Day One of the World Championships was fantastic! We saw the future of our sport in the Future Stars Friday races. Now we see the championship contenders for all divisions. Here is my full card analysis:
It is the Super Bowl of horse racing this weekend. The Breeders’ Cup World Championships kick off Friday at beautiful Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky with so many championship races and many of the best horses in the world. The action begins with Future Stars Friday, where the next best horses will square off in five championship races. Check out my full Friday analysis below and enjoy the races!
On a farm in Kentucky, or Florida, or Maryland, or California, or Virginia, or even New York, about 20,000 foals looked into the sky and imaged themselves blanketed in roses come May of their three-year old year. Now, only sixteen of those have reached the pinnacle of the dreams, making it to the starting gate under the Twin Spires. In a year unlike any other, a year where the First Saturday in May becomes the First Saturday in September, where Mint Juleps are sipped on the couch rather than track side, where the hats populate twitter rather than the winners circle, and the roar of the crowd is just a little bit farther away. For the breeders, this is a culmination of patience, knowledge, work, and most importantly, hope; for the owners, this is the dream of a lifetime – and one they will never forget; for the trainers, this represents everything going right; and for the jockeys, this is a career defining moment. Everyone wants to be the lucky connection to have their horse enter the gate, and even luckier be the one crossing the finish line first and taking that garland of roses in the winners circle used just once per year.
So now, we stand – distantly – and watch these stars of the sport all take time a chance at immortality – its the Run for the Roses, the Kentucky Derby. This year, it takes a special spot in the calendar… generally the kickoff of the Triple Crown and the culmination of the spring racing schedule… but now it is the second leg, following the shortened Belmont Stakes, and a major prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in just two months. To get there, fifteen of these three-year olds will need to get the heavy favorite Tiz the Law, who won that Belmont Stakes in his home state of New York before capturing the Travers Stakes in easy fashion. Since the calendar turned to 2020, he has cruised past his foes race after race, starting in Florida with the Holy Bull-Florida Derby double. And while he had to wait a bit longer to get his spot in Kentucky, he hasn’t disappointed along the way. But now, he has his toughest test – many other top three-year olds are here to contend, including the one to his outside, Authentic, the winner of the Haskell Invitational, or the one to his inside, Honor A.P, the Santa Anita Derby winner. In most years, they would be right up there in odds – but this year is far from like most, and when you have someone as accomplished and as dominant as Tiz the Law – he deserves to be odds on. And then you have the new shooters, the ones that wouldn’t have gotten into the gate had this race been in May, including Shared Belief Stakes winner Thousand Words, hard-trier Mr. Big News, and the ever improving Attachment Rate.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Derby Day without a thrilling supporting card, led by the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic and the Derby City Distaff. And even more special, the Iroquois, which will give us a glimpse at some of the horses that may be racing next May. With that, let’s get starting looking at this amazing card of stakes action.
Race 8 – American Turf (G2)
Three-year old turf stars go in this mile and a sixteenth affair. Smooth Like Strait has taken the favorite spot on the morning line following his wins in the War Chant over this course and the La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar; hall of famer John Velazquez gets the call once again and looks to take this in a stalking trip. But he takes on a much tougher group than before. He should be a short price once again, and if the Friday betting was anything, he could be close to even money; I can’t take that. Rather I like the horse to the outside, (8) Fancy Liquor; he has been improving in his last three races on turf, including a win in the Caesars at Indiana Grand. The Indiana Grand form has been holding really well, and he has been trending up in his performances. With Florent Geroux back aboard, he should get out to a clear lead and could coast away wire to wire with this one. Additionally, at a slight price I fancy (3) Sugoi on the step up. Coming out of lesser, he was a sharp winner last out Ellis Park in just his second start in the Michael Tomlinson barn. He didn’t really need to expend anything last time out but was visually impressive. Finally, don’t count out (4) Field Pass, who has made a name for himself as of late. Last out he found a lot of trouble, but if he can get a clear trip, he can contend with just about anyone.
Race 9 – Pat Day Mile (G2)
The old Derby Trial Stakes, the one turn mile, has historically been a speed favoring race. With how speed favoring the main track at Churchill was on Friday, it would not be surprising to see a gate to wire winner. That is where (7) No Parole comes in to this for me. He crushed the Grade One Woody Stephens in June and relishes these one turn sprints. While I do think the one turn race is (6) Tap It To Win‘s specialty, No Parole should be the one leading early and taking the field first down the stretch. I’ll be boxing both of these horses up as they should be the ones dueling at the end.
Race 10 – Iroquois (G3)
Future stars of the sport line up for the Iroquois, shortened back to one mile this year, which brings in eleven two-year olds with a win on their belt. For me, I am going with the Steven Asmussen trained (3) Super Stock, winner last out in the Texas Futurity at third asking. He has speed and prowess and has shown great progression in each subsequent start. Looks to be just a bit more conditioned than the rest of the field.
Race 11 – Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2)
This race always holds a special spot for me, where I saw Tepin win back to back and helping add to her amazing legacy, and where I made quite a payday with Coffee Clique leading my trifecta many years ago. This year, we have eight fillies and mares lining up, all looking to get a win on the road to the Breeders’ Cup, including last year’s Distaff Turf winner Beau Recall and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Newspaperofrecord (we all remember how easily she cruised home over this course that day). While Beau Recall was coming into last years in good form, this year she is a bit off her balance and just not looking the same. Meanwhile, (4) Newspaperofrecord is back to her old self after three head scratching efforts, with now wins in the Intercontinental and Just A Game. I like her to cruise here on this effort, even with the jockey change. However, I do think I have to give a long look at (1) She’sonthewarpath, who comes here improving and posting some of the best figures of the group. She should appreciate the mile distance and gets an advantage from the one post. Her turn of foot puts her right there with the rest of them.
Race 12 – Derby City Distaff (G1)
Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint hopefuls go in this elite Grade One, formerly known as the Humana Distaff, to try and take the lead in this division with two months left. The current leader of the pack, the Madison winner Guarana, does not show up here, and instead leave it to many of the horses that finished behind her, including Mia Mischief and Bell’s The One. On the other end, (8) Serengeti Empress returns to the site of one of her greatest wins, when she won the Kentucky Oaks just last year. Now sprinting, she showed she has the stuff in wining the Ballerina last out at Saratoga ahead of Bellafina. I love her stride going the seven furlong trip and think she is a must use on all tickets. I’ll be playing her alongside Churchill Downs lover (6) Sally’s Curlin and Madison runner-up (1) Mia Mischief.
