There is a smorgasbord of racing of the highest caliber today. First picked race, the Grade 2 Eight Belles Stakes, the 8th at Churchill Downs, has a post time of 3:05 pm.
It’s the day before the big day. But unlike Christmas Eve, today we can do more than wait: there is a smorgasbord of racing of the highest caliber today. The Kentucky Oaks is the biggest race of the year for 3-year-old fillies, and highlights the day-before-the-Derby card, just like it usually does in May. But while the Oaks is the headliner, it’s far from the only good race: there are six graded stakes at Churchill Downs today, and they’re all good.
The weather in Louisville will be just about perfect: clearing skies, lowering humidity, and a high of about 80. It will be blue-bird late-summer weather. The dirt course was fast yesterday, and will be fast today, but after a goodly amount of rain this week, the turf course is listed as good. The grass should be fine for racing, but there will be a bit of give in it. We’re expecting both dirt and turf courses to be bias-free, and fair to all running styles. Let’s go.
A very good field of seven female dirt sprinters goes in the Eight Belles. The pace should be somewhere between fast and very fast, which has us picking a closer, 5-Sconsin. Her speed figures are a bit inferior to the top contenders, but we think the shape of the race will favor her: her best races have been when she’s been able to close into a hot pace, and we see exactly that scenario unfolding here. We will bet her to win at 6-1. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 8, $30 to win on 5-Sconsin.
The Edgewood features a field of eight, and the likeliest winner of the day, 3-Sharing. The Graham Motion trainee has won four of six career starts, all on turf, and has hit the board in the other two. And her best race was one she lost: she finished second in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes in June, at the Royal Ascot meeting, to a filly named Alpine Star, who would probably be 1/9 if she were running in this race. We think she’s a standout, a freebie on your Pick 3 and Pick 4 tickets, but because she’s a short price -- 6/5 on the morning line, and likely odds-on by post time -- we will not bet her to win, but instead try to leverage her odds by playing her with By My Standards (see below) in the Double comprising races 9 and 10. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 9, $40 double, 3 (Sharing) with 6 (By My Standards).
Eight older horses go eight and a half furlongs in the Alysheba. We think the race goes through morning line favorite 6-By My Standards: he’s essentially run the same race in each of his last three starts, earning nearly identical Beyer Speed Figures in the process. This was good for a win and two seconds, but the horses he finished behind -- Improbable in the Whitney and Tom’s d’Etat in the Stephen Foster -- are two of the best older horses in training, and there is no horse of that caliber in today’s race.
The question is whether By My Standards is going to make it four in a row today, and we think the answer is yes. He’s a stalker, and there’s enough speed in the field, especially 5-Mr Freeze, to seem to guarantee a fast pace that will set the table for him. We think that By My Standards sits just behind the early pace, in the garden spot, moves to the front on the far turn, squirts clear at the top of the stretch, and holds off the closers late. We will bet him to win at 7/5. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 10, $40 to win on 6-By My Standards.
Older females take the stage in the La Troienne, which drew a good field of eight. The ⅘ favorite is 8-Monomoy Girl, who’s won 11 of 13 lifetime starts, including an impressive score in the Grade 2 Ruffian at Belmont Park on July 11.
At a short price, however, we think that she’s a play-against, as her edge in speed figures is slight, and she’s a speed horse who is almost certain to have some company up front. Put bluntly: she is not going to have an easy trip from a pace standpoint, and being stuck outside, she’s likely to have a tough trip from a traffic standpoint. And we doubt that she is superior enough to the other fillies and mares to overcome those obstacles.
We like 2-Vexatious, who starts for Jack Sisterson. She’s a 6-year-old daughter of Giant’s Causeway who seems to be in the best form of her life, having won the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga last out, and finishing a good second, to Monomoy Girl, in the Ruffian at Belmont the race before that. A fast pace, which we are expecting, will play right into her hands, as she is a stretch runner with the stamina to run all day long. Look for her to be midpack early, and to move to the front when the speed horses begin to shorten stride late. We will bet her to win at 4-1. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 11, $35 to win on 2-Vexatious.
The Kentucky Oaks is the day’s headliner, and what a race it is: the field of nine includes a couple of the better 3-year-old fillies we’ve seen in recent memory. Favored 5-Gamine, who’s undefeated in four career starts, has run off the charts in her last two, winning the Test and the Acorn in eye-popping fashion. Second choice 1-Swiss Skydiver is not far behind, having hit the board in eight of her nine career starts, and won five of them, including a very good win in the Alabama at Saratoga on August 15.
We’re going against both of the favorites, and taking a shot with a filly at a big price, 3-Donna Veloce. She was precocious as a juvenile last year, finishing a close second as the favorite in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies, and looked plenty good in her 2020 debut, overcoming a stumble at the start to win the Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita on March 8. But a minor injury sent her to the sidelines for a while, and this is her first start since. Since she’s been away for six months, everyone seems to have forgotten about her, but we think she just might be sitting on a big effort, at a mammoth price. We will bet her to win at 15-1, and since the Kentucky Oaks only comes once a year, we will do so aggressively. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 12, $50 to win on 3-Donna Veloce.
Carding this race after the Oaks may make it seem like a bit of an anticlimax, but cashing a ticket counts just as here as in any other race. And the Twin Spires Turf is a good betting race: after scratches, a field of twelve will line up to run five and a half furlongs on the Churchill Downs turf course.
We like 4-Bound for Nowhere, who stars for trainer Wesley Ward. He has three things that make him the pick: he’s got high speed in a race that doesn’t have much of it; he has proven form on soft turf, having a win and a close second in soft courses just this year; and Ward, who is a skilled horseman with all types, but who is especially good with turf sprinters. We see Bound for Nowhere taking the prize here in wire-to-wire fashion, and we will consequently bet him to win at 3-1. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 13, $25 to win on 4-Bound for Nowhere.
That’s all for today. Until Derby day, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.