Racing at Churchill Downs.
Racing at Churchill Downs.Coady Photography / @ChurchillDowns on Twitter

Garrity Picks 6 races on the Kentucky Derby Undercard – Derby City Distaff, Pat Day Mile, Old Forester, more

Garrity's first post is 12:04 pm EDT.

Almost all of the attention on the first Saturday in May is on the Kentucky Derby, but the undercard races are worthy of attention, as they are terrific, from both sporting and wagering perspectives. We have plays in six of the races leading up to the big one, and expect fast dirt and firm turf for all. Let’s go.

Churchill Downs, Race 4, 12:04 pm ET

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

The Derby City Distaff, the day’s first major stakes race, drew a field of six. Morning line favorite 2-Goodnight Olive would appear to have impeccable credentials: she’s won seven consecutive races, the last three Grade 1 stakes, including the Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, which just happens to be the biggest race of the year for female sprinters. This is a 5-year-old mare who finished second in the first race of her life – and hasn’t lost since.

So what are we going to do with a mare who on paper looks to be unbeatable? Bet against her, of course: while Goodnight Olive is by far the likeliest winner of the race on paper, she is also going to be the day’s shortest price, probably in the neighborhood of 1/5, and she does not possess that kind of edge, even in a small field.

We like 1-Hot and Sultry. She is a 4-year-old filly who has always had talent, but we give her the nod here because of a pet angle: the cutback. She’s run well in each of her last two starts; both were stakes at a mile and a sixteenth, and she held the lead during the stretch of both, only to be passed late. We think that with the fitness she surely developed in those longer races, she is very dangerous here, and at 6-1, is a much better wagering prospect. We will bet her to win. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 4, $35 to win on 1-Hot and Sultry.

Churchill Downs, Race 5, 12:36 pm ET

Grade 2 Longines Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile, 1 mile, Turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

This Grade 2 turf mile for older females drew eight runners. We are expecting an early pace that is swift, which will play against the speed horses, and in favor of the closers, and the come-from-behinder who looks the best is 7-Fluffy Socks, who should be fresh coming off a layoff of nearly seven months. Look for her to be well back early, and flying late; we will bet her to win at 9/2. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 5, $40 to win on 7-Fluffy Socks.

Churchill Downs, Race 8, 2:46 pm ET

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

Fourteen 3-year-old colts line up for the Grade 1 Pat Day Dirt Mile. We’re taking a shot at one who will be a huge price: 4-Midnight Rising, who has been merely OK so far, in three career starts, but who we think will be much better on conventional dirt, which he tries for the first time in this spot (his prior races were on turf and synthetic). His speed figures are marginally competitive with this group, but the key is the surface: if he’s better on dirt, and we think he will be, then he is a very serious win contender, at 20-1 on the morning line. We think that makes him a good gamble, and will bet him to win. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 8, $40 to win on 4-Midnight Rising.

 Churchill Downs, Race 9, 3:40 pm ET

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

It’s a day for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs, and here, sophomore turf milers, fourteen of them, get their turn. The pick is 2-Far Bridge, who makes his stakes debut after winning his first two career starts. He has a lot of ability, and should be aided by his inside post, which will allow him to save ground around both turns. We will bet him to win at 7/2. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 9, $40 to win on 2-Far Bridge.

Churchill Downs, Race 10, 4:31 pm ET

Grade 1 Churchill Downs Stakes, 7 furlongs, Dirt, 4 & Up

Eleven go in the Churchill Downs Stakes. We’re going with a straight-down-the-line speed play, in the form 8-Fortin Hill. The rest of the field has little early speed, something that is highly unusual for a Grade 1 sprint, and we think Fortin Hill, a blazingly fast but oft-injured 7-year-old, can go right to the front and stay there all the way around the track. If he were a shorter price, we’d probably try to beat him, but he’s 20-1 on the morning line, and when one has potential lone speed at that number, there’s only one thing to do – go to the windows. We will bet Fortin Hill to win. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 10, $40 to win on 8-Fortin Hill.

Churchill Downs, Race 11, 5:27 pm ET

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

The Turf Classic is always the race run immediately before the Kentucky Derby, but this positioning is something of a double-edged sword: it’s watched by way more people than if it were run on another day, but the massiveness of the Derby’s pomp and circumstance obliterates it from memory as soon as it is over. Did you remember that Santin won this race last year? Neither did we.

That said, it is a Grade 1 race, and the field assembled for its 2023 running is evidence of that: it’s a very imposing group of ten older horses. We like the looks of 5-Up to the Mark, who began his career on dirt, but who has found new life since he was moved to turf last fall, winning each of his three races on the sod. He has yet to win a stakes race, but he did finish third against some pretty salty company in the Grade 1 Makers Mark Mile at Keeneland on April 14, and we think that was a better effort than it might appear on the surface, as the early pace was slow, which played against his stretch-running style. He’ll get a better setup today, and we expect a better result; we will bet him to win at 4-1. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 11, $40 to win on 5-Up to the Mark.

That’s all for now. As always, enjoy the races, be safe, and, always, good luck at the windows.

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