Included are all races except for the Classic, which will have a column of its own. Also check the final column for any changes and updates based on late defections and final observations from the morning’s activities.
FILLY AND MARE SPRINT – This race promises to have an early cavalry charge, with so much speed. One of the fastest fillies, SELCOURT, will have to bust out of there from the rail. She crushed the favorite, MARLEY’S FREEDOM in the Santa Monica back in March, but hasn’t run since, so she will be fresh in addition to having blazing speed and the inside post. GOLDEN MISCHIEF, gutsy winner of the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes in her last out, defeating three other fillies in the field, wowed everyone in her workout the other morning. That, and having won three consecutive stakes, should send her off at lower that her 10-1 morning line odds. Of course, the filly to beat definitely is Marley’s Freedom, who has won four in a row, three of them in graded stakes since being turned over to Bob Baffert. Her 3 1/4-length score in the grade 1 Ballerina Stakes last time out in a sprightly 1:21 1/5 makes her the overwhelming favorite, especially with the defection of stablemate Dream Tree. You can pick the others out of a hat and have a good chance of being right there, and this race has produced some unexpected winners. The one filly who caught my eye at 15-1 is MIA MISCHIEF, who is one of the few fillies who has excellent speed, but is comfortable coming from off the pace if she has to. She has a record of two wins and two seconds in her four starts at Churchill Downs; she’s never been worse than second going seven furlongs; she’s been first or second in nine of her 10 career starts; and the last time she ran at Churchill, she won the seven-furlong Eight Belles Stakes this past March in 1:21 4/5, earning a career high 97 Beyer speed figure. She is coming off a six-furlong sharpener in the Prioress Stakes, in which she was second to the undefeated Dream Tree after battling on the lead until inside the eighth pole. She has a terrific post (8) and has been training well for Steve Asmussen.
TURF SPRINT – This is another crap shoot, with last year’s winner STORMY LIBERAL the often brilliant DISCO PARTNER, the world record holder at six furlongs, and the speedy and classy WORLD OF TROUBLE the horses to beat. Of these, I like World of Trouble, who is extremely fast and has really taken to the grass and handles yielding ground. There is a huge pool of longshots to choose from, but I will go with two of them. RAINBOW HEIR is an 8-year-old New Jersey bred who has won 14 races in his career, scoring in stakes at five furlongs, 5 1/2 furlongs, and six furlongs. The main question with him is the ground. He has been mostly a firm course horse, but he has run well on good going. Two starts back he won the Gulfstream Turf Sprint, earning a career high 106 Beyer speed figure, which is several points higher than Stormy Liberal ran in last year’s BC Turf Sprint. You have to admire a tough old horse like this who has not lost a step. He won his first four career starts on dirt, including the grade 3 Jersey Shore Stakes by five lengths in 1:09 2/5. The other horse I like at 20-1 is the European invader HAVANA GREY, a winner of six of 15 starts who likes give in the ground and is more effective on soft going than firm. Although he is coming off an eighth-place finish in the 16-horse group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye, he was only beaten 2 3/4 lengths and drops 13 pounds off that race and gets Lasix for the first time. Two races back he won a group 1 stakes at the Curragh over yielding ground and had an excellent blowout over the turf course this week.