Race 13 – Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1)
One of the top turf races every year is the Turf Classic on Derby Day! This year is no different, with some of the top turf stars coming to Churchill Downs. Last out, (9) Somelikeithotbrown took the lead and shocked many in his win of the Bernard Baruch last out at Saratoga, taking it gate to wire. He is one of the only ones that shows any forward pace here and, while I’m not a huge fan of the outside post, should get a simliar trip with Gaffalione aboard. I’ll also be playing (8) Sacred Life for Chad Brown, who we have yet to really see at his best… he was pushed forward in class to try the Pegasus World Cup Turf, a valiant forth, and then only really seen storming home in the Oceanport. He could be the next Chad Brown star of the stable. And he has some top back class, finishing second to Ghaiyyath back in 2018 at Longchamp; Ghaiyyath is arguably the best horse on the planet currently.
Race 14 – Kentucky Derby (G1)
Finally, we get to the big one, the Run for the Roses! Let’s go horse by horse through this field:
(1) Finnick the Fierce – scratched
(2) Max Player – been improving well each time and looks better as the races have gotten longer. The switch to Steven Asmussen is positive and should help, but the inside post is far from ideal. While he does seem to be getting better, he also continues to grow more distant from Tiz the Law – not a great sign.
(3) Enforceable – an early bloomer that hasn’t found his stride again. His figures are improving and should be one closing late, but not sure if this track will let him gain much ground.
(4) Storm The Court – the defending Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion hasn’t shown the same prowess; his try on turf last out was more of a “we don’t know” than a good impression. If he wins, he wins… but I can’t fathom a bet on him.
(5) Major Fed – Finished second in the Indiana Derby last out after a troubled trip. His starts against this class of company haven’t been super endearing, but he may be in better form now. Worth a play depending on the price. Workouts have been a big positive.
(6) King Guillermo – scratched
(7) Money Moves – currently a wise-guy play, this Pletcher trainee will be trying takes company for the first time. It is really telling that he sent him here rather than keeping him at Saratoga for the Jim Dandy. He is worth a shot with a good stalking trip and should break much better than last out. Longshot chance for the exotics.
(8) South Bend – this ones a closer that just keeps getting better. While he had no chance to close last out at Saratoga, he should get a bit better pace in this spot. His figures put him near the top contenders and if he can get a clear run might be able to pick up some of the exotics.
(9) Mr. Big News – an intriguing one for W. Bret Calhoun; he has been training on turf as of late in the lead up for this start. Well beaten in the Blue Grass, the Oaklawn Stakes winner will try to right the ship. I’m excusing his last effort and giving him a chance at some money in the exotics.
(10) Thousand Words – the Shared Belief winner has had an up and down career, with highs like the win in the Los Al Futurity and a complete disaster in the Oaklawn Stakes. Still, he shows up when he needs to. He isn’t perfect, and is still a bit below most of this field, but isn’t one to discount. But, he is a need the lead type, and he won’t get that here.
(11) Necker Island – Chris Hartman loses the blinkers here and takes the third place finisher in the Ellis Park and Indiana Derbies to this one. Necker Island hasn’t been nearly as good as the top three, but taking the blinkers off may help him find his finishing kick – he is always well places late before fading so this could be the changer here. I’ll use him in the exotics.
(12) Sole Volante – he will definitely get overbet here. He had no chance going one turn in the Belmont Stakes and the increase in distance won’t help. Just not cut for this.
(13) Attachment Rate – he is on an upward progressing trend to watch. While he still is looking for his first stakes win, hes been getting better and getting closer with each start, albeit finding trouble. If he can just keep clear of trouble, he has a huge chance to upset here.
(14) Winning Impression – Dallas Stewart finds his longshot in this one. Fourth in the Arkansas Derby, he has been a hard trier in his last two. But with no pace to close in, he had no chance. Should get more pace today and could find himself finishing fast for a chance at the show money.
(15) Ny Traffic – the aptly named New York bred, even if traffic is a thing of the past this year, has been just missing in his last three, with a case of seconditus. But that is just more of a reason to watch out for one that has an extremely good late kick and is sitting on a huge effort. Beware!
(16) Honor A.P. – Mike Smith and John Shirreffs team up with this one, that loves to shift around on the track. He didn’t show much last out in the Shared Belief, but had a lot more winning the Santa Anita Derby. Yet, this will be his first test. I’m just not a fan.
(17) Tiz the Law – the Belmont Stakes winner has not flinched in his attempt to capture the Kentucky Derby. He cruised easily in the Travers Stakes just a month ago and has been training well. There is little that I can knock on him. A star in the making.
(18) Authentic – it was nearly a loss late in the Haskell last out as he just held off a fast closing Ny Traffic. Can this son of Into Mischief go a mile and a quarter? And can he take them gate to wire? Not quite sure.
As you can tell, I’m fully on (17) Tiz the Law and team Barclay Tagg & Sackatoga Stables. It should be a dejavu moment under the Twin Spires. I will be using (15) Ny Traffic, (13) Attachment Rate, and (8) South Bend underneath to get some value. But this should be an easy show for the current leader in the clubhouse.
With that, go grab yourself a Mint Julep, a nice seat, and a spot near the TV cause this should be one exciting Kentucky Derby Day!
The fillies may be running for the lillies many months after the fact, but a star studded matchup between Gamine and Swiss Skydiver makes this race just as exciting if not even more so than usual. While the Kentucky Oaks headlines the card, it is backed by many races that may have a play on the Breeders Cup in a few months, with the Eight Belles, Edgewood, Alysheba, La Troienne, and Twin Spires Turf Sprint rounding out the stakes action on the day.
Race 8 – Eight Belles (G2)
Three-year old sprinting fillies go here with the winner most likely being aimed at the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint next time out. A field of 7 goes here, including the duel-Grade 3 winner Four Graces. Early speed usually takes control of these types of races at Churchill Downs, and that is exactly the type of style (7) Four Graces is known for; she will be my top pick in here. She will face a tough challenge from the Brad Cox barn with Mundaye Call, who romped to a 7 1/4 length win in the Audubon Oaks at Ellis Park. However, the class edge for Four Graces gives her the edge for me.
