APROPOS (1) – 8-5 – Despite traffic troubles, Apropos won with aplomb in her only start of the year, drawing off to win by over ten lengths in her first start versus winners. Most connections would have immediately pointed towards more lucrative stakes races, but her Claiborne owners are typically more cautious with their stable. Instead, they wheel back in this allowance race which, while heavy on potential talent, drew a short field of six older fillies. Apropos is making her first start in nearly two months, but has signaled her readiness with two razor sharp recent workouts in preparation for her return.
GLAMOUR PUSS (3) – 2-1 – She has put together an enviable record with a pair of wins and three seconds from five lifetime starts. Perhaps her most impressive race came last time out when she was a runaway winner versus first level allowance foes at Keeneland, the track which has been home to both of her career victories. While she clearly likes Keeneland’s synthetic racing surface, she also showed a liking to conventional dirt racing this winter at Gulfstream Park, placing in a pair of allowance events despite those races taking place at a mile, a distance which is perhaps further than she’d ideally like to go.
JAN’S PERFECT STAR (5) – 8-1 – It’s difficult to fault a filly who has won her only two races by a combined 15 ¾-lengths. The only catch is that those two races came in races restricted exclusively to Arkansas bred competition, which is not quite up to par with the open competition she faces in today’s race. Still, she won those races the right way in a visually impressive manner. Of the two, she was more impressive in the sprint race rather than the route race, where she appeared to be getting wobbly-legged. She returns to a sprint distance today and could offer value as the longest shot on the morning line.
SLAN ABHAILE (8) – 5-2 – He powered to an impressive maiden victory last time out, leading every step of the way while posting fast early fractions. That came on the heels of a second place finish in his debut behind a highly touted horse named Ruble who went on to run in last week’s Derby Trial. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this colt, though, has been his recent workouts since his last race. He has consistently clipped off five furlongs in just a hair over 59 seconds flat, which was twice good enough to be the best workout of the day. There is no lack of speed in this race, but he is likely the speediest of the bunch and should be tough to run down in the stretch.
CONE OF LIGHT (4) – 6-1 – He was an impressive winner of his only career start at Keeneland two weeks ago, besting a field of eleven by 2 ½ widening lengths at the finish. He closed from nearly last in the early stages of the race to collar the leaders in the stretch drive before drawing off for victory. He rewarded his backers that day with a $27 payout and could be similarly dismissed at the wagering windows in today’s race based on his somewhat unfamiliar connections and pedigree. Yet dismissing this gelding would be a mistake, especially with the amount of early speed in this race. He could be a key to making some money in the exotic wagers.
GOMBEY DANCER (2) – 7-2 – He was bet down significantly to 9-2 odds in the Swale Stakes (GIII) last time out at Gulfstream Park when facing some of the best sprinters of this 2-year-old crop. He failed to impress in that effort, finishing ninth of eleven, eight lengths behind the winner. The thing to keep in mind before dismissing him is that the Swale Stakes included some crack sprinters, and the quality of competition he faces in today’s race is decidedly more manageable. If he can run back to the race he ran two back when he dispatched maidens by a widening three lengths, he’ll be a force to reckon with in today’s event.
THE PIZZA MAN (5)– 3-1 – He has put together a spectacular record of seven wins from nine career starts. The only issue is that five of those wins came versus somewhat inferior Illinois-bred competition, and all but his last start came within the state boundaries of Illinois. Still, this handicapper is undeterred, especially off the strength of his most recent win when he ventured down to Louisiana to capture a very tough allowance event over a quality field which rivals the field he finds in today’s race. He has signaled his liking for the Churchill Downs turf course with two good morning moves over the surface. He has an excellent shot to extend his current winning streak to five races in this event.
ATIGUN (3) – 4-1 – He had a somewhat frustrating campaign in Arkansas this winter, pulling down just over $20k in purse money from three starts. Unfortunately for him he ran into Cyber Secret in each of his races, a horse that went undefeated during the Oaklawn Park meeting and is now considered one of the top older horses in the country. In an effort to change things up, he’s giving the turf a try in today’s race for the first time since his career debut nearly two years ago. That effort was by no means impressive, but he has considerably matured as a racehorse since then, so it makes sense to give him another shot to succeed.