DIRT MILE – Good luck beating CATALINA CRUISER and CITY OF LIGHT, as the Dirt Mile returns to being a true mile race, run around one turn, the way a mile race was intended. In any major race, always beware of Dallas Stewart, who sends out SEEKING THE SOUL, fresh off an impressive victory in the one-mile Ack Ack Stakes at Churchill Downs. He is listed only at 5-1 on the morning line, and you can be sure he will be bet. Also very formidable in here is FIRENZE FIRE, who loves a one-turn mile and showed what he is capable of on his best day when he demolished his field by nine lengths in the one-mile Dwyer Stakes, run in a blazing 1:33 3/5. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for a longshot, even though SEVEN TRUMPETS and ISOTHERM are in good form. The latter’s third-place finish behind Accelerate and West Coast in the Awesome Again Stakes either makes him look great or makes them look bad, as he hadn’t won a race in 19 months and that was on the grass. Yet he was right there battling with them inside the eighth pole. We also have classy horses like BRAVAZO, GIANT EXPECTIONS, and TRIGGER WARNIG to consider for longshots. But I am going with the hard-hitting AWESOME SLEW at 15-1, who is coming off a so-so fifth in the Ack Ack. But with that race having slow fractions, he was closer to the pace than he likes and was only beaten 2 1/4 lengths. If Catalina Cruiser and City of Light hook up early, this guy thrives on fast early fractions and he’s been in the money in three of his four starts at Churchill Downs, winning last year’s Ack Ack Stakes. He also managed to rally for third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at 14-1. He’s been second in seven-furlong stakes to Drefong, Mind Your Biscuits, and Limousine Liberal, and also to the blazingly fast Army Mule. He defeated the classy A P Indian in the Commonwealth at Keeneland, so he does have his day on occasion and has competed against top-class company his entire career. It’s a tall order in here, but at the price he’s going to be, he is worth a shot, at least to fill out the exotics.
FILLY AND MARE TURF – All you have to do is beat five Chad Brown horses, headed by the consistent and classy SISTERCHARLIE and her arch rival FOURSTAR CROOK. With Brown monopolizing the U.S. forces, that means you have to look for a European, and there are plenty to choose from, led by group 1 Prix de l’Opera and Nassau Stakes winner WILD ILLUSION, who was not on her best behavior Wednesday morning, unseating her rider after being bothered by something she saw. Also formidable is the Aidan O’Brien-trained MAGIC WAND, second in the Prix de l’Opera and second, beaten a head, in the Prix Vermeille. She has been competing in major stakes and classics all year and did manage to run away with the group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot by four lengths. If only I could see the start of the race before making a longshot pick, so I would know how EZIYRA is going to break from the 14 post and if she can get a good position without losing a ton of ground. This Dermot Weld-trained filly is ultra consistent, finishing in the money in all 11 of her races, and she looked good winning the group 2 Blandford Stakes last time out, and defeated colts in back-to-back group 3 stakes at Leopardstown this past August and September of last year. She has had only three starts this year, is fresh, and at the top of her game. And she gets Frankie Dettori, so if anyone can get her in position early it is Dettori. What I also like about her is that she is a group winner at seven furlongs and a mile and a half and has finished third to both Enable and Sea of Class in the Irish Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks, respectively. The other longshot who can make her presence felt at 20-1 is the Joe Sharp-trained MOM’S ON STRIKE, who never runs a bad race and is just now finding herself. And she gets blinkers on after making a monster move from 10th to first at Kentucky Downs only to get nailed at the wire. Three races back she rallied from 28 lengths back to get beat two lengths by Fourstar Crook in the grade 2 New York Stakes at Belmont and easily won the grade 3 Bewitch Stakes at Keeneland the race before that. She is two-for-two on soft or yielding ground and has a win and a second in her two starts at Churchill Downs. That’s not a bad resume for a 20-1 shot. So although it’s going to be tough to crack the walls of the Chad Brown fortress and also knock off Wild Illusion and Magic Wand, I’ll take a shot that Eziyra and Dettori can overcome the 14 post and also look for Mom’s on Strike to be flying at the finish.
SPRINT – This is not a race for longshots, with IMPERIAL HINT, ROY H., PROMISES FULFILLED, and WHITMORE in there. I do like Whitmore breaking from the rail, as he can now take back, let the others do all the dirty work up front and then come rallying up the inside late, as he did when he beat City of Light and Limousine Liberal in the Forego Stakes. There is no reason why Roy H. won’t run another big race, and Imperial Hint and Promises Fulfilled have been brilliant, each winning their last three starts. But if there is any hope of getting at least a bit of an overlay, how can you ignore LIMOUSINE LIBERAL, who I feel was best in the Phoenix Stakes last time out after getting stopped in the stretch and having to alter course twice before getting beat a half-length by Promises Fulfilled at Whitmore. This horse never runs a bad race, and although he is probably better at seven furlongs than six, he has won six of his eight starts at Churchill Downs, with a second. He is at least worth putting the exacta with the four favorites.
