J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
week after a spectacular day of racing at Belmont Park, the attention of racing
fans and handicappers across the country will turn to Churchill Downs, where an
eleven-race card including five graded stakes races will be held. The feature
of the night is the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap for older males, though
the Regret Stakes (gr. III) might offer more opportunity for bettors to make a
big score. Let's take a look at some of the races!
Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I)
horse to beat in the Stephen Foster is undoubtedly Gun Runner, a four-year-old son of Candy Ride that has been on a
roll since late in his three-year-old season. Last November, Gun Runner
defeated a solid field of older rivals in the Clark Handicap (gr. I) over the
same track and distance as the Stephen Foster, then won the Razorback Handicap
(gr. III) by 5 ¾ lengths in his seasonal debut before finishing second to
Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) on March 25th.
one of those efforts would likely be good enough to win the Stephen Foster, and
Gun Runner's proven record at Churchill Downs (three wins from five starts plus
a third in the Kentucky Derby) is appealing as well. The only concern is that
the Stephen Foster will mark his first start in nearly three months (and his
first start since the trip to Dubai), but trainer Steve Asmussen guided Curlin
to a successful Dubai World Cup/Stephen Foster double in 2008, and all
indications suggest that Gun Runner is training well and ready for a big run.
while Gun Runner is the most likely winner, I would also take a close look at Breaking Lucky. The son of Lookin at
Lucky has been a bit inconsistent, but I also believe that all of his recent
disappointments are forgivable.
the following--after a solid summer campaign that included a win in the Seagram
Cup (gr. III) and a close fourth in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I), Breaking Lucky
finished eighth over a wet track in the Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs. Back
on a dry track, he immediately rebounded to finish second behind Gun Runner in
the Clark Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill, defeating the multiple Grade 1 winner
Shaman Ghost by 3 ½ lengths in the process.
time out, Breaking Lucky was beaten 26 lengths in the Pegasus World Cup, but he
emerged from the race "loaded with mucus" according to his trainer, suggesting
that he wasn't at his best. Back in peak form for the New Orleans Handicap (gr.
II) two months later, Breaking Lucky set a very quick pace and was beaten just
a neck at the wire by Honorable Duty, with the rest of the field five lengths
recently, Breaking Lucky finished fifth by ten lengths in the Alysheba Stakes
(gr. II), but that race was conducted over a wet track, and Breaking Lucky was
severely compromised by a slow start and troubled trip that left him well off
the pace. That effort brought his record on wet tracks to 0-for-2, and given
the trouble he had I would draw a line through the race.
Lucky has posted a couple of solid workouts in preparation for the Stephen
Foster, most recently going five furlongs in a bullet :59 1/5 at Woodbine.
Assuming the track is dry on Saturday night, I'm expecting a very big rebound
from Breaking Lucky--certainly enough to finish in the exacta, and maybe even
enough to win if Gun Runner doesn't fire his best shot in his first run back
Regret Stakes (gr. III)
are plenty of options in this wide-open and competitive race for three-year-old
fillies, with one of the most logical being Proctor's Ledge, a filly I've had my eye on since her maiden win at
Gulfstream. That race was at nine furlongs, the same distance as the Regret,
and Proctor's Ledge produced a big finish from off the pace to win by a neck
while running the final three furlongs in :35.17 seconds. She was even more
impressive three weeks later in an 8.5-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream,
unleashing an explosive rally to win by 3 ¼ lengths while blazing the final
five-sixteenths of a mile in :28.80.
troubled start and a poor pace setup compromised Proctor's Ledge's chances in
the Appalachian Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland, but she still managed to finish
third while missing second place by just a head. She again received a poor trip
when fourth in the Edgewood Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs, but that was held
over a course labeled "good," and I believe Proctor's Ledge is superior on firm
are other factors to like as well-trainer Brendan Walsh and jockey Corey
Lanerie have been doing very well at the current Churchill meet (winning at 39%
and 23% rates, respectively), and together they've won at an eye-catching 64%
rate over the last sixty days. The stretch-out to nine furlongs should only
help Proctor's Ledge's chances, and I expect her to give a very good account of
herself at a solid price.
longer shots that I would consider are La
Manta Gris and Anothertequilashot.
La Manta Gris is 15-1 on the morning line, but might attract a bit more
attention off her eye-catching maiden win going 8.5 furlongs on May 20th
at Churchill Downs. After settling toward the rear of the field while racing
very wide behind slow fractions of :49.14 and 1:14.17, La Manta Gris really had
no business winning the race, especially after she ran over a loose piece of
the temporary rail on the far turn, causing her to lose some momentum and
nearly her rider as well. Remarkably, La Manta Gris recovered and finished
strongly to win by a nose while running the final five-sixteenths of a mile in :29.64,
an excellent time at Churchill Downs. At anywhere near her morning line odds, I
think she's worth including in the exotics.
for Anothertequilashot, she finished
fourth in her only start to date (a one-mile maiden race on turf at Churchill
Downs), but that was a race in which the front-runners set slow fractions and
dominated the race while Anothertequilashot was the only deep closer to make an
impact. Despite trying to rally into a final quarter-mile timed in :23.74 over
a course labeled "good," Anothertequilashot was beaten just three-quarters of a
length for second, and according to data from Trakus, her wide trip alone was
enough to cost her the victory.
Philip Bauer doesn't win very often with first-timer starters, but according to
data from Brisnet he strikes at a 36% rate with horses making their second
career start, suggesting that Anothertequilashot could be ready for an improved
run on Saturday. Drawing post six should help her work out a ground-saving
trip, and at 30-1 I'd even be tempted to play her on top if Proctor's Ledge
gets bet down from her 7-2 morning line odds.
Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II)
paper, Forever Unbridled towers over
this field, both in terms of speed figures and overall accomplishments. In six
starts last year, she never finished out of the trifecta while winning the
Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) and Beldame Invitational (gr. I), and she ended
the season with a strong third-place finish behind Beholder and Songbird in the
Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I).
Fleur de Lis will mark Forever Unbridled's first start of the season, and if
she runs to her form from last year it's difficult to envision her losing this
race. Still, if you want to take a shot against her off the layoff (or are
looking for a nice-priced horse to play in the exacta), I would take a look at Romantic Vision at 8-1. If you believe
that the rail on Kentucky Oaks day was by far the best part of the track, then
you have to be impressed by Romantic Vision's runner-up effort in the La Troienne
Stakes (gr. I), in which she raced wide every step of the way but lost by just
1 ¼ lengths to Big World, who saved ground throughout.
only was Romantic Vision compromised by the way the track played, she also ran about
4 ¾ lengths farther than Big World. In terms of speed figures, she might need
to step up to defeat Forever Unbridled, but she fits well against the rest of
her Fleur de Lis rivals and should be a fair price.
it's your turn! Who do you like in the weekend stakes races at Churchill Downs?
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.