Race 9 – Edgewood (G2)
We head to the turf for the next one, as a field of turf three-year old fillies will go the mile distance. Having been won by many fantastic fillies in recent memory, like Concrete Rose and Catch A Glimpse, this is generally one of the classiest races on Oaks Day. The heavy favorite here, without a doubt, is the H. Graham Motion trainee (3) Sharing, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf champion of last year who turned her Tepin Stakes win earlier this year at Churchill Downs into a runner up effort at Royal Ascot in the Coronation Stakes. She has had blitzing workouts leading up to this race and should be the one coming home clear late. I’d add in (6) Pranked at a price – she has been improving with each effort and showed a lot of tough finishing an off the pace 2nd last out.
Race 10 – Alysheba (G2)
What better way to get prepped for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland than on the other side of the commonwealth at Churchill Downs. The Alysheba has some of the top handicap horses in training showing up, including last year’s Classic runner-up and defending Alysheba champ McKinzie, Oaklawn Handicap winner By My Standards, and fan-favorite Bodexpress. For me, (3) Owendale gets the nod; he had a completely wide trip last our in the Stephen Foster which took away all chance, but his Blame Stakes win was ultra impressive. He got time off and has been working well. The inside post will pose well for him. Should get a good run under Florent Geroux. I can’t back By My Standards or McKinzie, both of which had head scratching efforts as of late and just seem like they are lacking the finishing kick recently. (1) Silver Dust on the inside is one that could pose well here; he’s another that got wide and touch runs but moving to the inside and his early speed could give him enough to crack the money.
Race 11 – La Troienne (G1)
Distaffers go in this Grade 1, which drew four last out winners. While Midnight Bisou won’t be showing up here, Vexatious and crew will have to get past Monomoy Girl, winner of nine straight races, including the Ruffian Stakes last out and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Can she be beat? Hard to say. She might be another chalk that we will have to eat, as she looks to tough. I have to put (8) Monomoy Girl on top of my tickets – she is an absolute star. But I have some nice prices to put aside her in (7) Lady Kate, winner of the Groupie Doll last out who has a lot of speed to contend, and (5) Risky Mandate, who has been improving each out and is one to watch.
Race 12 – Kentucky Oaks (G1)
Finally it is time for the headliner of the day – the Kentucky Oaks! The routes to this race have been anything but normal, as is par for the course this year. But nonetheless, we have an absolute showdown between Swiss Skydiver, a filly that was aimed at the Investec Oaks for a time, and Gamine, the lightly raced Baffert that ran away with the Acorn on Belmont Stakes day. And don’t leave out the rest of this group, which includes the Santa Ysabel winner Donna Veloce (runner up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies too), Ashland winner Speech, Indiana Oaks winner Shedaresthedevil, and Monmouth Oaks winner Hopeful Grace. Going horse by horse, (1) Swiss Skydiver shows everything that I’d want in an Oaks winner – the ability to rate, relax, and turn up the gears when needed; she nearly beat the boys in the Blue Grass earlier this Summer and looks tuned up after her Alabama win. As for (2) Tempers Rising, this one should be charging late at the end; with a lot (read: hot hot hot) of pace here, there will be plenty for this closer to run after and should grab a spot in the money. Donna Veloce has been sitting on the sidelines for more than six months, missing much of the action this year and only starting once all year – she has talent, but this long layoff just isn’t the type of pattern for me. Speech is an interesting one; she took the very easy Ashland at Keeneland once Swiss Skydiver defected for the Blue Grass, just one race after beating Speech in the Santa Anita Oaks; she has been second best for much of this year (even when going behind Gamine) and I expect just the same – but should be one to include in exotics. As for Gamine, she has been lights out around one turn this year in the Acorn and the Test, but two turns isn’t necessarily her thing – I don’t know how she will stay on top against a hot pace and down the long Churchill Downs stretch. Bayerness, the aptly named daughter of Bayern, has not shown too much going shorter this year – perhaps she steps up here (but probably not). The Indiana Oaks winner (7) Shedaresthedevil has caught my eye for Brad Cox – she had a mix of results early, with trainer changes of Norm Cassee and Simon Callaghan, but she seems to have found her stride the Cox barn; her Indiana Oaks win was visually impressive and I’m excited to see what she can do with her return to Churchill Downs (a track she loves). Hopeful Growth and Dream Marie on the outside are two coming out of the Monmouth Oaks, but no Monmouth magic is expected for me – both tosses.
Race 13 – Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G2)
One of my favorite races of the weekend every year is the 5.5 furlong dash on the turf – the Twin Spires Turf Sprint. This year horses are coming from pretty much everywhere to tackle this turf sprint, and a major prep for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. For me, this race will depend on if (2) Wellabled can go gate to wire – he has the speed to do just that, and has really improved with the switch to turf, but this will be his toughest test yet. If he can’t, (10) Carotari and (4) Bound For Nowhere will be right on his tail to take over late.
There you have it. While it may be a chalky Friday, it is sure to be a good Friday, and a nice prelude day leading up to Saturday’s action of the Kentucky Derby! Enjoy!
The greatest day in harness racing is finally here! In a year unlike any other, it is such a relief to find a day that is so familiar – Hambletonian Day. While I won’t be on site for the race for the first time in five years, I’ll still be watching and betting from home with a nice bottle of whiskey.
Anyway, this Hambletonian card has 16 races – including 14 stakes – headlined by the 95th edition the Hambletonian, harness racing’s most famous race. One of the best races on tap may be the Sam McKee Memorial Free For All Pace – featuring Breeders’ Crown winners Dancin Lou and American History and the Graduate winner Hurrikane Hanover – which is a wide open championship pacing affair. Also we will see three phenomenal mares, Manchego, Atlanta, and Shartin N in their respective races, including Atlanta once again taking on the boys in the stacked John Cashman Memorial.
With that, let’s get to talking about the races:
Race 1 – N/W $20,000 L5 Pace
The opening race of the day is a nice group of ten going in this non-winners of 20k. Lots of open and preferred handicap horses drop into this spot to start our day off. I do think (5) Angers Bayama is a tough one to beat coming out of his back to back wins at the Meadowlands; Andrew McCarthy stays in the bike aboard a hot horse who truly has been getting better with each go. He is really taking to the big mile track and should be the one here going gate to wire. I’d also look at (4) Shamwow underneath for some value.
Race 2 – Shady Daisy Pace
Now we move into the stakes part of the card, although only five 3yo fillies go in this pacing affair. But no wonder it is short – trying to contend with the Breeders’ Crown and Mistletoe Shalee champ (3) Reflect With Me is no easy task. She has been on a tear since coming back this season and is getting better as the season gets longer. A definite single in this spot.