MILE – This is anyone’s race, with no Goldikovas, Wise Dans, Miesques, Lures, or Da Hosses in the field. Normally you would think OSCAR PERFORMANCE can run these horses off their feet, but the worst race he ever ran was at Churchill Downs over a good course that was on the deepish side. For what it’s worth he did win the Pilgrim Stakes at 2 by six lengths over yielding ground. There will be a lot of support for the Freddie Head-trained POLYDREAM, who had a disastrous trip in the Prix de la Foret, in which she was stopped cold in traffic, losing all chance. Prior to that she beat the colts in the group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest and group 3 Prix du Palais Royal. The winner of the Foret, ONE MASTER, is very consistent and loves soft ground. He is 12-1 on the morning line, partly no doubt because he was 47-1 in the Foret. Also heavily supported will be the Michael Stoute-trained EXPERT EYE, coming off four straight huge efforts in top-class races, including placings in the group 1 Sussex Stakes and Prix du Moulin. The question with him is how he will handle the soft ground. Aidan O’Brien has the filly I CAN FLY, coming off a stunning neck defeat to Roaring Lion in the group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at 33-1. I don’t know where that performance came from but it was on soft ground. Looking at the disadvantageous outside posts you have the Sussex Stakes winner LIGHTNING SPEAR, who has been disappointing in his last two, in post 11; the hard-knocking Aidan O’Brien colt GUSTAV KLIMT in post 13; and Shadwell’s multiple group 2 winner MUSTASHRY in post 14. Of the Americans, ANALYZE IT, trained by Chad Brown, breaks from post 12 and will have to show speed from there. CATAPULT, coming off wins in the grade 2 Del Mar Mile and Eddie Read Stakes, breaks from post 10 for John Sadler. Formerly trained by Chad Brown, he has run well enough on soft ground. Brown also has the Arlington Million runnerup ALMANAAR shortening up to a mile, and finally there is NEXT SHARES, the upset winner of the Shadwell Turf Mile. The longshot I am leaning towards is the Aidan O’Brien-trained filly HAPPILY, coming off a head defeat to the classy Laurens in the group 1 Sun Chariot Stakes. Although winless this year, she was beaten a half-length in the French Oaks, and was third in the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas. She is undefeated on soft ground, with two of her three victories coming in group 1 stakes. The daughter of Galileo just might be rounding into top form and should love the soft going.
DISTAFF – Can ABEL TASMAN rebound off her last start? Is MONOMOY GIRL still in the same for she was earlier this year after giving away the Cotillion Stakes by uncharacteristically meandering all over the track in the stretch? Is MIDNIGHT BISOU as effective at 1 1/8 miles as she is at 1 1/16 miles, as she is still looking for her first victory beyond eight and a half furlongs? Can BLUE PRIZE move up against better fillies and can she keep a straight course this time after nearly blowing the Spinster Stakes? Is WOW CAT in this class after beating a subpar field in the Beldame Stakes? Was it the addition of blinkers that enabled VALE DORI to win the Zenyatta Stakes at 11-1? Is LA FORCE finally ready to put it all together after her narrow defeat in the Zenyatta and chasing Unique Bella in the Clement Hirsch and Beholder Mile? Yes, there are questions galore. So, now to look for some value. Can I actually make a case for a filly was beaten 30 lengths in her last two starts? WONDER GODOT never ran a lick in the Travers Stakes and was beaten more than 10 lengths by Monomoy Girl and Midnight Bisou in the Cotillion. So what’s to like? This filly has had a grueling campaign, running 10 times, all stakes, at seven different racetracks. And she has only been out of the money once. She has been beaten four times by a half-length or less, and once by three-quarters of a length, including a game half-length defeat to Monomoy Girl in the Kentucky Oaks. She trounced the boys by 4 3/4 lengths in the Queens Plate and then took the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, winning the Prince of Wales in the slop by nearly six lengths. Following 15 races in 13 months with no break, she has had a six-week “freshening” and has been literally jumping all over the track in the morning. I don’t know whether she’s good enough to beat these fillies, but she has beaten colts twice and almost beat Monomoy Girl, and despite her long campaign, she could be ready for a huge effort. At 15-1, it may be worth taking a shot. Watch out for WOW CAT. Yes, she beat a weak field in the Beldame, but she's always had superstar potential, needed her first start in the U.S. and visually looked terrific in the Beldame. She looks to be the overlay in here.
