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With Wise Dan Away, Eight Will Play for Firecracker

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With Horse of the Year and accomplished turf miler Wise Dan on the sidelines following colic surgery, the Firecracker (II) at Churchill Downs has become a heated free-for-all with 3 Grade 1 winners and plenty of improving shooters jumping onto the grass. It looks to be an excellent betting race with a vulnerable likely favorite returning from off a layoff and several horses rounding into peak form.

$200,000 Firecracker Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 mile on turf at Churchill Downs. Post Time: Saturday, June 28 at 4:18pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Guys Reward - Jesus Castanon, 121 lbs, Dale Romans - The 7-year-old iron horse backs the successful rail post with a G3 win in the Tampa Bay Stakes followed by 3 puttering starts. He showed improvement in his last start where he ran 4th and Dale Romans has shown he is very good with getting 3rd-off-the-layoff entries in 1st or 2nd place. Exotics horse.

2) Free World - Corey Lanerie, 121 lbs, Tom Amoss - The Stormy Atlantic colt has been on my “must watch” list since last year, and he returned to win his only start this year after a long layoff, winning by more than 5. Likely to be the speed horse of the field, Free World will likely be joined by one or more horses unless he can get away quickly from the #2 spot. He is 2-for-2 at this distance mark and has some hidden back-class. Upset potential.

3) Valentino Beauty - Brian Hernandez Jr, 121 lbs, Thomas Drury - The Vindication gelding has a 50% win percentage on the turf, with much of his career made at Woodbine. However, he is still searching for that breakthrough stakes win in his 3rd start with Drury, who had him win his first time out and lost his 2nd start in the stretch— on all-weather. Not a particularly strong entry, but there’s room for progress as Valentino Beauty has kept things consistent lately. 

4) Nikki’s Sandcastle - Leandro Goncalves, 121 lbs, David Kassen - Another tough iron horse type, the 7-year-old gelding has accomplished 10 wins in 40 starts with 16 places and shows to command some attention. A G2 winner already, he is 2-for-4 at the mile mark and appears to have reached top form with a win in the Hashin (III) last out at Arlington over polytrack despite going wide. A serious threat for the win, the pace may set up for Nikki, who is on the muscle for this race.

5) Silver Max - Robby Albarado, 121 lbs, Dale Romans - The only horse who managed to conquer Wise Dan last year in a rained-off edition of the Shadwell, the turf is Silver Max’s playground as long as he is able to snatch that lead, leading him to 4 wins in 8 starts last year. He comes off an extended freshening with no starts since running 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (I) in November. He looks to need some air in his lungs and he likely won’t get that uncontested lead— two big reasons to leave this otherwise classy horse off the table.

6) Villandry - Julien Leparoux, 121 lbs, Charles LoPresti - With no Dan, Charles LoPresti sends out this Gainesway-owned son of Mr. Greeley, looking for his first stakes win after coming up 3/4 of a length short to Regally Ready in the Opening Verse. I actually kind of like this horse; his last race had him way back for most of the race and he closed nicely. Leparoux is trustworthy on the grass and Villandry ought to be hitting his best stride in the stretch.

7) Joha - Joe Rocco Jr, 121 lbs, Joshua Flores - Winless since his nose victory at Belmont in October, the Johar colt tries the grass at Churchill with no wins at this distance in 4 tries and just 2 wins in 12 tries on the turf. He missed by 1 1/2 lengths last out in the all-weather Hashin (III). At his best, Joha could win this, but I doubt he’s at his best right now or lately.

8) Regally Ready - Shaun Bridgmohan, 121 lbs, Steve Asmussen - The 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner hopes to make it 3 in a row this year and has a great Churchill record with 5 wins in 7 starts. However, he loses Rosie Napravnik due to her injury and will not be alone on that lead he typically likes. Losing a top rider who rode him to his recent 2 wins, which represents a resurgence after a trip gone awry to Dubai, is risky as is the outer post and a race that does not appeal to his running style. I’m not overly optimistic.

Top 3 Picks in Order:

1) Free World 

2) Nikki’s Sandcastle

3) Villandry

Of these three, Nikki’s Sandcastle gets a great setup as a very strong turfer but Villandry could easily get it as well. However, I placed Free World on top as a serious diamond in the rough; he reminds me a lot of Rydilluc, who I admit became vulnerable once challenged for that lead, but I’m taking a gamble that Free World is all class. 

