It is Kentucky Derby night, but the card does not stop there, with six races prior I have to get my thinking cap on for a feast of top Graded flat racing from the US.
18.13 Churchill Downs
CHURCHILL DISTAFF TURF MILE STAKES (Grade 2) ‘Fillies & Mares’ 1m
I have always enjoyed Churchill Downs over the years, and this illustrious meeting and with the first leg of the triple crown on the card we could either see a potentially new star on the block, or good pointers for the forth coming Breeders Cup later in the year.
Last years winner TEPIN should really be going back to back in this contest this evening, the mare has come on massively since turning past her slow building three year old career winning eight of her ten races which has included Just A Game Stakes, First Lady Stakes, Breeders Cup Mile and this season the Jenny Wiley Stakes. She is not going to make you rich in the market, but she is a mare to take seriously.
Her main market rival surely will come form the Todd Pletcher’s Isabella’s Sings, Todd Pletcher won this back in 2010 with Phola who never went on to produce her potential and was retired to stud that year. Four year old’s have taken nine of the past ten renewals and this could favour Pletcher’s filly. But I do feel strongly even though it has been eight years since we saw a five year old land this race, Tepin is an exceptional mare.
TEPIN : £50 Win @ SP
18.55 Churchill Downs
CHURCHILL DOWNS STAKES (Grade 2) 7f
This is usually ran at a serious pace, so would you want to back a horse that is coming into this for their first run since July last year. Most of the winners over the past seasons have had no longer than six weeks off the track and this would be against William Mott’s four year old SPEIGHTSTER. He will be coming off a slight bone injury from last year, but there have been glowing reports that he has been working well at home.
All he has to do is put that to the track, his last win in the Dwyer Stakes was impressive when winning by two and a quarter lengths over Texas Red who went on next time to beat Frosted in the Group 2 Jim Dandy Stakes, Frosted went on to win at the Dubai Carnival this year and finished a very creditable fifth to California Chrome in the World Cup.
If he fails to shine on the night, I would presume they will be heading to stud, so who is good enough to beat him. Kobe’s Back has made a pleasing transition to five winning both his starts this year at Santa Anita, landing the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Stakes when beating one of his adversaries today in Salutos Amigos by half a length. He will get a 3lb pull this time around and should be recognised as a player under the illustrious Gary Stevens.
Salutos Amigos had to dig deep to fend off the challenge of Calculator in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct, he was conceding 6lb to the runner up, but found things really tough and could do so again drawn wide. Calculator has to got the slight weight advantage this time around with Salustos, but looks another that will struggle.
Overall, this looks to be between the selection and Kobe’s Back on paper, if Mott’s entry can over come the lengthened absence he should be very hard to beat with the form line through Frosted, Kobe’s Back has the great Gary Stevens on board and you can never right off the Iron Man.
SPEIGHTSTER : £25 Win @ SP
19.45 Churchill Downs
HUMANA DISTAFF STAKES (Grade 1) ‘Fillies & Mares’ 7f
The first Grade 1 of the meeting, and again I can see this going off a serious clip into the first quarter, this is going to play into the hands of Chad Browns WAVELL AVENUE, things never went right for her in the Madison Stakes and their where questions that did they go to fast for her in the first half of the race setting just above 11.7 second fractions, or did Julien Leparoux get it totally wrong when giving her too much to do and finding traffic problems in the closing stages.
We will always remind ourselves that these are horses, and a rider can only get out if them what they have underneath them, considering she was going up against Ensign Stakes winner Sheer Drama and Breeders Cup Distaff winner Stopchargingmaria, it was a fairly solid performance on the book. This actually looks a weaker contest and with Jose Rosario now back on her, I feel she will get home in front this time around.
Best of the rest, not sure the field will be able to with stand the selection charging home, I suppose you make a case for Taris and Spelling Again with the former mentioned the likely one to be in the mix, Taris beat Spelling Again in the Go For Wand Handicap at Aqueduct back in November and should holds that form at the weights.
WAVELL AVENUE : £25 Win @ SP
20.35 Churchill Downs
AMERICAN TURF STAKES (Grade 2) 1m 110y
This race has only been Graded 2 category since 2010, and it has attracted a good field for the first prize of just over 125k. Chad Brown won this back in 2013 with Noble Tune, and is well represented here with Camelot Kitten. He is the progeny of Kitten’s Joy who has once more tasted success here on British shores with Hawkbill who landed the Newmarket Stakes recently.
He was very poor in the Grade 1 Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf at the back end of the season when finishing second last, which included behind the likes of Airoforce and Dressed In Hermes, but he bounced back on his first appearance this year when runner up in an allowance race at Keenland, is that good enough to be stepping back up in to pattern company so soon, he looks to have a lot on his plate here.
Breeders Cup Juvenile race has a lot of depth for this race, and Airoforce who will represent Mark Casse this evening. He was I thought unlucky to be defeated in the Breeders Cup when behind Hit it a Bomb by a neck. Julien Leparoux definitely earn’t his fee that day when he had to get after the three year old to galvanize a challenge in the closing stages, he never gave up and was very unlucky.
