Picks for the Debutante and Bashford Manor

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

It's never too early to start talking about two-year-olds, right?

The 2019 Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks are more than ten months away, but we'll get an early, early look at potential Derby and Oaks contenders when Churchill Downs hosts the $125,000 Debutante Stakes and the $125,000 Bashford Manor Stakes (G3) on June 29.

Both races have attracted large fields of lightly-raced juveniles, so let's dig in and come up with a couple of plays:

Debutante Stakes

On paper, it's hard to look past Steve Asmussen's #7 Magic Dance. What's not to like? The daughter of More Than Ready was a complete professional in her debut at Churchill Downs three weeks ago, settling three-wide while tracking solid fractions before taking command in the stretch and pulling clear under a hand ride to win by 4 ¾ lengths. She had little difficulty dismissing heavy favorite Josie and posted an excellent 84 Beyer speed figure.

The fact that Magic Dance isn't a need-the-lead type is encouraging, though she certainly has the speed to contend for early supremacy if necessary. Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. will pick up the mount, a noteworthy rider change since Asmussen and Santana have been on fire lately, scoring Grade 1 wins with Mitole, Mia Mischief, and She's a Julie while winning at a 20% rate together.

Magic Dance won't offer much of a price on the win end, but I suggest betting her in a cold double with #1 Phantom Boss in the Bashford Manor (see below) and on top of a cold exacta with #2 Indy Takes Charge underneath.

Like Magic Dance, Indy Takes Charge was a decisive debut winner earlier in the Churchill Downs meet, rallying from mid-pack to win a five-furlong event on May 31 by 3 ¼ lengths. This was noteworthy since Indy Takes Charge is bred top and bottom to excel running a mile or farther, so this Pat Byrne-trained filly figures to relish the stretch-out to six furlongs in the Debutante Stakes.

Bashford Manor Stakes (G3)

In terms of speed figures and proven class (if such a thing even exists in early-season juvenile racing?), #1 Phantom Boss looms as a clear standout in the six-furlong Bashford Manor Stakes. Based at Santa Anita with trainer Jorge Periban, Phantom Boss opened his career in a 4 ½-furlong maiden special weight on May 19, in which he rallied down the lane to fall a neck short of catching victorious Fore Left. Notably, Fore Left came right back to dominate the Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park.

Following this narrow defeat, Phantom Boss wheeled back two weeks later in a similar race against California-breds at Santa Anita. The result? A 2 ½-length triumph over the next-out winner Pas de Panique, a performance that yielded a solid 78 Beyer speed figure.

With two nice runs under his belt, Phantom Boss has already demonstrated he's not a one-race wonder. Shipping to Churchill Downs and stretching out to six furlongs are obvious question marks, but generally speaking the form of young California dirt horses tends to translate well to Kentucky, and Phantom Boss has enough stamina in his pedigree to suggest he won't stumble while stretching out to six furlongs, which really isn't that far anyway.

For second place, #10 Rowdy Yates is a logical candidate to play in the exacta and trifecta. He was much the best in his debut sprinting 5 ½ furlongs at Churchill last month, setting the pace and pulling clear with ease to prevail by 4 ¾ lengths. The race came back light on the Beyer scale (64), but Yowdy Rates was much the best and appeared to win with his ears pricked, suggesting he had plenty left in the tank. Just like Magic Dance, Rowdy Yates will have Ricardo Santana, Jr. in the saddle and should be poised to take a step forward on Saturday. If he does, he might even challenge Phantom Boss for victory and give Asmussen a shot at a stakes double.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Debutante and Bashford Manor Stakes?


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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.

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