Value Pick: Villandry (6-1 or better) gets a great setup and will be at better odds than say, Nikki’s Sandcastle. Charles LoPresti is in the hunt for his 3rd Firecracker win and is a class horseman.

Pick 4 options: Free World, Nikki’s Sandcastle, Villandry. Also consider Regally Ready, who is riding in with 2 straight wins as a reformed sprinter and is 5-for-7 at Churchill.

Racetrack Bucket List

Saratoga will likely always be my favorite racing place as a realized childhood dream, a historically significant place, and a buzzworthy racing scene that envelopes the entire small city which embraces “horses, history, and health.”

Now that Keeneland has been confirmed as the site for the 2015 Breeders’ Cup, it has stirred thoughts as to what tracks I would really love to go to someday within North America. If you told me when I was a kid that I would eventually make it out to Saratoga and Belmont, I would have basically flipped out, courtesy of reading Man o’ War multiple times, and thus inheriting a booming love for those two landmark courses. While I doubt anything can top those two, here are my top 5 “bucket list” Thoroughbred tracks:

  1. Keeneland - Epitomizes what is right within the heart of the Bluegrass, and I haven’t stopped hearing good things about the country’s most historically-preserved race place since I seriously entered the racing world. I’m optimistic the switch to dirt will go well, and even if they never changed it, it still takes the top of the list as to where I would go next if asked to go to a new track.
  2. Arlington Park - Kind of a weird choice, but yes, Arlington. I’ve been fascinated with the idea of one day visiting Chicago among several other metropolitan areas of the States, but I feel like Arlington might be up my alley. It’s another place with historical significance and good racing and I’ve heard a lot of good things about it that convince me that I would really like to pay it a visit.
  3. Churchill Downs - Hard to leave this one off the list as arguably the most famous racetrack in the world. I’d like to go there on an off day, Derby Day, and for Downs After Dark. Seems like it has a lot of fun things going on at its height.
  4. Hialeah Park - I am sad to say I never got to go to Hialeah Park while I still lived in South Florida because it wasn’t reopened for racing until after I left. It looks like a wonderful place to visit with its gorgeous Spanish-inspired architecture and the ol’ Citation statue. I would still go there even if they never pick up Thoroughbred racing again.
  5. Del Mar - I would go here next simply because I want to see which one is the better summer place: Saratoga or Del Mar. (I’m pretty sure I would stay faithful to ‘Toga, but just to test the waters)

To close this out, I am 1132893% glad that Keeneland has been chosen as a Breeders’ Cup site. I was part of the early dissenters that Santa Anita continue being the host site or possibly become the permanent site. While the great weather is a very strong argument for it (even for me, the snowbird-in-hibernation come winter months), no weather scenario is perfect and it doesn’t feel right to keep it on the west coast. I also had a major major problem with the track bias it has shown, which SA is thankfully seeing to fixing, and the effects shipping all the way to California has on European horses. Keeneland seems like the ideal fit, as a place which has long drawn rave reviews, totes a great safety record, and brings everyone back to the home of Thoroughbred racing: Kentucky. 

Stephen Foster All-Stakes Pick 4 Live Ticket

  • Race 7: Matt Winn - Tapiture, Almost Famous, Conquest Titan
  • Race 8: Fleur de Lis - On Fire Baby
  • Race 9: Stephen Foster - Revolutionary, Will Take Charge, Departing, Long River.
  • Race 10: Regret - V V Goodnight, A Little Bit Sassy, Aurelia’s Belle, Istanford, Share the Sugar

Total cost: $30

I have more pony photos coming! I’ve been working on my documentary Roughshod all day at the library since I woke up from my post-work nap at 11. I handicapped the other races during my breaks!

Revolutionary Gets the Rail, Favoritism in Stephen Foster

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With a short loss in last weekend’s Belmont, the Todd Pletcher-WinStar team amps up once again with Revolutionary, who put in a star-studded performance last out winning the Pimlico Special (II). However, with a Win And You’re In opportunity going to the winner of this race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (I), “Rev” will not have it easy and the Stephen Foster (I) becomes a great betting opportunity with several improvers, current hot streaks, and a possibly “off” G1 winner in the field.

