First post is 1:30 pm EDT
We have five plays today, three from Churchill Downs, and two from Gulfstream Park. We expect fast dirt and firm turf in all of them. Let’s go.
Maiden Special Weight, 5 furlongs, Dirt, 2-Year-Old Fillies
This is the first baby race of the year that we’ve seen at 5, rather than 4 ½, furlongs. All twelve of the 2-year-old fillies lining up are making their first career start, so this is an exercise in pedigree handicapping, and doping out trainer patterns.
Both align in the form of 3-Beautiful Memories. She’s by Hard Spun, whose progeny seem to be winning every other race these days, and she’s trained by Mark Casse, who wins at a very good 17% clip with first-time starters. Her morning workouts leading up to today have been sensational, showing a level of speed that is very, very impressive in a 2-year-old this time of year. We expect her to zip to the front, and lead this group all the way around the track. We normally do not pay much attention to jockeys, but the presence of top rider Jose Ortiz is a positive sign here, an indication that her connections expect Beautiful Memories to break her maiden this afternoon. We will bet her to win at 2-1. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 2, $35 to win on 3-Beautiful Memories.
Maiden Special Weight, 1 1/16 miles, Turf, Florida-bred Fillies & Mares 3 & Up
A full field of twelve state-breds goes to the post in this maiden turf race. We are looking past the obvious contenders, and looking at a runner with one career start, 4-Art of Law. She’s a 3-year-old daughter of Constitution whose career debut was at Churchill Downs in September, where she failed to threaten, finishing eighth out of ten. We think she can rebound today, and we think that for a couple of reasons: she has been away since that race, and has presumably matured; her morning works leading up to this heat have been good; and most important, she raced against open company last out, and today drops in against state-breds. This is a significant class drop, and we think she can improve dramatically at a big price. We will bet her to win and to place at 15-1. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 5, $30 to win/$10 to place on 4-Art of Law.
Allowance/Optional Claiming, 6 ½ furlongs, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 3 & Up
Seven go in this first-level allowance dirt sprint. Speed and pace figures lead us to 4-Sky Chaser, who comes from the barn of Ron Spatz. He has the best last-race speed figure, and should good a perfect trip, sitting just behind a couple of dueling pacesetters. Look for him to move to the front in mid-stretch, passing the speedsters, and finishing strongly enough to keep the come-from-behinders at bay. We will bet him to win at 4-1. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 8, $40 to win on 4-Sky Chaser.
Allowance, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3 & Up
This first-level allowance drew a field of eleven. We like a 3-year-old, 1-Portos. He’s a Todd Pletcher trainee who looked like he might be a late-blooming Kentucky Derby contender: it took him four tries to break his maiden, but when he did, he did so impressively, which caused Pletcher to move him straight from the maiden win to the Withers at Aqueduct. He did not win that race, but he ran OK; then Pletcher really threw him into the deep end by entering him in the Louisiana Derby, which was an exceptionally tough race this year. Portos barely picked up his feet in that race, finishing last.
We think he still has the ability he showed in his maiden win, but the stakes races in which he last competed were probably too much and far too soon for his current abilities. It would be like a star high school basketball player getting thrown into a varsity game in the toughest league in the city, and getting his head handed to him -- he’s just not ready yet, either physically or mentally, to compete with the big boys. But here, against a group of modest horses, we think Portos can show that he is indeed a good horse. At 4-1, we will bet on it. We will play him to win. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 8, $40 to win on 1-Portos.
Allowance, 5 furlongs, Turf, Fillies & Mares 3 & Up
Ten go in this turf sprint for females. There’s a ton of speed here, and that has us looking for a runner who can sit just behind it and finish strongly. We think we’ve found one, and it’s a filly at a price: 5-Change of Control, who goes for trainer Michelle Lovell. Turf races this short are rarely won by horses coming from way off the pace, but we think Change of Control can get a good spot behind the leaders, who will be absolutely flying early, and then pounce when the pacesetters tire down the stretch. Her last three races have all been turf sprints at the Fair Grounds, and were all turf sprints, and she should be dead fit, and razor-sharp for this. We like her chances, and at 20-1, we will bet her to win and to place. The bets: Churchill Downs, Race 9, $30 to win/$15 to place on 5-Change of Control.
That’s all for today. Until tomorrow, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.