UNDER CONTROL (4) – 6-1 – He has been remarkable consistent on the turf, compiling a record of three wins, two seconds and a third from seven starts over the surface. Undoubtedly his best effort came last time out when he got up in the final jump to secure victory in a tough second level allowance race over a field of ten at Gulfstream Park. While his speed figures may leave something to be desired, one must note that he has been conservatively placed by typically cautious connections. His trainer wins with nearly 25% of his runners which return from a layoff of between 46-90 days, and one can expect Under Control to be closing in on the leaders late in the race.
BAMA BOUND (5) – 6-1 – This gelding failed to impress in his only career start at Keeneland last out, running greenly throughout the race to finish seventh of twelve. However, the margin of defeat was just over five lengths, which isn’t a terrible measurement considering how much he was bobbing and weaving throughout the race. If he took anything away from that race and runs more professionally throughout this event, he’ll be a major force to reckon with. He comes from a barn that wins with 25% of their second time starters, so significant improvement is certainly not off the table for this well bred son of Leo’s Gypsy Dancer, who was herself a stakes winner here at Churchill Downs sixteen years ago.
KING OF BROADWAY (4) – He makes his debut for connections not typically associated with impressive first time starters. However, his trainer, Bill Mott, is also not typically associated with sizzling morning workouts, but that didn’t stop King of Broadway from posting a scortching four furlong move in 47 1/5 seconds on Monday morning. He also sports a nice pedigree, coming from the same female family as Belmont Stakes runner-up Vision and Verse. His dam has three winners from three starters to date, and this one looks to become her fourth.
TROUBADOUR TANGO (12) – He has burned a lot of wagering money in his two career starts, going off at 4-5 and 9-5 odds respectively before ultimately going down to defeat. His effort last time out was somewhat puzzling and must be chalked up to it being his first start in seven months. Even still, the speed figures which he posted in both defeats each seem to be high enough to contend with the runners he faces in today’s race. The only thing which is especially troubling is his far outside post, which can sometimes be difficult to overcome for a somewhat inexperienced horse. Having said that, he is not a horse I would leave out of my exotic wagers.
CODE WEST (8) – 7-5 – Bob Baffert was considering this colt for a start in the Kentucky Derby but opted to instead point him for the Belmont Stakes five weeks later. He had publicly stated that he would use the Peter Pan Stakes (GII) at Belmont as a prep for the final jewel of the Triple Crown, but then quietly snuck him into this race. He showed talent earlier this year, finishing second by just a nose in the Risen Star (GIII) while defeating multiple Kentucky Derby entrants including Palace Malice, Oxbow and Mylute. His dismal effort last out was more a consequence of traffic trouble than a lethargic effort. Expect a big run from him today. He outclasses this field.
FIDDLER BLUE (11) – 12-1 – This late running sophomore failed to fire last time out in his first start off nearly a three-month layoff. It was also his first start running over a synthetic racing surface, which may not have been to his liking. Ultimately, he stands to benefit the most from the added distance he gets to work with in today’s race. He has the look of a two-turn horse and should appreciate the return to dirt. The added blinkers may cajole him to show a bit more speed early in the race, which would be a good thing especially if the track is muddy or sloppy by this point in the card. His pedigree suggests he would relish the off going.
BELLARMINE (4) – 8-1 – He has run well in each of his three career starts despite each coming over a different racing surface – turf, dirt and synthetic, respectively. He put it altogether for a win last time out at Keeneland over a full field of twelve after stalking a moderate pace. That stalking tactic is likely to come in quite handy in today’s race, which is somewhat devoid of early pace. He showed his readiness to move forward with a blistering four furlong move last week in 47 4/5 seconds.
Race 6 – The Twin Spires Turf Sprint (GIII)
HAVELOCK (2) – 7-2 – He was impressive when taking his seasonal debut last out at Keeneland in the Shakertown Stakes (GIII) where he defeated a couple of horses that come back to challenge him today. It was all the more impressive considering he had been on the shelf since last November. He spend the majority of last year not racing on the grass and likely relished the return to turf racing last out. He has a chance to prove he belongs at the head of the turf sprinter’s division with another top effort in today’s race, which I think can be expected.