$500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Churchill Downs. Post Time: Saturday, June 14 at 9:39pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Revolutionary - Mike Smith, 118 lbs, Todd Pletcher - A winner twice this year in 4 starts including a profound win in the Pimlico Special (II) last out, the War Pass 4-year-old has returned to peak form after a lengthy freshening following his 3rd in the Kentucky Derby last year. His form is very strong, and he has some speed to kick on when he needs it. However, because he is a late runner breaking from the rail, he will have a lot to do in the stretch.

2) Jaguar Paw - Shaun Bridgmohan, 114 lbs, Stephen Lyster - A stakes winner one year ago on this day at Belmont Park, the Giant’s Causeway 7-year-old has been off since racing a well-beaten 6th in a February stake at Oaklawn. His best past race in graded company was a 3rd in the Philip H. Iselin Stakes (III) at Monmouth, beaten 9 lengths by Last Gunfighter. Not a big layoff horse or a very competitive horse in this field.

3) Moonshine Mullin - Calvin Borel, 118 lbs, Randy Morse - Hitting his best stride this year as a 6-year-old, the Albert the Great son outgamed Golden Ticket last out in the Alysheba (II) here at Churchill, topping a 3-race win streak with Calvin Borel with 4 wins in 5 races this year. Likely to provide the race with some pace as an early pace horse, the hot Mullin could grab the rail early and gallop off with the race.

4) Will Take Charge - Gary Stevens, 123 lbs, D. Wayne Lukas - The sparkling son of Unbridled’s Song was lethal on this course last year, besting Game On Dude in the Clark Handicap (I) after a sensational 3-year-old season. He threw in a major clunker last out in the Alysheba (II) trailing after being stuck inside with new and current jockey Gary Stevens taking over for Luis Saez. Getting the high weight, WTC is vulnerable as a favorite who is fresh off a bad race. However, the race may set up for him well and he should be included as a horse who is 4-for-5 at the distance.

5) Mylute - James Graham, 115 lbs, Tom Amoss - The Midnight Lute colt arrives 3rd off the layoff after an allowance win and a 4th in the Alysheba (II), with no wins thus far at Churchill or at the 9-furlong mark. He gets new rider James Graham and will benefit from a light impost, but will have to step it up if he wants to be taken seriously.

6) Departing - Robby Albarado, 118 lbs, Al Stall - I was an early avid fan of this War Front gelding, and while his trainer has admitted sending him to beat up lower class horses, he finally gets his chance to shine in a G1 for the first time since running 6th in the Preakness. Racing 2nd off the layoff, Departing looked good winning a 1-mile allowance at Churchill. Armed with a hot :58 3/5 breeze over the Churchill ground, Departing is red-hot right now. Likely to be aimed for a spot just behind the pace, Departing will have to show his best to win.

7) Golden Ticket - Julien Leparoux, 117 lbs, Ken McPeek - Never dismiss a Speightstown! 4-year-old Golden Ticket is a G1 winner hopping from doing a mile to 9 furlongs, and was 2nd last year behind Fort Larned and was a half-length second-best in the Alysheba (II) to Moonshine Mullin. Golden Ticket has managed to place twice this year in 3 starts, but by the numbers, is at his best going longer distances. He’s a good exotics horse here with Leparoux.

8) Long River - Irad Ortiz Jr, 115 lbs, Kieran McLaughlin - The A.P. Indy colt has bounced back into a good 4-year-old and is possibly the best-bred horse in this field with Round Pond (Awesome Again) as his dam. Given rival stablemate Romansh’s good last race and Long River’s recent form and workouts, he should be regarded as a live longshot with that last race around the Charles Town bullring getting thrown out. The layoff doesn’t bother me too much as he’s given good winning efforts off of them.

9) Prayer for Relief - John Velazquez, 117 lbs, Dale Romans - The son of Jump Start was scarcely beaten last out by Revolutionary in the Pimlico Special (II), and is well-versed at 9 furlongs with 9 on-the-board finishes in 13 starts. I never really liked Prayer for Relief, but he certainly impressed me in his last race enough to pay him a little attention. However, he’s been battered around Churchill Downs and cut up at this level that it becomes a tall order to expect of him. Exotics type.