Race 3 – Dr. John R. Steele Memorial Trot
Our next race brings us to another fabulous female with Breeders’ Crown champion Manchego. We saw the fastest trotting mare ever brush off a similar field last year in the Allerage Farms Mare Trot at the Red Mile enroute to the world record time – and should be doing much the same. (5) Manchego is a freak on the front end, as she proved in the Spirit of Massachusetts last week, winning in world record time. She won this race in a 1:50 over Hannelore Hanover last year and looks to do the same once again. I’ve very much liked what (4) Felicityshagwell S has shown since coming to the US and is still improving. She has been finishing well in her last few and should be able to grab some pieces late.
Race 4 – Continentalvictory Trot
Named for the 1996 Hambletonian winner, this trot for 3yo fillies comes up with former Hambo Oaks hopefuls. The PA invader (6) Dip Me Hanover is who I lean towards here. She ended up facing some very salty PASS races in her last few, but has some great back form against similar that puts her in a good spot here. Another PA invader to watch is (7) Sweet Shirley Mae who comes in off two in the money efforts and looks to get back to a full mile track.
Race 5 – Muscle Hill Trot
Named for the 2009 Hambletonian winner, this Hambletonian prelude features a trotter that I really liked coming out of the NJSS action earlier this year in (9) Jula Trix Treasure. He just didn’t move all that well late against the company in the Tompkins-Geers and Hambo Elim last two out, but does get a lighter test in this start. The other two for me are (6) Beads and (8) Chestnut Hill coming out of Hambletonian eliminations. Beads finished up well in the Stanley Dancer Memorial behind Ready For Moni two back and should get a favorable trip here while Chestnut Hill has a lot of back form to look at as he tries to get back to his winning ways for Nifty Norman.
Race 6 – Jim Doherty Memorial Trot
Something I love about Hambletonian Day is getting to see the future stars of the sport shine in the 2yo stakes affairs. Hypnotic AM captured this race last year with Brian Sears enroute to a Breeders’ Crown third and a start in the Hambletonian Oaks later today. (5) Darlene Hanover pushed through late in the elimination last week and looks to be the one to beat here. She finally broke her maiden last out but was showing a lot of late closing kick in all her starts prior. She will get challenged by the talented (10) Altar, who won the NJSS division earlier this year, but was DQ’ed from 3rd last out in the elimination, ending her two race win streak. Meanwhile (4) Material Girl is knocking on the door and isn’t a trotter to leave off any ticket. And if you are looking for a price, watch out for the very expensive 2yo (9) Ineffable with Brian Sears – he saved a lot in the tank last start and should come out guns blazing.
Race 7 – Sam McKee Memorial Pace
The former US Pacing Championship that has since been renamed for the legendary announcer and all-around fantastic guy Sam McKee, who we lost much too soon, has come up as tough as usual. Multiple high level stakes winners come into this major pacing event ready to take home the ultimate prize. While most will lean on the Breeders’ Crown champ Dancin Lou, I head to (3) Hurrikane Emperor to take down this field again. He is in a similar form cycle as he had in his win in the Graduate last month against similar company and has had two good tuneups in the NJ Maturity legs. He shows his A+ game against top class company and absolutely thrives at the Meadowlands.
Race 8 – Peter Haughton Memorial Trot
Future Hambletonian hopefuls head to the track in this featured 2yo event. This is a pretty wide open affair and you could go in any direction here. I am sticking with (5) Locatelli who comes in off skipping over the eliminations. One of the fresh faces here, this 2yo just came up short closing late in the NJSS division but showed a lot of promise with his good closing kick. He was drawn on the far outside that day which got him shuffled back and out of place early. While Yannick chooses off for (4) Type A, who comes in out of PASS action and is a huge threat, I like Dexter Dunn in this spot trying to get Locatelli towards the front early – major threat here.
Race 9 – Hambletonian Oaks Trot
The first of our featured races of the day, the Hambletonian Oaks could go in just about any direction. (11) Panem gets the second tier draw here, although should be fine as the one she tracks should be trying for the lead early. She has been coming up just short in her last two (Reynolds and Del Miller) but has been showing a really quick turn of foot down the lane late and looks to show that here. She won’t have Ramona Hill to deal with which will be a huge plus for her. I do think that (7) Sorella and (2) Next Level Stuff could get the win here as well, as both have been in great form as of late, but their might be a bit too much jostling up front for me to be confident in either.
Race 10 – John Cashman Memorial Trot
Hambletonian winners Atlanta and Marion Marauder face off once again. Last time they squared off on the same track was at Scioto Downs last year in the Muscle Hill, with Atlanta getting the best of the field. Will we see that again today? I think so. (2) Atlanta is an absolute freak, especially when she gets an inside draw at the Big M. However, she never had to face someone like (7) Gimpanzee, who has been dominant thus far on the season, sweeping his three legs of the Graduate and winning the Hambletonian Maturity. It should be a good duel down the lane between these two champions. My upsetter here would have to be (6) Lindy The Great, who can truly toy with the best of them when he is hot; he can come from the clouds late and should be a threat if there is enough speed on the front end. (btw, don’t count out Jimmy Takter on Hambletonian Day – he finds a way back into the card he dominated for so many years as he drives Don’t Let’em)
Race 11 – Hambletonian
Finally time for the big one – the Hambletonian. The tremendous filly Ramona Hill showed she fits against the boys in her miraculous win from tough trip last week in the elim. Meanwhile, Stanley Dancer winners Ready For Moni and Back Of The Neck draw to the inside and try to take home the top prize. Not to be undone, Breeders’ Crown champion Amigo Volo got back to his winning ways when heading over to PA but wants to get a win here on the biggest of stages, something his sire Father Patrick was unable to do. And it wouldn’t be right without talking about the Ron Burke/Brian Sears entry in Sister Sledge, the other filly in the race, who showed her stuff two back in the Tompkins-Geers; she trotted real well to a solid fourth in the elim last out and looks primed to go. I have really liked (2) Back Of The Neck since the trainer switch from Marcus Melander to Ake Svanstedt. Scotty Z is in the bike and has been getting the most out of this son of Ready Cash; he looked to have put away the field last out in the elim only to find Ramona Hill surging late in style. That wasn’t his 100% and he should have a lot left in the tank for this one. His pace figures put him in really good position here and drawing to the inside should help him hit the front on what should be a speed favoring surface after the rain dries up from Friday night.