CHAMBERLAIN BRIDGE (6) – 4-1 – The 9-year-old iron horse certainly knows his way to the winner’s circle, scoring 19 wins from 49 career starts. Four of those wins came over the Churchill Downs turf course. This will actually be the fifth time that Chamberlain Bridge has competed in the Twin Spires Turf Sprint; from four previous appearances he has a win (in 2009), a second, a third and a sixth. Churchill Downs is also the scene of his biggest career victory, which came in 2010 in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. While he may be a bit past his prime, he remains ultra-competitive in top level turf sprints, and merits a long look in today’s race.
ICON IKE (8) – 3-1 – He rolls into this race having won his last two races, including a visually impressive score at the Fair Grounds last time out in a race where he actually defeated Chamberlain Bridge – which he has actually done in each of his last two starts. Icon Ike has been remarkably consistent throughout his brief career, hitting the board in twelve of 16 lifetime starts and in eight of his last nine efforts. He secures the services of Rosie Napravnik for today’s race and should be used in all exotics wagers.
Race 7 – Humana Distaff (GI)
AUBBY K (6) – 7-2 – This filly has always shown uncommon talent, and finally seemed to put it altogether for a graded stakes victory last time out in the Inside Information Stakes (GII) last time out at Gulfstream Park. She pressed a hot pace throughout that day before dispatching the early leader and drawing off to win by an impressive three lengths in his first and only start of 2013. In today’s race she has a chance to add a Grade 1 victory to her resume, and luckily for her and her connections, she finds an uncommonly soft race in which to seek that victory. Her speed figures eclipse those earned by her rivals and she is a deserving favorite in this race.
BURBAN (7) – 10-1 – This lightly races filly has done very little wrong in her six race career. The only true blemish came at the hands of Aubby K in the aforementioned Inside Information Stakes (GII) when she faltered to finish sixth, beaten over eight lengths. She made amends in her subsequent start when she took a small stakes race at Aqueduct over a trio of foes with a decently quick final time. That type of race does not typically serve as a launching pad for a race of this stature, but like I’ve said, this race didn’t shape up with the same kind of talent it usually does. One of the primary benefactors will likely be Burban, who is also searching for that lucrative Grade 1 black type.
JAMAICAN SMOKE (1) – She likely possesses the most potent early speed of any of the fillies in this group, which was on display in her most recent start when she finished a solid third in the Madison Stakes (GI) in what was her Grade 1 debut. She gets back to the dirt track, which she likely prefers to synthetic based both on her prior performances and her pedigree. She has also shown a particular liking of the Churchill Downs main track, having won an allowance race here last spring by open lengths. She could be another live longshot in this event.
Race 8 – Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes
STEPHANIE’S KITTEN (6) – 4-1 – She has long been considered one of the premier grass fillies of her generation, but one might say that her many talents have thus far gone somewhat unfulfilled. She failed to break through in major races last year such as the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (GI) and Ashland Stakes (GI), both at Keeneland. Given the winter off, she has shown signs of being ready to produce a top effort with an enthusiastic workout pattern, including a bullet move last month. It is worth noting that she is 2-for-2 over the Churchill Downs turf course having won the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2011 as well as the Edgewood Stakes last year on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. She has also shown a masterful ability to handle a wet turf course, which she may be faced with in today’s race.
MARKETING MIX (8) – 5-2 – She was widely considered to be one of the top turf mares in the country last year in a campaign that culminated with a strong second place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Distaff, a divisional championship race. She won four races and placed twice from seven starts last season, often running at the very top levels. Yet the only time she failed to finish in the top two slots last year was when she ran in this very race last year on the Kentucky Derby undercard. Since that race was run over a wet turf course, there are obvious concerns. She is certainly the most accomplished mare in the field, but there are caution signs for a mare likely to go off as an overwhelming favorite.
STOPSHOPPINGMARIA (10) – 10-1 – She seems to have found a niche sprinting on the grass but stretches out for today’s event. She has gone a route of ground successfully in the past, including a second place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf here at Churchill two years ago, less than a length behind Stephanie’s Kitten. A mile should be well within her grasp, and her tactical speed could prove crucial in this race. She is a live longshot based on her morning line odds of 10-1, which may float up even higher as post time draws near.