Top 3 Picks in Order:

1) Revolutionary

2) Departing

3) Moonshine Mullin

Revolutionary gets the ideal setup and is in fantastic form right now. The tasks ahead of him: class step-up and getting it all done in the stretch. He may have too much to do, even at his best. I like Departing a lot as well; he’s at very good form and has some great tactical speed he could exact on the pacesetters late in the game. Moonshine Mullin ran great as the underdog in the Alysheba (II), and could keep that record rolling, especially if he manages to skirt off with the lead.

Value Pick: Departing (9-2) is in form and could roll right off that pace to a score.

Pick 3/4: Revolutionary, Departing. Spread option horses: Will Take Charge, Long River, Moonshine Mullin.

Normandy Invasion is reminding me a lot of Mucho Macho Man right now. He looks like a great router physically, but skinny as though he is going through another growth spurt. The skinny factor pushed MMM off my winner list when he ran in the Derby, but I am still mulling things over for Normmy, who has arrived at Churchill. (Photo by Derby Media)

Normandy Invasion is reminding me a lot of Mucho Macho Man right now. He looks like a great router physically, but skinny as though he is going through another growth spurt. The skinny factor pushed MMM off my winner list when he ran in the Derby, but I am still mulling things over for Normmy, who has arrived at Churchill. (Photo by Derby Media)

I’ll Have Another

I’ll Have Another

Derby Watch: Paynter’s Kin

It’s hard not to love Paynter after his dramatic yet brief three-year-old campaign that concluded with an emphatic G1 win in the Haskell Invitational. It’s even harder to not associate good feels with the bay colt after a winning battle with multiple ailments that left him at death’s door for a stretch of time. With the son of Awesome Again slowly returning to full health, there is few greater joys than seeing his younger relations do well for themselves on the Derby trail.

Experiencing mild success this year with Optimizer, Hamazing Destiny, Hightail, and a few others, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has had some on-and-off success training, but looks to have a solid performer in Paynter’s 3/4 brother Oxbow. A bay son of Awesome Again out of the Cee’s Tizzy mare Tizamazing (who is also a full sister to dual-Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow and Paynter’s dam Tizso), he broke well from the far outside to win his 7-furlong maiden special weight over the weekend at Churchill Downs.

Favored in the betting, Oxbow did not have a favorable beginning in racing, being pulled up and vanned off the Saratoga main in his dead-last debut against speed demon Jocosity. No harm done, however, when all things are considered: Paynter never made a start as a two-year-old, never mind 4 races with a win and a third. Oxbow is obviously doing something right after being suddenly favored in the Churchill race after racing third to Gulfport in his prior start at nearly 17-1, and his works suggest he’ll be even quicker as a three-year-old.

Also making 4 starts is Paynter’s cousin (by Speightstown out of Tizsweet, another full to Paynter’s dam) is Tizexx, a two-year-old gray/roan trainee of Bobby Barnett who also ran this past Saturday. She raced three-wide on the Churchill main to tire in the stretch of the 7-furlong maiden race to finish 5th holding her own. She has flashed ample speed in her workouts— she went :47 2/5 in her last 4-panel hum— so this is another one I think will require some time.

Paynter’s full brother racing this year named Fire Flight, will definitely be needing additional time, and I’m not even sure he was ready for his debut going by his short list of published works. Helmed by Keith Asmussen, he was towards the back of a Retama maiden early and dragged his heels upon feeling the stick, losing by some 10 lengths back in 9th.

If lightning can’t strike twice in the same family, I guess we can always wait on Paynter’s highly-anticipated return.

Top Field Awaits Uncaptured in KY Jockey Club Stakes

Like I said, the field this year for the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (II) actually intrigues me. Offering a good-looking field of 13, I’m more interested in the outcome of this Churchill Downs juvenile stakes than I am for Aqueduct’s own weekend headliner in the Remsen (II). Sorry not sorry. Uncaptured looks to continue an impressive show of strength after his debut on the dirt went well last out while meeting challengers new, old, and all around fierce. Might as well take a look at analyzing this one as I wait for the butternut squash to tenderize…

$150,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (II) - 2-Year-Olds. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Churchill Downs. Post Time: Saturday, November 24 at 5:35pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Java’s War - Victor Lebron, Ken McPeek - The winner of 2 of 4 races— both on turf— one of War Pass’s few sons makes his dirt debut here with a good stakes win under his belt already. With some good early dirt strength influencing his lineage, he’s an up-in-the-air gamble.

