The Saturday racing card at Churchill Downs marks the 2008 U.S. debut of defending Horse of the Year winner Curlin in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap. The last time Curlin raced at Churchill downs he was a green 3-year-old that battled through a horrific trip to finish 3rd in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Smart Strike used that effort, where jockey Robby Albarado said he “became a man” in the stretch, to move forward in what became his coming out party during the Preakness two weeks later. The rest, as they say, is history as the colt has gone on to prove his dominance as the top U.S. dirt horse, as well as a force to be reckoned with on the international circuit with his resounding 7 length win in the prestigious Dubai World Cup in March.
A very strong undercard features 5 additional stakes races in what features to be an excellent day of thoroughbred racing. Let’s take a look at the stakes races, beginning with the Grade 2 Fleur De Lis Handicap in race 6, and running all the way through the Grade 3 Mint Julep in race 11. No doubt bettors will be focusing their action on these races in the pick 4 and pick 6 wagering.
Race 6: The Fleur De Lis Handicap (G2) – 1 1/8 miles.
#5 Hystericalady (4/5*)
#2 Peach Flambe (3/1)
#1 Aspiring (12/1)
#5 Hystericalady headlines the field and for good reason. She’s a grade 1 winner and has battled with the likes of Ginger Punch and Nashoba’s Key. I think there’s enough speed in here today that she could sit a comfortable race just off the early pace and look to make her move in the stretch – where she should prove the best horse. It’s going to take the best race of someone else’s life to get past her. #2 Peach Flambe would appear to be a contender based on speed figures alone. I’m just not sure she’s good enough to seriously threaten Hystericalady. She did run 2nd to Ginger Punch in the Sunshine Millions Distaff, but she was beaten handily by over 6 lengths. Hystericalady, on the other hand, gave Ginger Punch all she could handle in the Breeder’s Cup Distaff last fall. #1 Aspiring is a horse I’ve got to use based on name alone, but besides that there’s really not much to like.
Race 7: The Regret (G3) – 1 1/8 miles (turf)
- #4 Pure Clan (7/5*)
- #6 Magical Theater (10/1)
- #3 Zee Zee (3/1)
#4 Pure Clan is 4 for 7 lifetime, with a pair of respectable losses to the late Eight Belles and another solid effort against Proud Spell last out. She won’t find anyone of that caliber here today. The pace won’t exactly be ideal, but she should be able to sit a comfortable trip and make her move in the stretch to prevail. #6 Magical Theater exits back to back victories and although she’s only raced at the maiden and conditional allowance levels and steps up into stakes company today, she has beaten some return winners. The daughter of Smart Strike has every reason to move forward today. #3 Zee Zee has solid turf form and cannot be totally dismissed here. She’s had trouble classing up in the past, but has the ever useful third start off a layoff angle going for her as well.
Race 8: The Northern Dancer (G3) – 1 1/16 miles
- #1 Recapturetheglory (3/1)
- #2 Pyro (7/5*)
- #6 Visionaire (5/1)
We’ve got plenty of familiar names to those who followed the 3-year-old campaign this year leading up to the 2008 Kentucky Derby. All 3 of the runners exiting the Derby wound up in my selections today. #1 Recapturetheglory will be on the lead from the 1 hole and look to wire this field. There doesn’t appear to be any serious pace pressure here unless #5 My Pal Charlie decides to go after him, which may well happen since ‘Charlie’s best bet to hit the board is to be as forwardly placed as possible early on. #2 Pyro was my top ranked 3-year-old until Big Brown arrived on the scene. Since then things have gone wrong, and he must look to prove that the synthetic try in the Blue Grass and the bad start to the Derby warrant drawing lines through them. If the colt that ran in the Louisiana Derby and the Risen Star shows up – he should be coming late to threaten for the score. #6 Visionaire was progressing nicely until the same combo of races that Pyro ran into. I’m thinking he’ll be in a nice stalking position turning for home here and if anyone can get to Recapturetheglory and My Pal Charlie, he should have a good shot. Obviously I feel that #5 My Pal Charlie was hard to leave off as his name keeps popping up in this analysis. #7 Texas WIldcatter also warrants consideration underneath.
Race 9: The Jefferson Cup (G2) – 1 1/8 miles (turf)
- #4 Tizdejavu (3/1*)
- #7 Bobby Blue Eyes (6/1)
- #3 Wicked Style (5/1)
Arguably the most difficult of the stakes races on the card to handicap. #4 Tizdejavu has yet to run a bad race in his career. He prevailed by a nose at the G3 level last out and has been working beautifully in the interim. He’s also a Tiznow colt, andI tend to have a fondness for them. #7 Bobby Blue Eyes absolutely freaked last time out when hitting the grass for the first time to break his maiden by 10 lengths. The competition gets deeper, and you always have to worry about a bounce off such a performance, but perhaps this one just really is that much better on the grass? I’ll take my chances at decent odds. #3 Wicked Style was a G1 winner before having a rough time in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile. I’m willing to think he needed that last race on 5/21 after a long layoff and will look for a better effort here. I think another number you’ve got to consider in the multi-race wagers is #8 Go West Bert. True, his freak move last out was in an off-the-turf race in the slop, but his form was solid on the grass prior to that.
Race 10: The Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) – 1 1/8 miles
- #1 Curlin (3/5*)
- #9 Barcola (20/1)
- #4 Einstein (5/1)
The feature race of the day – and Curlin’s 2008 U.S. debut. It’s been a long time since we last saw Curlin thrashing the world’s finest in the World Cup. Even longer since we saw him romp in the slop at Monmouth in the Breeder’s Cup Classic. If the horse we all know and love shows up – fahgetaboutit. If he happens to have some Dubai rust on him, or is a bit too eager off the layoff and gets used up early and tires – then perhaps #9 Barcola has a shot to wire the field in a fashion similar to what Da’ Tara did last weekend (I know, I know – enough with the references to the Belmont). #4 Einstein looks playable to me, but you’ve got to hope he can be something close to what he usually is on grass. #5 Grasshopper could also be in the mix here today, andwill likely find a way into the money – but unless he brings his best I don’t see him hitting the wire in front. Get ‘em Curlin – win this one and you’re within reach of Cigar’s all-time earnings.
Race 11: The Early Times Mint Julep (G3) – 1 1/16 miles (turf)
- #3 Dreaming of Anna (1/1*)
- #8 Kiss With a Twist (15/1)
- #11 Ciao (6/1)
#1 Dreaming of Anna is the class of the field and has a legitimate shot to take them gate-to-wire in the closer. If she can prevail she’ll boost her lifetime earnings closer to the $2 million mark. Her workout tab sure looks like she’s on her A-game. #8 Kiss With a Twist may be a surprise to hit the board. Note a couple of things. She’s a 4 year old daughter of Lemon Drop Kid and she seems to love the Churchill grass. She could surprise and move forward today. #11 Ciao also does some of her best running at Churchill on the grass and while thrashed by Dreaming of Anna in the Pucker Up (G3), she has matched class with Bit of Whimsy in the Mrs. Revere. I’d also think of using #6 Street Sounds here as on her best she can hit the board.
Best of luck to all, and as always be sure to check for late changes/scratches.
Good luck Curlin – make us proud!