Race 9 – The Churchill Downs (GII)
UNBRIDLED’S NOTE (5) – 5-1 – After briefly being pointed for last year’s Kentucky Derby, Unbridled’s Note has developed into a serious sprinter on both dirt and turf racing surfaces. In fact, he has managed to hit the board in all eight of his starts since he has reverted to sprint distances, including placings in three Grade 1 events. He typically finds himself off the pace in a stalking position before coming at the leaders like a rocket in the stretch drive. Expect him to take advantage of a torrid speed duel between the favorites Trinniberg and Delauney.
DELAUNEY (9) – 2-1 – He has been untouchable in each of his last five starts, winning by open lengths in five consecutive stakes races. His last three starts at Fair Grounds have been particularly impressive as he swept their sprint series while posting progressively faster final times, including an eye-popping 1:08 1/5 final time in his most recent start. Just as he loves Fair Grounds, he also has an affinity for the Churchill Downs racing surface, as he is a perfect 3-for-3 under the Twin Spires, including two minor stakes wins. He is still searching for his first graded stakes score; this may also be the toughest field he has ever been faced with. He is a high caliber horse, but will likely get sucked into a speed duel with Trinniberg.
TRINNIBERG (8) – 8-5 – Last year’s champion sprinter is the most accomplished horse in the field and a deserving morning line favorite that may be bet down even further than he is now. He put on quite a display last fall when he took the Breeders’ Cup Sprint from gate to wire in a scortching final time of 1:07 4/5 seconds after setting a torrid pace. That being said, six furlong race have always been his best game, and although he has been able to successfully negotiate seven furlongs in the past, it’s not his ideal distance, especially when there is other high quality speed in the race. He likely will be able to get a piece of the action based on his immense talent, but there are many reasons to look elsewhere when placing win wagers.
Race 10 – Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI)
POINT OF ENTRY (9) – 7-5 – This race ultimately comes down to the top two horses in the race – Point of Entry and Wise Dan. While Wise Dan is more widely known as a consequence of sweeping year-end honors last year, Point of Entry is just as good if not better on the grass. In his only start this year, Point of Entry defeated Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in a Grade 1 turf race at Gulfstream Park; that foe went on to win the Dubai World Cup in his next start. Last year, Point of Entry put together a string of three consecutive Grade 1 wins before finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. But the reason he gets the nod in here is off the strength of his most recent victory where he cut back in distance to defeat Animal Kingdom while posting a fast final time.
WISE DAN (8) – 6-5 – He closed out last year with five consecutive victories over the grass, each at the one-mile distance. For his efforts, he was awarded Horse of the Year, Champion Turf Male, and Champion Older Horse – the first to sweep those awards in a generation. He will be an overwhelming favorite and one of the most popular horses running at Churchill Downs on the day. But there are some concerns which need to be addressed. While Wise Dan has successfully navigated nine furlongs in the past over the dirt, he has never done so on the grass, and also has not won a race at over a mile in over a year. His last race was also not quite as impressive as many of his races last year, with a relatively slow final time and small margin of victory over inferior rivals. Wise Dan is obviously an immensely talented animal, but if pressed I would say he’s better on the main track than the turf, and isn’t as good on turf as Point of Entry.
OPTIMIZER (3) – 20-1 – This horse has turned over a new leaf since being redirected back towards turf races late last season. In fact he started this year with a pair of impressive scores versus graded stakes competition at the Fair Grounds. He can be forgiven his last race as his connections could seemingly not resist the temptation to once again try the dirt with their English Channel colt who is bred to the gills for turf racing. He secures hot jockey Joel Rosario an could be a very live longshot with a chance to hit the board in the race.
SILVER MAX (4) – 8-1 – He is eligible to improve off his last effort, which was his first start back after a nearly six-month layoff. He put together an impressive streak of victories last year, winning six races in a row including five stakes events. One of those stakes wins came over the Churchill Downs turf course when he took the American Turf (GII) on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. He has also shown an ability to successfully traverse a wet turf course, which may come in quite handy in today’s race.
Race 11 – The Kentucky Derby (GI)
REVOLUTIONARY (3) – 10-1 – Bet down to early favoritism in the early wagering stages, Revolutionary figures to be one of the stronger choices for Kentucky Derby 139 based off the strength of his recent races. His score in the Louisiana Derby was particularly impressive as he navigated his way from the back of the pack, more than a dozen lengths detached from the leaders, to win over a very deep field of fourteen runners. Perhaps his most visually impressive race came in the Withers Stakes (GI) when he encountered all sorts of traffic issues only to frantically get up in the final jumps to win by an outstretched neck. Teaming up with Calvin Borel seems to be a match made in heaven based on their preferred running styles, especially given Revolutionary’s inside draw.