2) Lew and Mike - Brian Hernandez Jr, Thomas Drury - The Lewis Michael son has a couple Churchill races under his belt, but broke his maiden at Ellis Park’s turf course as the pacesetter. 6th in the Kentucky Juvenile Stakee, he then went wire-to-wire as the speed horse again in a Keeneland allowance race. A need-the-lead-to-win type, I’m not sure if this colt is going to be good for the track or the distance. And where’s his record of recent works?

3) Fear the Kitten - Martin Pedroza, Luis Cotto - A nice turf pedigree backs this Kitten’s Joy colt, who is 2-for-2 with a Keeneland maiden claimer and an off-the-turf allowance race at Churchill. A class test awaits this colt bred for the grass who appears to really like the all-weather going. 

4) Uncaptured - Miguel Mena, Mark Casse - 5-for-6 lifetime, the Lion Heart colt redeemed his Grey (III) showing last out by winning the Iroquois (III) in an easy romp for his dirt debut. Strong works signal he’s not done for the year as the class horse in the field.

5) Track Rocker - Shaun Bridgmohan, Nick Zito - Hey I saw this guy debut at Saratoga! The Rock Hard Ten colt was given some time off and flourished breaking his maiden last out at Delaware Park, pouncing off a solid pace to win by nearly 9 lengths. His sire was a late bloomer and I suspect the same with mild improvement coming into this class test.

6) Frac Daddy - David Cohen, Ken McPeek - The gray Scat Daddy ran a phenomenal race to be 2nd in the mud in his debut at Belmont, leaving the rest of the field behind by some 13 lengths to lose by just 1 1/2 lengths to the heavy favorite and talented Indy’s Illusion. He broke his maiden last out here at this distance, drawing right off of an easy pace to win by almost 10. Scat Daddy’s a great early riser sire, and this colt is the perfect testament showing early brilliance with room to grow. With some improvement, he’s a contender.

7) Will Take Charge - Jon Court, D. Wayne Lukas - The chromey half to Take Charge Indy by Unbridled’s Song rallied wide and well to break his maiden last out at Keeneland, snagging the win by a length right at the wire. With more running room, he should do even better and improve off that start. A strong heritage makes this colt worthy of a look, but Lukas is constantly scaring me. His works at Churchill look sharp nonetheless, and owned by Eaton, he is sure to keep on improving and show off that early bird pedigree.

8) Tesseron - Joe Bravo, Josie Carroll - I love me a good Tapit, and this gray boy has a nice rallying maiden win at Woodbine paired with a strong place in the Grey (III) where he missed the win by just 3/4 lengths despite a poor start and a wide rally. A pedigree that chirps juvenile strength, Tesseron makes for a strong gamble if he can transfer that poly experience to dirt— which he should. He ships right in with no dirt works, but his Woodbine sessions have been great.

9) Dewey Square - Corey Lanerie, Dale Romans - Trainer Romans is singing this Bernardini colt’s praises already going 2-for-2 including an impeccable maiden score at Hoosier by almost 12 lengths. With Lanerie in the irons and Romans leading the fray at the Churchill meet, I’m gung-ho that this is another good early-riser by Bernardini. He has the same relentless drive Alpha had in his juvenile year.

10) Joha - Joe Rocco Jr, Mike Maker - Another colt bred for turf, the G1 stakes-winning son of Johar doubles back to dirt after a disappointing 8th place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (I) where he ran into some traffic in his very first performance off-the-board. Training ok on dirt and favoring the front end, this will be his debut on the surface.

11) Indiano Jones - Jesus Castanon, Mark Casse - Casse’s second-string entry, the A.P. Indy colt will make his dirt debut in this race after a very good 3rd last out in the Grey (III), where he made up ground late in the game. Still on the proving ground, he has the right pedigree to excel at dirt or turf. I like this one’s mystique a lot and I’m eager to see him improve further. My biggest hesitation is due to the belief he will probably only really improve later and at longer distances.

12) Positively - Calvin Borel, Patrick Byrne - I really liked this Distorted Humor colt, who has been on the receiving end of some bad luck running second-fiddle to Uncaptured last out in the Iroquois (III) after a nice stretch rally. I have a feeling this colt is not going to get much better as a juvenile. He’s good, but will need time to get better.

