Serengeti Empress winning the Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 8, 2020.
Serengeti Empress winning the Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 8, 2020.|NYRA / Chelsea Durand

Garrity picks the Saturday Stakes undercard at Churchill Downs: 6 great races with great fields, including the return of Serengeti Empress

Garrity's first race is the 8th at 2:55 pm EDT.

Chris Garrity

The Kentucky Derby is the headliner on the day, of course, but we will repeat something we say every year: Do not ignore the stakes races on the Derby undercard. These are sensational races in their own right, and most years, there are better wagering opportunities in the races before the Derby than there are in the Derby itself. There are six stakes races leading up to the Derby, and we will look at all of them.

The main track at Churchill today will be fast. But three of the six undercard stakes are on the grass, and we’ll take a moment to mention the condition of the turf course: we expect it to be listed as firm by this afternoon, but due to rain earlier this week, it will have just a bit of give to it. We do expect both the dirt and turf courses to be fair and bias-free. Let’s go.

Churchill Downs, Race 8, 2:55 pm ET

Grade 2 American Turf Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Turf, 3-Year-Olds

Eight go here. 4-FIeld Pass is the pick, and he’s a strong one: he’s the lone closer in a race that is loaded with early speed, and he has run well over turf with some give in it. Look for him to be last early, and to pass ‘em all late. We will bet him to win at 2-1. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 8, $50 to win on 4-Field Pass.

Churchill Downs, Race 9, 3:35 pm ET

Grade 2 Pat Day Mile, 1 mile, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds

Nine sophomore colts line up to run a mile in the Pat Day. The field is loaded, just loaded, with early speed, so we’re going with 9-Rushie, who comes into this race after not quite cutting it on the Kentucky Derby trail. He cuts back to this one-turn mile from longer races in his last three, and we think the cutback, plus the fact that the early pace should favor his late-running style, will put him in the winner’s circle. We will bet him to win at 4-1. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 9, $40 to win on 9-Rushie.

Churchill Downs, Race 10, 4:07 pm ET

Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes, 1 mile, Dirt, 2-Year-Olds

A big field of eleven lines up for the Iroquois. The pick is 8-Midnight Bourbon, who broke his maiden in his last start at today’s distance. He’ll need to improve to win this, but we think he will, plus we think that he fits at the distance, unlike some of the other logical contenders, who figure to struggle to get the mile. Look for him to get a good stalking trip from his outside post. We will bet him to win. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 19, $35 to win on 8-Midnight Bourbon.

Churchill Downs, Race 11, 4:39 pm ET
Grade 2 Longines Distaff Turf MIle, 1 mile, Turf, FIllies & Mares 4 & Up

The Distaff Turf Mile features a field of eight, and the likeliest winner of the day: 4-Newspaperofrecord. She’s coming off two terrific wins, and will love the going at Churchill today. Look for her to go right to the front, and win on the front end. She’ll be a short price, so rather than betting her to win, we will play her in the Double (see below) comprising Races 11 and 12. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 11, $40 Double, 4 (Newspaperofrecord) with 8 (Serengeti Empress).

Churchill Downs, Race 12, 5:17 pm ET

Grade 1 Derby City Distaff Stakes, 7 furlongs, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

The Derby City Distaff is a terrific race. The pick is favored 8-Serengeti Empress, and anyone who saw her last race will understand why: She was absolutely sensational beating a world-class field to win the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga. While that race was good -- it was extremely visually impressive, and fast against the clock -- it was actually better than it looked, as she set a wickedly fast pace, so fast that she should have quit at the end, but instead of quitting, she held on to win gamely. The pace scenario favors her much more in this race than it did in her last, as there isn’t another runner in here who can keep up with her early, and she also gets an outside post, a more advantageous spot than in the Ballerina, when she broke from the rail. Look for her to go right to the front, and stay there all the way around the track. We will bet her to win at 9/5. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 12, $50 to win on 8-Serengeti Empress.

Churchill Downs, Race 13, 5:50 pm ET

Grade 1 Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic, 1 ⅛ miles, Turf, 4 & Up

3-Rockemperor, who starts for trainer Chad Brown, has burned a lot of money this year, losing as the favorite in each of his last two races, the Grade 1 Manhattan at Belmont and the Grade 2 Whittingham at Santa Anita. He just missed in both, losing by a neck and a nose, but we think he atones for those near-misses today, sitting mid-pack early, and winning with a strong stretch run. He will love the ground today, and that makes him a strong play at 7/2. We will bet him to win. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 13, $50 to win on 3-Rockemperor.

That’s all for today. Until next time, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.

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