Race 12 – Vincennes Trot
An invitational preferred trot, this one is a staple of the Hambletonian undercard (or post card in this case). The ageless Jl Cruze ends up here against a good field of former stakes performers. For me, (1) Muscle M Up is the one to watch. He went up to Plainridge a few back to content against Manchego and Atlanta in the Spirit of Massachusetts, but didn’t get anything going there. Back to the Meadowlands he went and he just needed a race to cool down. He has been going against much tougher company but gets a spot and a draw that should favor him to get the lead and carry it away. Additionally, (2) Mission Accepted with Yannick Gingras in the bike is a dangerous one at a slight price. This is a much easier spot than what he has seen at the Big M and should like the trip he looks to get.
Race 13 – Cane Pace
The first leg of the Pacing Triple Crown brings us a future star of the sport, (6) Tall Dark Stranger. Go back and watch his Meadowlands Pace win and try to tell me that didn’t give you chills. He fought the whole way down the lane against Papi Rob Hanover and wouldn’t give an inch. He had a tune-up effort in the Tompkins-Geers last week to prep him for this start. I love him here and already think he is on to a magical season. A price in this somewhat short field may be (8) Chief Mate – who has been knocking on the door as of late and came up just short in the Adios last out.
Race 14 – Sam McKee Memorial Consolation
Lot’s of excellent pacers tried to get into the Sam McKee but will have to do with the consolation. This race is where I come with two of my biggest prices of the day: (4) Filibuster Hanover and (5) Donttellmeagain. While both are a bit past their prime, they had no chance against the top pacers last out. Yet, against similar company to what they find here, they have excelled as of late. I give them a huge leg up in this field, even at a price. Speed figures put them in a very well verse spot here.
Race 15 – Lady Liberty Pace
The Horse of the Year, Breeders’ Crown Champ, and two-time winner of the Lady Liberty looks to make it three in a row here. (5) Shartin N is by far the best pacing mare in training (if not the best pacer in training) and it isn’t even close. She had a rare defeat two back in the Dorothy Haughton (formerly known as the Golden Girls) but that isn’t anything to worry about. Let’s see if she can do it again.
Race 16 – N/W $10,000 L5 Pace
One last race to close out a tremendous day of harness racing and a very nice sixteen race card. For me, my close out of the day lies in the outside horse, (10) Lets Roll and Corey Callahan. Getting back to the Meadowlands should do this horse well, and the slight drop of class might be exactly what he needs to get back to his winning ways. Hoping to finish the day with a nice price.
It is a huge day in the Garden State! Two of the premier racing days of the year in the state fall together, with Monmouth Park starting the day with the Haskell (G1) and its undercard, including the United Nations (G1), Monmouth Cup (G3), Matchmaker Stakes (G3), Molly Pitcher (G3), and Wolf Hill, and the Meadowlands just up the state finishing with their premier pacing race, the Meadowlands Pace, which completes a huge card of Grand Circuit racing, including the William R. Haughton Memorial and Dorothy Haughton for older pacers and two divisions of the Stanley Dancer Memorial, which will give us a glimpse of our Hambletonian contenders.
With that, let’s go into my selections for all the stakes races on the day (and linked free PPs available as well, presented by Brisnet and Trackmaster/Meadowlands):
Monmouth Park Race 9 – WinStar Matchmaker (G3)
(2) Feel Glorious – was running on well late in the New York; should favor this course well and is eligible to improve in 2nd start since layoff
(4) Varenka – needed last race at CD to get back in form; has shown strong ability and finds a lighter spot here than last few
(8) Xenobia – posted a great figure in first start of the year against much tougher; has an excellent turn of foot late and should get an ideal trip
Monmouth Park Race 10 – Monmouth Cup (G3)
(7) Joevia – Suffered from too much pace pressure in last two starts, but has little early challengers this time; loves Monmouth Park and has been improving in his starts this year; will be tough but could pull the upset
(4) Harpers First Ride – Moving up in class here should be no problem; figures put him right in this field and is on the improve in form; strong finishing kick against super slow early paces makes him intriguing
(8) Just Whistle – Had too much to do last out but eligible to return well here; has some of the best figures in the race and gets Joe Bravo aboard.
Monmouth Park Race 11 – United Nations (G1)
(9) Paret – An absolute standout on form and figures here; has some of the best turf speed in the race and looked really good in his seasonal debut against better – a must use
(8) Corelli – eligible to improve off first domestic start; has good backform from time in GB and should improve with blinkers and lasix added – worth a shot at the price
(5) Aquaphobia – was closing in well in last two and improving on paper; put in good workouts leading up to this and gets Bravo aboard – contender
Monmouth Park Race 12 – TVG.com Haskell (G1)
(1) Dr Post – my single on the day; complete standout in this field and is coming into this race in really good condition off that :48 flat 4f workout; showed a lot of game talent finishing well in the Belmont Stakes behind Tiz The Law and will enjoy the two turn trip much better
(6) Ny Traffic – should be forwardly placed early and that will greatly improve his changes; hit two monster horses in last two while showing toughness in both races – sharp and gets Paco Lopez aboard for a second straight race
(2) Authentic – his Santa Anita Derby behind Honor A.P. put me off this horse; he has some green left in him and I’m not sold that going a route distance is really his thing, but his talent still towers over much of this field and needs to be considered
Monmouth Park Race 13 – Wolf Hill
(9) Shekky Shebaz – while I may want to give this runner a first start under the Clement barn, he does seem to be the highest rated horse here; his gate speed is truly spectacular and should give him an edge here on the Monmouth turf
(5) Dubini – needed the last race off the layoff, this one should get better now in second start of the year and the return to Monmouth Park; has the turning kick to catch anyone down the stretch and gets Paco aboard – lot to like on figures too
(2) Lonhtwist – last out was just way too tough for him, but the step down in class is just what he needs as he gets a group he can beat; big striding horse that should take to this turf better than Belmont, which he seems to just not like based on his past runs there – this could be the upsetter
Monmouth Park Race 14 – Molly Pitcher (G3)
(11) Horologist – heading to the Bill Mott barn might be the best move for this talented filly; she had troubled tips in the Apple Blossom (against much better) and in her runner up finish in the Nellie Morse, but this trip should favor her – and she is 4 for 4 at Monmouth against similar company
(9) Sweet Sami D – had a good return to the races in an OC at Delaware Park but now gets back against the stakes company she ran against last year; her tune-up looked like she still had more to give and should improve stepping here
(5) Vault – Mike Smith has a live runner here after she ran a huge second last month in the Obeah at Delaware Park, though making the decision to come here as opposed to last weekends Delaware Handicap is intriguing; still this looks to be a good spot for her as she continues to improve this year – a possible star in the making for the Brad Cox barn
Meadowlands Race 2 – Miss Versatility Trot Leg 3
(6) Manchego – winning the first leg of this series a few weeks ago over Atlanta before coming back to finish a second to her rival, the Breeders’ Crown Champion doesn’t need to worry about Atlanta here; should cruise to an easy victory in this one
(5) Felicityshagwell S – improved in both of her first PM starts in the US for Ake Svanstedt, this mare has shown promise – maybe this will be the chance she shows what she is worth