TURF – If you have watched ENABLE in the morning, especially on Wednesday, you might be inclined to pass this race and just watch and enjoy. This amazing filly is all class and all swagger, and is just a joy to watch. She is everything you look for in a racehorse and was pure poetry galloping this morning. If you do want to take a shot and try to beat her, there is always the Andre Fabre-trained WALDGEIST, fourth in the Arc de Triomphe, beaten 1 3/4 lengths after encountering traffic for a good portion of the stretch run. And we know how dangerous Fabre is. Just look at last year’s winner TALISMANIC, who is back again. Waldgeist and Talismanic, like Enable, handle all types of ground and don’t mind it soft. Then there is this year’s possible version of Found, as Aidan O’Brien tries for the upset with MAGICAL, coming off a victory in the group 1 Champions Filly race at Ascot. Although 10th in the Arc, she was beaten only 5 1/4 lengths after rallying from far back with an outside run. Magical has a long way to go to emulate Found, but you always have to respect an O’Brien horse who is coming off a big effort. So, no doubt the Europeans are going to be tough, especially with the absence of a true American star. We even have a group 1 winner from Brazil in QUARTETO DE CORDAS and another O’Brien runner in HUNTING HORN. So does an American have any chance at all? None of our horses can match the closing power of Enable and Waldgeist, and even Talismanic on his best day. But there is a way of possibly beating them. Take advantage of the projected soft going and eliminate their explosive kick by controlling the pace and keep it fast enough for them to try to keep up. Soft ground can at times take away from a horse’s turn of foot, and if you’re an American horse you have to use your main weapon – speed. CHANNEL MAKER and GLORIOUS EMPIRE, each listed at 12-1, are both capable of skipping over a soft course and wiring their field. It’s just a question of which one tries and outruns the other. Of the American closers, I’m not sure Arlington Million winner ROBERT BRUCE wants a mile and a half and SADLER’S JOY hasn’t won anything lately and is more of an exotics type. I’m not sure if ARKLOW is classy enough to handle these horses and LIAM THE CHARMER has never run on a soft or yielding course. If you are looking for a real bomb, HI HAPPY is another who is capable of running horses off their feet. This is a four-time group 1 winner in Argentina on grass and dirt. He stalked the early pace when he won the Pan American and Man o’ War Stakes and battled for the lead in the Manhattan before getting beat a half-length. He went off form at Saratoga but bounced back with a strong second in the Knickerbocker after going wide into the first turn and getting beat a neck. If Channel Maker and Glorious Empire try to slow the pace down to a crawl or don’t want the lead at all I would take the initiative with Hi Happy and just try to steal it. With Enable, Waldgeist and Talismanic all waiting to pounce, there is nothing to lose. So, how about a win bet on Hi Happy at huge odds and play him in the exactas and trifectas. Also check the odds on Channel Maker and Glorious Empire. If you feel they are high enough, you can put something on them in case either one of them winds up on the lead controlling the pace. Heck, just bet all three. Whichever one of these horses can establish a clear lead will be tough to catch on the soft going. Hi Happy also is an excellent stalker and as long as he can put distance between himself and the Euros, even sitting off another horse, he looks to be the biggest bang for your buck at huge odds.