13) Silver Tongued - Malcolm Franklin, Jeffrey Greenhill - The Flatter colt absolutely dragged in his Mountaineer debut, where he was bumped at the start and languished more and more throughout the race before finally waking up and making up some 25 lengths to be 5th of 7 in an obviously poor race. He was still feeling that kick in the pants next out to break his maiden in the Juvenile Stakes at Thistledown, rallying hard turning for home to go from last to first to win by 3 1/2 lengths. He has earned his class test, but will need to step it up here.

Top Picks in Order:

1) Uncaptured

2) Dewey Square

3) Frac Daddy

Value Pick: Tesseron

Uncaptured is rarely far from the front, which is going to work out great for him in this race where Churchill’s main favors early speed which is likely to be set by Lew and Mike and or Joha, who don’t really have the credentials to deflect the late rallies. I like Dewey Square a lot from the improving and familiar conditions angle and Romans tends to be very good with his juveniles, not to mention leading rider Corey Lanerie can’t possibly hurt. I flip-flopped between several for 3rd choice, but Frac Daddy has enough of an improvement suggested to beat many out.

Shackleford Stretches One Last Time in Clark Handicap

Normally for this weekend I would go with the Cigar Mile (I), but with Groupie Doll running in it this year I don’t see much of a ball to be had trying to work out a nifty handicapping angle. That mare is on fire! I’m also really intrigued by the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (II) for juvies… probably the first time ever that that’s happened.

Preakness winner Shackleford is the high-weight for Friday’s Clark Handicap (I) at Churchill Downs, known as the premiere G1 rematch for many Breeders’ Cup contenders or those who elected to skip the world championships. Joining him are G1 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy, Hawthorne Gold Cup (II) winner Pool Play, and Super Derby (II) winner Bourbon Courage among a field of ten that ensures an interesting race with a ton of value.

Weather looks good, and morning showers will likely not affect the track too much by post time. Keep an eye on it though.

$500,000 Clark Handicap (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Churchill Downs. Post Time: Friday, November 23 at 5:35pm

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Pool Play - Corey Lanerie, 118 lbs, Mark Casse - A horse that doesn’t mind his long odds and will probably get some semi-long ones here again, the Silver Deputy son brushes off his poor 8th place showing in the Breeders’ Cup Classic a few weeks ago to try again at Churchill, where he already owns a G1 win on the dirt. The pace will be sweet for this closer, but he will face some steeper foes and typically he gets more time between races than just 3 weeks. Lanerie’s been tops lately.

2) Eye of the Leopard - Jon Court, 115 lbs, D. Wayne Lukas - A Breeders’ Cup Marathon (II) dropout, the 6-year-old A.P. Indy son shoots for the moon in his second career dirt start— his first one was a sprint at Churchill 2 years ago where he finished a distant 6th. A stakes winner on all-weather and just 1 win in an allowance this year, this guy has been working well enough on the Churchill dirt and pedigree-wise is worthy. He gets a big weight advantage, but did not respond at all in his last start running 8th in the Fayette Stakes (II) on Keeneland’s poly going. His speed figures as well as his past performances boom louder than his workouts: “HUGE LONG SHOT.”

3) Shackleford - Jesus Castanon, 120 lbs, Dale Romans - The enormous Forestry colt hopes to restore his reputation with an effort better than his poor trip in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (I), where he stumbled and got stuck to finish 7th as the heavy and deserving favorite. A miler at heart, he has placed twice and won once in 3 tries at this distance. He remains sharp and will go to the lead. With old jock Castanon in the irons, he has the added benefit of psychology— he wants to go out with a bang, and who better to want to also help him achieve that than his returning Preakness rider? 

4) Bourbon Courage - Leandro Goncalves, 117 lbs, Kellyn Gorder - Marvelous as the 5-length winner of the Super Derby (II), the Lion Heart sophomore lost a courageous dive to the wire in the Indiana Derby (II) last out to Neck ‘N Neck, and should be pleased with the return to 9 furlongs here. Pace will be to his liking and given how quickly he can close ground (as shown in the Indiana), he’s going to be sneaky on the improve.

5) Cease - Miguel Mena, 117 lbs, Al Stall - The War Chant gelding looks to be at his best this year with a 3rd in the Woodward (I) and missed the Hawthorne Gold Cup (II) by a mere 1/2 length to Pool Play. I like him plenty from an improvement angle, but have to wonder how competitive he is right now to jump into a G1 event. While strong at this distance, he also seems to want more ground than just 9 furlongs.

