Garrity's first post is 4:08 pm EDT, his last post is at 4:05 am EDT
Stakes racing! It’s back, and in a big way: Churchill Downs cards five stakes today, Santa Anita two, with three of the seven graded. The headliner is the Grade 2 Whittingham at Santa Anita, which is a mile and a quarter on turf.
For the first time in a long time, we can devote an entire Saturday’s play exclusively to stakes races, so we’ll do just that: We’ll look at all seven U.S. stakes, and we’ll include the two graded stakes overnight at Sha Tin in Hong Kong as well. We expect fast dirt and firm turf in all of them, except at Sha Tin, which should be good to firm. Let’s go.
Churchill Downs, Race 7, 4:08 pm ET
$100,000 Shawnee Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
Eight go in the Shawnee, but all eyes will be on only one of them, 4-Dunbar Road, who’s 4/5 on the morning line off her wins in last year’s Mother Goose at Belmont and Alabama at Saratoga. She comes off a layoff today for trainer Chad Brown, as her last race was in the Breeders Cup Distaff, where she finished 5th at 7-1.
There’s nothing wrong with Dunbar Road’s form, but we are going to try to beat her. Horses coming out of the Breeders Cup typically get overbet, and that means there are good prices to be had elsewhere. We think 3-Awe Emma will be an overlay: she’s 12-1 on the morning line, and might be even higher at post time. She has a decided edge in early speed, and should get the lead, perhaps rather comfortably. She has shown in the past that she can be dangerous when allowed to relax while setting the pace, and we think she just may wire this field. We think she’s a threat at a big price, and will bet her to win and place. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 7, $20 to win/$10 to place on 3-Awe Emma.
Churchill Downs, Race 8, 4:40 pm ET
$100,000 Tepin Stakes, 1 mile, Turf, 3-Year-Old Fillies
The Tepin drew a full field of fourteen. It’s a good, deep field, and a sensational betting race, which is why we’re playing a giant longshot: 1-Oxum Power, who starts for trainer Paolo Lobo. With a field this big, saving ground is going to be crucial, and we think that the rush to the first turn, jockeys using their horses to avoid going wide, is going to result in a quick early pace, and that will set the table for a filly coming from well behind. Oxum Power has shown an ability to close strongly, and while she did that on synthetic surfaces -- all three of her career starts were on the lint at Turfway Park -- she has a pedigree that says she should be just fine on grass. Look for her to save ground from her inside post, sitting toward the back early, and to make a big move down the stretch. We will bet her to win and to place at 50-1. The bets: Churchill Downs, Race 8, $25 to win/$15 to place on 1-Oxum Power.
Churchill Downs, Race 9, 5;12 pm ET
$100,000 Blame Stakes, 1 mile, Dirt, 4 & Up
A full field of fourteen goes in the Blame, and the important thing to note about mile dirt races at Churchill Downs is that they are run around one turn, not two like they are at most tracks. This makes them play more like sprints than routes. These races are perfect for what author and noted handicapper Jim Quinn calls the “power sprinter,” a sprint horse who can carry his speed the extra furlong or two. Given the choice, we prefer a horse stretching out from a sprint rather than a horse cutting back from a route.
We mention that because we like a power sprinter here, 14-Diamond King. Trained by John Servis, Diamond King returned from a winter vacation win the Stymie at Aqueduct, a one-turn mile stakes race, and we think that effort should have him razor-sharp today. He has high speed, good stamina, and an outside post, which is a tactical advantage. At 10-1, he’s taking our money: we will bet him to win. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 9, $30 to win on 14-Diamond King.
Santa Anita, Race 5, 5:39 pm ET
Grade 3 Daytona Stakes, 5 ½ furlongs, Turf, 4 & Up
We’re going with speed in the Daytona: 5-Cistron is clearly the fastest horse of the seven entered, and we think that he will get the early lead, and will do so very easily, and that will make it just about impossible for another horse to run him down. We think Cistron wires this group; we will bet him to win at 5/2. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 5, $40 to win on 5-Cistron.