(1) Kenziesky Hanover – developing as a great trotter, the Cullipher trained daughter of Cantab Hall has been knocking on the door as of late; the switch to being more forwardly placed, and getting the one hole, should help her stay near the lead in the end
Meadowlands Race 3 – Del Miller Memorial Trot
(1) Sorella – the PA star made the switch over to NJ when Nancy Takter took over training this year; so far shes been the talk of the town – with three straight wins including a 1:50.2 (26.3 LQ) trotting mile in the Reynolds last out
(5) Panem – Dexter Dunn has had this one trotting fire as of late, keeping up with Sorella last out and winning just two back; this fits her well and if she can improve a bit, might get past her rival as they head towards the Hambletonian Oaks
(8) Hypnotic Am – last year’s Doherty winner came back with two warm up trots against lesser at Tioga and Vernon (and grab some of that NYSS money); she has been a force on the front end and should be dueling with Sorella throughout
Meadowlands Race 4 – Stanley Dancer Memorial Trot (Div. I)
(6) Back Of The Neck – a last out winner in the Reynolds and finished a good open trot behind Sorella two back (ahead of Synergy and Breeders’ Crown champ Amigo Volo), the Ake Svanstedt Hambletonian hopeful has a lot in the tank; his two straight :26 and change last quarters are eye opening for me and Scott Zeron has been driving very well this year
(5) Play Trix On Me – Linda Toscano brings in a tough NJ-bred trotter by Trixton; crushed through the NJSS company before making the step up in the Reynolds – needed that first trot but showed promise and should move up with Tim Tetrick in the bike
(1) Real Cool Sam – one of the favorite horses on the ground, as named for the late, great Sam McKee, won the Peter Haughton Memorial last year at the Meadowlands before a 4th place finish behind Amigo Volo in the Breeders’ Crown; now he makes his season debut after three straight qualifiers – I want to give him one start, but his talent keeps him up near the top for me
Meadowlands Race 5 – Stanley Dancer Memorial Trot (Div. II)
(9) Capricornus – the second division is where I find my upset on the day; tried to trot on the front end in the Reynolds last out before tiring like many that day, but just needed that race on the big mile – should step up a bit and take better to the track tonight
(7) El Ideal – last year’s Valley Victory champion returned in the same division of the Reynolds as Capricornus, but was spinning wheels last after being on the front end; I wasn’t a huge fan of how he finished, and looks like he might need on more race, but I don’t want to be the one who left him off my ticket if he trots by everyone
(3) Chestnut Hill – coming back to the big track off a tuneup on the short Pocono Downs course may be what the Nifty Norman trainee needs; he trotted alright two back, but looks to be showing more – improving and moving forward well in last three
Meadowlands Race 6 – Mistletoe Shalee Pace
(1) Jk First Lady – the Three Diamonds winner makes her return to stakes company in the fillies version of the Pace; her closing kick is one of the best in the field and her pacing miles turn some heads – in really great condition after the 1:49.4 qualifier and should return to her form she had to end 2019
(2) Peaky Sneaky – right to Jk First Lady’s outside is a Nancy Takter trainee that isn’t one to forget; right there in pacing times, she has been getting better with every start and seems to love the Meadowlands; should be the dueling late
(6) Rocknificent – taking a step back down in class off a win against a bit tougher in the PASS at The Meadows, the daughter of Captaintreacherous returns to the big mile in good form; her figures pose a big challenge for anyone and Zeron in the bike makes her a tough out any time
Meadowlands Race 7 – William R. Haughton Memorial Pace
(6) Dancin Lou – older pacers take over the card here, although misses some of our leaders from the Graduate series; but we do get 3rd place finisher in the Graduate, Dancin Lou, who has been spinning wheels very quickly in his last few – gets a big lighter test here and should be the one pacing home in fron tat the end
(5) Backstreet Shadow – Tetrick takes the Roll With Joe winner back to the Meadowlands after a qualifier tune up; when given the front lead, he isn’t one to give him up, and although he is going against much tougher here, his figures put him right in the mix
(1) This Is The Plan – the Hoosier Pacing Derby winner is looking to return to the top of open company again, and has the chance here; he showed good promise in the Roll With Joe, but needs the longer track to get going – Meadowlands switch is exactly what he needs
Meadowlands Race 8 – Hambletonian Maturity Trot
(1) Forbidden Trade – last year’s Hambletonian winner comes back to the site of his biggest success after a pretty good finish to 2019 at Woodbine Mohawk; Zeron give him a good tuneup here last week, trotting clear ahead of Jl Cruze, but now gets his usual stakes company to contend with – lots to like with him
(7) Reign Of Honor – 2020 has been kind to this son of Father Patrick, as he has been trotting well in his three starts and getting better each time; solid post should put him in good position and the elongated 1 1/8 mi should favor his style and late kick
(13) Gimpanzee – would be higher up here if he wan’t coming from behind here; the easy winner of the Graduate series – sweeping two legs and the finals, he is trotting in great form and is one to watch; not sure he will appreciate the added distance and starting from behind against a really great field might not be the best – but one to watch nonetheless
Meadowlands Race 9 – Meadowlands Pace Final
(5) Tall Dark Stranger – Gingras and Takter team up with one that wowed everyone last year up at Woodbine Mohawk and even moreso last week in the Pace Elim, pacing clear on the front end the whole way without giving an inch; he towers over the field and is the big one to beat tonight
(3) Captain Barbossa – just did what he needed to do in the Elim last week, the Tony Alagna trainee has been improving this year off what was a very nice 2yo season; saw a lot to like in the last three and should be pacing home strong down the stretch
(9) Papi Rob Hanover – the only one to have beaten Tall Dark Stranger in the Breeders’ Crown Elim (and in the final before being DQ’ed to 2nd), this pacer is getting back into form with two good starts to the season; while might be better suited to the small track, the outside post has giving him the ability to keep clear and pace home fast late
Meadowlands Race 10 – Dorothy Haughton Pace
(4) Kissin In The Sand – beating the 2019 Dan Patch Horse of the Year, Shartin N, won’t be an easy task, but I’ve been far more impressed with the miles that Kissin In The Sand has been pacing to start the year; she looks like she developed into a monster pacing mare and excited to see how she does a year older
(2) Shartin N – winner of this race (as the Golden Girls last year) helped her on her Horse of the Year campaign, but that was last year; her early starts this year have just been easy cruises against lesser (much like she did to start last year), which may mean she is beatable; if she is on – she will be dominant, but that scratch out of last time gives me enough to not put her on top, but still a must use in this spot
(3) Trillions Hanover – pacing behind Kissin In The Sand last out, she had a great tune-up for this major race; she is growing up well as a 4yo now and I think she might be the best of the rest here
In a year unlike any other, the Triple Crown has been turned on its head with our historically longest and final race now the shortest and first leg of the trio of classics. While not unprecedented in the history of the Belmont Stakes (having had five difference distances in its history, much more than the two distances the Kentucky Derby has been run at, though short of the seven different distances of the Preakness), the Test of the Champion feels a bit less at nine furlongs compared to the tradition twelve. Due to Belmont Park’s unusual size, what is usually a lap around the track at most North American venues, this 1 1/8 mi race will be an elongated sprint, coming out of the chute, down the backstretch, and then around just one turn before turning down the long homestretch. Yet, do not plan on speed winning out – last year’s fall meet at Belmont had it even across running styles.
