is another son of Tapit whose ceiling we have yet to see, and he also comes from a strong female family – while his dam was a stakes winner at 5 1/2 furlongs and is by sprinter Yonaguska, a mile shouldn’t be out of his wheelhouse thanks to the influence of his sire. His dams siblings include Bullsbay (a G1 winner at 9f) and Our Khrysty (a G3 winner at 8.5f). He’s another horse in here who could be any kind, and he showed in his 6 1/2 furlong debut that he is fully capable of rating if another horse wants to gun for the lead, but Javier Castellano will be able to keep him close. It’s worth noting that, while I don’t give him a big shot at the win, there is another well-bred Tapit colt in the race – #3 New York Central for Todd Pletcher is a half-brother to Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar, and if you throw out his Sunland Park Derby at 1 1/8 miles, he fits perfectly with these. This is a horse with a 12-1 shot at winning this race, not a 30-1 shot (as he is on the morning line), and is worth using underneath in exotics.
Race 11: The Turf Classic – 10-7-2-1
I like #10 Beach Patrol on top in this race. He was last seen being defeated only half a length in the G1 Breeders Cup Turf, and he was second in this race last year. Between then, he has been off the board only once – when he was beaten 1 1/2 lengths finishing fourth in the G1 Manhattan. He has run seven consecutive 100+ Beyer speed figures, and as long as he can relax in his first race since last November, I think he’ll be hard to beat in here. #7 Synchrony is two-for-two in 2018 after knocking on the door in stakes company at the end of last year, and while this is a bit of a step up in class after winning in G3 and G2 company in his first two starts of the year, I think he’s the “now” horse, and his Beyers of 102 and 103 in 2018 put him right in this mix. If Beach Patrol doesn’t relax though, the horse that will give him the most trouble is #2 Shining Copper, a horse who used to be simply a rabbit for Ken and Sarah Ramsey, but has really come into his own in his own right. #1 Deauville was beaten 3/4 of a length by Beach Patrol in the Arlington Million last year. In his most recent start on April 18th, he was beaten only half a length in a G3 race in Europe. He needs to have improved since last August, as I believe Beach Patrol has, but he does have the edge of a start in 2018. He’s a very good horse but I think he is likely to be overbet as a European contender.