Churchill Downs, Race 10, 5:44 pm ET
Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
The Matt Winn is another Churchill Downs stakes that drew a big field, with twelve lining up to run eight and a half furlongs on the main track. We like 2-Pneumatic, who starts for Steve Asmussen. He’s run twice, he’s won twice, and he was faster in the second race than he was in the first. He’s trending the right way, and we think he will take another step forward today. Look for him to stalk the leaders, and move to the front when the field straightens out turning for home. We will bet him to win at 4-1. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 5, $30 to win on 2-Pneumatic.
Churchill Downs, Race 11, 6:16 pm ET
$100,000 War Chant Stakes, 1 mile, Turf, 3-Year-Olds
Fourteen 3-year-olds go to the starting gate for the War Chant. We think the field size, like in the Tepin, virtually guarantees a fast early pace, and that makes the pick 2-Bodecream. He finished third in his last start, the Black Gold Stakes at the Fair Grounds, but the shape of the race was against him that day: the early pace was slow, which dulled the effectiveness of his late kick. We expect a very different pace scenario today, and that means a trip to the winner’s circle. We will bet him to win at 12-1. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 11, $30 to win on 2-Bodecream.
Santa Anita, Race 8, 7:18 pm ET
Grade 2 Charles Whittingham Stakes, 1 ¼ miles, Turf, 4 & Up
Only seven go in the Whittingham, but the runners make up in quality what they lack in quantity. It’s a talented group. We are going with an East Coast shipper, 7-Rockemperor, an Irish-bred 4-year-old Chad Brown trainee who made his seasonal debut in the Muniz at the Fair Grounds on March 21, where he finished a decent third. This 10 furlong distance is probably his best, he should improve in his second start of the year, and his late kick, which is devastating, should get him to the winner’s circle. Key fact: jockey Irad Ortiz followed Rockemperor out West, and as one of my old Hollywood Park railbird cronies used to say, “He didn’t come all this way to lose.” We will bet Rockemperor to win at 5/2, and we will do so enthusiastically. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 8, $50 to win on 7-Rockemperor.
Sha Tin, Race 4, 2:00 am ET (Sunday)
Group 3 Sha Tin Vase, 6 furlongs, Turf, 3 & Up
Eight go in the Sha Tin Vase, and we’re going chalky: we like 15/8 morning line favorite 1-Hot King Prawn. He finished a close fourth in his last race, the Group 1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize on April 26, but the field he will face today is nowhere near as tough as he faced in that race. The Australian-bred 5-year-old gelding is in the best form of his life, and we expect him to take the trophy here rather easily. We will bet him to win. The bet: Sha Tin, Race 4, $35 to win on 1-Hot King Prawn.
Sha Tin, Race 8, 4:05 am ET (Sunday)
Group 1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup, 1 ½ miles, Turf, 3 & Up
They’ve been running this race in one form or another since 1870, and while the name is a mouthful -- the title sponsor is a Hong Kong-based financial institution -- it’s a Group 1 race at a mile and a half, the classic distance in turf racing. This is international stakes racing at its highest level.
We’re going to go out on a limb and bet that the winner will be trained by either Tony Cruz or John Moore: there are seven entrants, and Cruz trains three, and Moore four. We like one of Cruz’s entrants, 1-Exultant: he’s a New Zealand-bred 6-year-old gelding who won this race last year, and is 3-for-5 career at the 12-furlong distance. Any worries that he may have lost a step at 6 were eradicated by his last race, when he won the Grade 2 EQII Cup at Sha Tin on April 26. That race was at a mile and a quarter, and was his first race off a layoff; the longer distance, and having that race under his belt, should have him even sharper today. We will bet Exultant to win at 2-1. The bet: Sha Tin, Race 8, $40 to win on 1-Exultant.
That’s all for today. Until tomorrow ,enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.