Turning to this year’s card, a field of ten lines up for the first leg of this year’s Triple Crown. Though not the full field that many suspected, after many defects of the top three year-olds over the last few weeks changed the face of this series, we do have a good field, headlined by the Florida Derby winner and morning line favorite Tiz the Law. Seventeen years ago, these same connections tried their hands at the Belmont Stakes (and the Triple Crown) with Funny Cide; now they look to win the race that eluded them on that day. But his test will not be easy – as last out winners Tap It to Win, Sole Volente, Max Player, Fore Left, and Dr Post will all be trying to make it back-to-back. Speaking of Tap It to Win, his trainer Mark Casse came away with this race just a year ago with Sir Winston – he looks to make it two straight, and his third American Classic in three years.
And with that, let us take a look at the contenders.
(1) Tap It to Win – Mark Casse/John Velazquez – 6/1
Coming out of a 1 1/16 mi allowance over the Belmont one-turn course, this lightly raced Casse trainee is one that loves to take the lead and never look back. A sharp runner, he took his prep just gate to wire without even being tested. A no doubt winner last out, Tap It to Win has grown well since his two-year-old season. After two well beaten races in Kentucky to finish up his inaugural season, his first start of the year going sprinting was just what he needed. Now he tries to wheel a Belmont Stakes win off no stakes starts in 2020, which is quite a difficult task. Nonetheless, John Velazquez stays aboard and looks to capture his third Belmont. His pedigree screams a Classic winner – sired by Tapit out of a Medaglia d’Oro mare – which gives him a big push up here.
(2) Sole Volante – Patrick Biancone/Luca Panici – 9/2
It is not often we see top class horses come back on ten-days rest any more in the US, but here we are with this son of Karakontie. Last out at Gulfstream Park, Sole Volante came from way back to catch the leaders, including early Derby choice Ete Indian, and closed with class and purpose. Between his starts in the Tampa Bay Derby and Sam F. Davis, both times needing a lot of urging to get going, he cruised through this one turn mile as if he just wanted to run. His step up a furlong could matter, but as long as it is around one-turn, he is going to be a major threat. Sticking with Luca Panici seems to bee the best option, as he always gets the top work out of him. His current form cycle puts him peaking in this race. He will be a major player here.
(3) Max Player – Linda Rice/Joel Rosario – 15/1
Sporting the colors of one of my favorite Belmont Stakes winners of all time – Ruler On Ice – this George & Lori Hall runner is coming off a long layoff to try and contend here. Last time out, Max Player was coming from behind to sweep by and capture the Withers on what looked to be a very testing from behind. While not at all a strong field, his win showed a lot of grit and determination. His figures put him in a decent spot, and he has been training sensationally in the mornings. A win here by him would not surprise me at all, but I do think he needs a race before this.
(4) Modernist – William Mott/Junior Alvarado – 15/1
Coming out of Louisiana, the Risen Star winner and 3rd place finisher in the Louisiana Derby is Bill Mott’s chance to win here. Possibly targeting the Ohio Derby, Mott changed course and decided to try his hand at Belmont Park. But perhaps the Thistledown feature might have been a better choice. He struggled to get on in the Risen Star and took over the lead and cleared a tiring group late. Then in the Louisiana Derby he never moved an inch down the lane, looking exhausted late. I am just not sure this race sets up for him. He does have a very sharp workout in his belt coming in, but I am not sold.
(5) Farmington Road – Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano – 15/1
Pletcher’s first of two in this one, Farmington Road comes out of a very flat Arkansas Derby attempt. He was well beaten by Nadal and King Guillermo, showing almost no move. His prep in the Oaklawn Stakes was lost at the start but did show some promise rallying from way back. Nothing in his form is showing that he is a contender for this one.
(6) Fore Left – Doug O’Neill/Jose Ortiz – 30/1
I am somewhat shocked by the 30/1 figure on the Doug O’Neill trainee, who looked excellent in winning the UAE 2,000 Guineas. While we have no idea what he would have done in the UAE Derby, which looked to be his next target, he cruised on gate to wire in the one-turn mile affair. I was extremely impressed by his gate speed and his late cruising speed was one to remember. While he did get distracted down the stretch, I would not worry too much about that here. While the layoff may be too much to overcome, he is still worth a long look, at the very least for the exotics.
(7) Jungle Runner – Steven Asmussen/Reylu Gutierrez – 50/1
This is an intriguing starter for Asmussen. He has not shown much at all racing against lesser in most of his starts, outside of his maiden breaking Remington Park score and the Clever Trevor – though neither race was overly impressive. Since stepping up, he has not been able to compete at the top level, beaten a combined 62 lengths in his last three. Pass.
(8) Tiz the Law – Barclay Tagg/Manuel Franco – 6/5
Now we get to the favorite – Tiz the Law. A son of Constitution, the Florida Derby winner comes in off great speed figures and back to back wins. His Florida Derby win was by far one of the best wins for a three-year-old this season. He can be a good breaker when he wants to and has the form cycle to take this. His worktab has been sub-optimal since that Florida Derby win, however, which does worry me. Nonetheless, the last time he was at Big Sandy, he took the one-turn Champagne Stakes with ease and looks to do so again. A deserving favorite off his last two efforts, he will be fighting down the stretch. One to watch the whole way around.