This year has been very disappointing finishing not only outside the placings, but has a combined defeat of over forty lengths to his name. Obviously he has not come on as a juvenile and is emulating his fathers genes who also failed miserably at three after a very promising juvenile campaign. One I feel though can come on from the Breeders is Janet Armstrong’s DRESSED IN HERMES.
A sketchy juvenile career when winning the Grade 3 Cecil.B.Demille Stakes after finishing fifth at the Breeders. Now gelded he has made a positive transition when winning the Pasadena Stakes at Santa Anita under Mike Smith and I would have no doubt there is much more to come form the son of Hat Trick this year.
DRESSED IN HERMES : £10 each Way @ SP
21.25 Churchill Downs
PAT DAY MILE STAKES (Grade 3) 1m
AMERICAN FREEDOM looks a really nice prospect, the lightly raced son of Blue Grass Stakes winning sire Pulpit should have these cooked by the three quarter pole. Most of the field are looking exposed and with him being a late foal and a very expensive purchase he should be a prospect this season.
His debut win came at Santa Anita when pulling away in the heavy conditions to record a one and a half length success, he put daylight from the home straight and ran all the way to the wire, it could be a maiden worth looking at for the forth coming season and for me the Nap on the card.
AMERICAN FREEDOM : £100 Win @ SP (NAP)
22.25 Churchill Downs
WOODFORD RESERVE TURF CLASSIC STAKES (Grade 1) 1m 1f
The elders over the past few years have dominated this race, but this time around they look weak opposition to a four year old that could go well here. Carla Gaines looks to have a very interesting contender here in BOLO, 2-6 as a three year old it looks like the penny has finally dropped for the son of Temple City who has made a very pleasing transition with a success in the Grade 2 Arcadia Stakes, to run well last time in the Grade 1 Frank E Kilroy Stakes over the 8f on good ground.
The winner What A View has franked the form by landing the Grade 3 Thunder Road Stakes last month and is still unbeaten, the third Bal A Bali finished third once more in the Grade 2 San Francisco Mile Stakes at Golden Gate. Mike Smith has elected to ride him once more and has form figures (132) so another bold showing again.
BOLO : £20 Win @ SP
23.24 Churchill Downs
KENTUCKY DERBY PRESENTED BY YUM! BRANDS (Grade 1) 1m 2f
The finale on the card, it has attracted a packing field of twenty runners, who will josling for position early, the past two years we have probably witnessed two of the best horses to grace the race in California Chrome and triple crown winner American Pharoah. Who will be the new star, is there a triple crown winner among them.
Victor Espinoza is attempting history to win three Kentucky Derby’s in a row, but this time he rides an un-fancied outsider in Whitmore for Ronald Moquett. A trainer that does not win many big races, we would have to go back to 2006 when he won the Stephen Foster Handicap and had to wait nine years for more success when landing the Southwest Stakes in 2015, but this race is what dreams are made of.
Looking at Whitmore’s pedigree, he is by nine time winning sire and winner of the Breeders Cup Classic, Dubai World Cup and Pacific Classic winner Pleasantly Perfect. Whitmore has been his most Successful progeny in top flight company this season and even though he commands a rating of just 102 and up against it, who is to say he cannot go close in this race.
His last run came in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby when held up off the pace under Irad Ortiz, the ground looked to of caught him out, but looking at the race I think Ortiz could of held on to him a little longer and got there too soon. Can he step up to 10f on quick ground is another question mark, his sire handled the index well enough and there is no reason why he cannot be on the premises.
Nyquist comes into this as the paper favourite, he is unbeaten in seven and will represent the 2012 winning trainer Doug O’Neill. With four Grade 1 wins in his career his transition has been pleasing, landing the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes and more recently the Grade 1 Florida Derby. He is a front runner, but tends to hang when under pressure, never less he has shown a winning attitude, but this is his biggest test to date.
One of my favourite oversea’s horses from last season was Mohaymen, now I am going to totally over look his defeat to Nyquist in the Florida Derby when fourth that day, he looked not his usual self when labouring quickly losing ground in the straight when looking to be travelling as well as the winner. I think Churchill Downs will suit him better this time around and would expect him to be closer to Nyquist this time around.
If we would have a shock winner then who better to ride than Kent Desormeaux, he is definitely a jockey for the big occasions and rides for his brother here on EXAGGERATOR who I feel is the biggest threat to all. He has been getting better and better this year and got his just deserve when landing the Santa Anita Derby when overhauling Mors Spirit by a very easy six and a quarter lengths. Even though that was in very wet conditions, he could be in better light and has not that much to find with Nyquist on their San Vicente Stakes contest back in February.
He has a lovely breeding back ground, by Curlin out of an average mare Dawn Raid, the dam-sire was Breeders Cup Juvenile winner Vindication, this is going to stretch his stamina to the maximum, but if getting the trip on this ground which I feel he will, then my money is well and truly down.
EXAGGERATOR : £10 each Way @ 7/1 (Check US odds)