OXBOW (2) – 30-1 – He may have been the most consistently unlucky colt on the road to the Kentucky Derby this spring, drawing outside post after outside post. He gets mildly more lucky with the draw in this race, although surely Lukas would have preferred to be more centrally placed than in the one hole; his saving grace is that the four horses to his outside have absolutely no early speed, which should allow him to secure a good running position and stay pinned to the inside rail. He has run consistently well in each prep race; his effort last out can be forgiven due to his traffic troubles and outside post position. Oxbow also sports a regal pedigree and his lineage suggests that the Derby’s 1 ¼-mile distance will be well within his scope. He will be the one Revolutionary has to run down late.
VYJACK (20) – 15-1 – He started his career by taking his first four starts impressively, but none more impressively than when he came from last to first when taking the Gotham Stakes (GIII). After his most recent effort, a third place finish a length behind Verrazano and a neck behind Normandy Invasion, he was found to have been suffering from a slight illness and received a brief respite to fully recover. Since then he has ferociously returned to the work tab, including an excellent breeze last week under the Twin Spires. Many gasped when Vyjack drew Post 20, but his connections astutely noted that both I’ll Have Another and Big Brown recently won from the far outside. A horse with Vyjack’s ability can certainly threaten from the outside as well.
PALACE MALICE (10) – 20-1 – He barely got into the Kentucky Derby thanks to a second place finish in the Blue Grass (GII) last time out at Keeneland. His lack of points was mostly a consequence of tough racing luck versus some of the toughest fields on the prep trail. While he ran admirably in his most recent effort over the polytrack, his pedigree suggests that the dirt surface will be his preferred racing surface. He has also shown a liking for sloppy tracks, finishing second to crack sprinter Majestic Hussar earlier in the season. Like more of Todd Pletcher’s horses he has been working well in advance of this race and could be another live longshot to watch.
GOLDENCENTS (8) – 5-1 – He was very impressive when taking the Santa Anita Derby in his most recent start, pressing a hot early pace before finishing with pizzazz en route to a 1 ¼-length victory. But perhaps the most impressive margin was the length back to third being another 8 ½-lengths. The have been questions surrounding possible distance limitations for Goldencents, but he has not shown signs of these limits on the racetrack, and certainly not in his most recent start. He is likely to move with Oxbow and Verrazano in the early going and will be another horse threatening to keep going at the eighth pole.
ORB (16) – 7-2 – He rolls into the Kentucky Derby having won his last three starts, including the Florida Derby (GI) and Fountain of Youth (GII), two of the historically most consequential preps for the Triple Crown. Many dismissed those wins as taking advantage of uncharacteristically weak fields with questionable pace scenarios. However, once arriving at Churchill Downs, many have been wowed by the horse’s imposing physical presence and energetic workout pattern. The buzz has been so loud and consuming that it compelled Churchill Downs’ official oddsmaker to make Orb the morning line favorite for the race instead of the previously more highly touted Verrazano. This handicapper still has lingering questions about the quality of competition he defeated in Florida.
NORMANDY INVASION (5) – 12-1 – Along with Orb, Normandy Invasion has received the lion’s share of backside buzz during the week of Derby. He is similarly imposing in stature, and has also been working up a storm in the mornings for conditioner Chad Brown. Many speculated that he would become a favorite ‘wise-guy’ horse and these prognostications were proven accurate in the early Derby wagering when he was bet down to the 8-1 level. There is much to like about Normandy Invasion, but he hasn’t yet been able to get the job done versus stakes competition and is still remarkably eligible for a first level allowance event.
VERRAZANO (14) – 4-1 – He enjoyed the favorite’s status for much of the Derby season and was sounding like the probably morning line favorite for the race before Orb made his mark on Derby week at Churchill Downs. It’s tough to knock a horse who is undefeated and untested. However, as the distances get longer his wins become less impressive. He also has yet to be pressed in the early stages of a race, a luxury he will certainly not have in this event. Distance concerns were already being vocalized before he stretched out, given his pedigree. He is still likely to take a lot of money, but concerns abound.