(9) Dr Post – Todd Pletcher/Irad Ortiz, Jr. – 5/1
Pletcher brings his second chance in off a big step up in company, coming out of the Unbridled Stakes at Gulfstream Park. A maiden breaker in his first start on the year, he poses a huge challenge for anyone in this group. Last out he sat patient the whole way around before fighting down the stretch, squeezing in between horses, and then finishing with a bump and run. Still young, he looks to have a lot of promise and is nothing to balk at. I do think he wants to go longer than this, but the long stretch at Belmont Park should aid him in the stretch out. Watch out!
(10) Pneumatic – Steven Asmussen/Ricardo Santana, Jr. – 8/1
The better of the two Asmussen runners, the third-place finisher in the Matt Winn looked to have the win down the stretch last out before coming up with just shorter strides than his foes Maxfield and Ny Traffic. Lucky for him, neither of them are here, but he still has nine others to contend with. For me, he seems better suited elsewhere, as his finishing ability is just a tad too short for this, but nonetheless one to watch. His current training cycle suits well for him, with a nice bullet workout earlier this month before a tuning just days before the race – the same thing Asmussen did prior to his last start.
Winner: (1) Tap It to Win
His last few have been building up to this race superbly. Casse waited till May to get a run under him on the year, which I thought was perfect for this. He came out of a live non-winners of one race down at Gulfstream Park before flashing early speed and never looking back last out at Belmont. Personally, I do not see another runner that can go with him early – and he is the type to grab the lead and not let go. I am ready for him to impress.
Hit The Board: (9) Dr Post
Maybe I am living too much on his last race, but his ability to battle and push away in the Unbridled Stakes last out showed me a toughness that I do not see in any other runner. He was able to catch an alright pace up front and push his way to the wire in a short stretch. He should relish the extra distance. He is progressing nicely in his last two and should be sitting on a big one.
Longshot: (3) Max Player
While probably needs another run before being a contender, that does not mean that he cannot be prominently finishing. He is primed to be gaining ground throughout and tracking the stalkers – positioning himself for a one run to the finish. While probably not on the pace of the winner, he should be able to pick off some horses to grab a spot.
Of course, I would not ignore Tiz the Law or Sole Volante in any bets – both pose a challenge in this field. But I am not quite on board with either as a win contender and I do think that Dr Post offers a bit more value and better chance of hitting the board behind Tap It to Win (or possibly even winning the race as well).
The Belmont Stakes is always a race where anything can happen, even when its shorter and much earlier than its other Classic counterparts. Even with the changes, it is still the Test of Champions and the start to the much awaited (and delayed) 2020 Triple Crown.
As we turn the calendar to June, we find ourselves at the final leg of the Triple Crown – the Belmont Stakes. A field of ten line up to show the world what they can do, here in the Test of Champions. For these horses, they will do something they may never do again in their careers, race at a mile and a half on the dirt. Both speed and stamina is tested as the field takes a trip around the famed New York oval, Big Sandy.
While most of the top horses that we saw on the Road to the Kentucky Derby will be sitting at home, we do get the Preakness winner, War of Will, to show up, competing in all three legs of the Triple Crown. A good case can be made the he could have been the winner of the Kentucky Derby, had it not been for Maximum Security. And yet, here we are – no Derby winner in the field (neither of them) and a race far from filled with star talent – but this may be one of the toughest Belmont Stakes in recent memory. With favorites drawn wide and many with the pedigree to go long, its hard to land on just one horse to win here – there is no clear favorite, unlike many of the previous years, and rather a collection of talent that outlasted the spring grind. With that, let’s go through the field.
As the Black-Eyed Susans bloom and the racing world shifts to Baltimore, a different vibe comes upon this year’s Preakness Stakes. Horse racing has been in the public eye these past two weeks – just moments after a historic disqualification of Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby the world has been abuzz about what will happen next. Controversy surrounded the sport, this time for good headlines, while everyone carried an opinion. No longer was horse racing talked about by its loyal fans – now everyone, from the paperboy to the janitor had something to say. As the sun sets on the Twin Spires and the mist rolls in at Old Hilltop, its time to move on to the Second Jewel of the Triple Crown, just without a Triple Crown.
When the sun comes up over Louisville on Saturday, shining down on the roses and through the twin spires, it will be time for the greatest two minutes in all of sports. Few moments in sports can capture so much history. Winners. Champions. Legends. They all come together in the heart of racing. It is neither the oldest, nor the longest Triple Crown race, yet it is the most important. It was 1875 when Aristides was the first to come down the famed Churchill Downs stretch and be named the winner of the Kentucky Derby. Yet it wasn’t until the 1890s when the race truly became what it is today, with the famed twin spires as the backdrop of a mile and a quarter test for the garland of roses. Ben Brush, the first to taste the roses, became an instrumental part of the pedigree of 48 of the past 50 Derby winners.
Just a year removed from a Triple Crown, our second this decade after a long, and at many times seemingly endless, drought, we begin again with a new set of three year olds, all with a chance to cement themselves in history. As the sun sets on Churchill Downs, a winner will be crowned, perhaps even a champion, and maybe, just like a year ago, a legend will be born. Twenty horses. Ten furlongs. Two minutes. One victor. 145 years of history – all down to 1.
Kentucky Derby weekend is unlike any other. While the Breeders’ Cup may have the champions, Royal Ascot the pageantry, Saratoga the unchanged history, and Dubai the riches, nothing shares the same feeling that is felt come the First Saturday in May. Moments after the Breeders’ Cup Classic wraps up, the focus of racing shifts away from the championship division and goes towards a bunch of then two year olds, all full of energy – and inexperience – that are gunning for one goal, be one of the twenty in the starting gate come 6:50pm on May 4th. As the months tick by, the list slims and the cream of the crop rises to the occasion. Races, in all corners of the world, name their representative to send to Kentucky. From California to Florida, Ireland to Japan, horses across the world compete for much more than putting their name on a local trophy. This weekend is another such occasion, when a culmination of months of work joins to one.
This weekend, champions of yesterday and today will arrive to the famed circle of Churchill Downs to compete for the ultimate prizes. While we will watch many greats race on the undercards on Friday and Saturday, the features are for the three year olds in the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks. With that, let’s get into my selections for the weekend. I will note, these races were handicapped for a projected wet ground, as heavy rains are in the forecast for the weekend in Louisville.