6) Take Charge Indy - Calvin Borel, 117 lbs, Patrick Byrne - The A.P. Indy 4-year-old won the Florida Derby (I) earlier in the spring and made a promising comeback in the 9-furlong Fayette (II) at Keeneland where he was caught as ground ran out and finished 3rd in his usual spot up front. Borel can only help his chances, but he may need another start before he can compete here. Byrne is optimistic which is a promising angle, but I’m not vested in a horse who wants the lead with Shackleford in the race.

7) Fast Falcon - Shaun Bridgmohan, 113 lbs, Nick Zito - The Awesome Again sophomore made a good run in his first race against older horses last out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (I), rallying hard and wide to finish 5th and nearly bested 4th place Atigun, who went on to have a really nice 3rd place effort in the Marathon (II). This horse is better than his PPs suggest, and with a feather impost and a solid pace, I cannot possibly leave him out of my exotics on a fast track.

8) Stealcase - Brian Hernandez Jr, 115 lbs, Mark Casse - Lawyer Ron colt I initially liked, but has been on and off. A past winner at Churchill, he was the winner of the Ontario Derby (III) at Woodbine then was absolutely no threat running last in the Indiana Derby (II). He gained ground quick enough but ran out of room last out in the 1-mile Ack Ack (III) to be 3rd. Never out of the money in his 4 Churchill starts (3 of them G3 stakes) and getting more running room, I don’t feel like Stealcase is the winning type of horse but one that will try to work his way up close.

9) Mission Impazible - Javier Castellano, 115 lbs, Todd Pletcher - Soon to be retired, the Unbridled’s Song gelding makes one more go in the race he almost won last year (I also picked him to win), but got overwhelmed in the final yards by Wise Dan. A horse that seems to love running 2nd, 9 furlongs seems to be his ideal distance. Fitness is questionable, but he gets a nice weight break for what he’s really capable of.

10) Lunar Victory - Junior Alvarado, 116 lbs, Bill Mott - An impressive horse from Juddmonte’s colors, the Speightstown son has recorded 5 wins in 6 starts this year all in New York jumping from his win in the 9-furlong Empire Classic to his first graded try. If Bill Mott thinks he’s ready, then by golly he’s ready. It’s hard to knock a record like his and I enjoyed watching him race against Saratoga Snacks in a very well-earned win last out.

Top Picks in Order:

1) Shackleford

2) Lunar Victory

3) Bourbon Courage

Despite being best at a mile, Shack’s class is too much: he’s beaten Animal Kingdom and Caleb’s Posse hellooooo. I feel comfortable enough to draw a line through a lot of these entries simply by comparing how good they are not in relation to Shackleford, who is speed as well as heart, but from there it gets tough. Fast Falcon who has some good acceleration favored by a light impost, Lunar Victory who has a good stretch drive will be closer to pounce, and Bourbon Courage who is a G2-winning closer on the improve— these three I like best. I envision Shack setting his solid pace to wire the field, with the two sharpest accelerators Bourbon and Falcon firing early to try and get him before he opens up. Lunar Victory has a good drive and will be closer with less traffic and should stay on.

Value Pick: Fast Falcon likely to be the wise-guy of the bunch, but also take a look at Mission Impazible who is always full of random top-tier performances to use in exotics.

Churchill Downs heralded its Breeders’ Cup champions on Sunday between R7 and R8: Mile victor Wise Dan, Classic winner Fort Larned, Filly & Mare Sprint champ Groupie Doll, and Turf upsetter Little Mike were on hand to accept the applause; missing is Tapizar, I don’t know why he didn’t show up… IT’S NOT BREEDING SEASON YET! (Photo by Reed Palmer Photography)

Churchill Downs heralded its Breeders’ Cup champions on Sunday between R7 and R8: Mile victor Wise Dan, Classic winner Fort Larned, Filly & Mare Sprint champ Groupie Doll, and Turf upsetter Little Mike were on hand to accept the applause; missing is Tapizar, I don’t know why he didn’t show up… IT’S NOT BREEDING SEASON YET! (Photo by Reed Palmer Photography)

Going to the Thoroughbred races, keeping "track" of the memories. Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.


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