By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
If you check out the North American stakes schedule for
this weekend, you might come away thinking, "there's not much going on this
week." Only a handful of ungraded stakes races are on the agenda, and there
isn't a single graded stakes race to be found.
But wait—there's good news! Though the stakes action is a
bit quiet, Churchill Downs, Santa Anita, and Golden Gate Fields are reopening
this week, bringing high-class racing back to Kentucky and California. You'd be
surprised how many prominent horses have been entered to run in allowance
events this week—even a couple Breeders' Cup champions. And if you're willing
to turn your attention outside of North America, the Sunday card at Tokyo
Racecourse in Japan is stellar with the Group 1 Victoria Mile leading the
We'll return to our regular handicapping programming next
week with the Matt Winn Stakes (G3), a new Road to the Kentucky Derby prep
race. In the meantime, I'm going to exchange my handicapper hat for my racing
fan hat and highlight seven horses I'm excited to watch this week, regardless
of whether I wind up playing or opposing them:
Mel (Santa Anita Race 9, 7:30 p.m. ET)
Though he isn't favored on the morning line, I have to
think the first-time starter Big Mel will
receive plenty of support in this 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight.
Conditioned by Bob Baffert, Big Mel sold for $800,000 as a yearling and has
been cranking out fast workouts since February—a sampling includes five
furlongs in :59 2/5 on Mar. 7, a half-mile in :46 4/5 on Mar. 21, a half-mile
in :46 1/5 on Apr. 17, five furlongs in :59 3/4 on May 3, and six furlongs in
1:12 4/5 on May 10. Times aren't everything, but this son of Quality Road
clearly has some speed and figures to prominent from the outset under jockey J.
C. Diaz, Jr. Could Big Mel turn out to Baffert's next star? We'll get a better
idea on Friday.
Light Go (Gulfstream Park Race 6, 3:16 p.m ET)
Winner of the Saratoga Special (G2) and runner-up in the
Champagne (G1) as a juvenile, Green Light Go has only run once in 2020,
finishing a distant third in the seven-furlong Swale (G3) on Feb. 1 at
Gulfstream Park. But keep in mind, the Swale was a very strong race; the
victorious Mischevious Alex returned to win the Gotham (G3), while runner-up
Shivaree finished second in the Florida Derby (G1) and fourth-place runner
Untitled nabbed the runner-up spot in the Gotham before claiming an allowance
A Triple Crown nominee, Green Light Go will return to
action in Saturday's Roar Stakes, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds. The
son of Hard Spun has been training forwardly for Jimmy Jerkens and will be
racing with Lasix for the first time, setting up the potential for an improved
performance while facing just five rivals. Hot jockey Luis Saez has the mount.
(Gulfstream Park Race 8, 4:21 p.m. ET)
The above-mentioned Gotham (G3) runner-up Untitled will
also head to the starting gate on Saturday. The dominant winner of a 1-mile
allowance optional claiming race for Florida-breds at Gulfstream last month,
Untitled will stick to the same track, distance, and class level for his latest
test, but he'll leave the state-bred ranks in favor of a run against
Running a one-turn mile seems to be a strong suit for
Untitled. He was tons the best last time out, carving out fractions of :23.37,
:45.59, and 1:09.37 before pulling clear easily to win by 3 3/4 lengths. But
Saturday's race won't be a walkover, because Untitled will be knocking heads
with the exciting maiden winners Extraordinary and Casino Grande, as well as
the up-and-coming allowance performers Edge of Fire and Cajun Brother. Both
Extraordinary and Edge of Fire in particular appear to have significant upside,
so I'm looking forward to using Untitled as gauge for the overall strength of
this promising field.
Girl (Churchill Downs Race 4, 2:32 p.m. ET)
At long last, Monomoy Girl is ready to return! The
champion 3-year-old filly of 2018 was a beast during her signature season,
rattling off victories in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1),
Acorn (G1), Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), Ashland (G1), and Rachel
Alexandra Stakes (G2). Only a controversial disqualification from victory in
the Cotillion (G1) prevented Monomoy Girl from compiling a perfect 7-for-7
Unfortunately, a handful of setbacks—including a bout
with colic—prevented Monomoy Girl from racing in 2019. But her connections have
persevered, and Monomoy Girl is finally back in the entries, favored at 4-5 in
a 1-mile allowance optional claiming race. The daughter of Tapizar brings a
lengthy slate of fast workouts to the equation, including three :59-and-change
five-furlong moves at Keeneland since Apr. 18, suggesting she still has the
speed from her championship days.
Monomoy Girl probably isn't cranked for an absolute peak
effort off the layoff, but she might not need her best to beat Saturday's
compact field. In any case, it will be a delight to see her back on the track.
du Vin (Tokyo Racecourse Race 10, 2:00 a.m. ET)
Winner of the Cattleya Sho last November, Dieu du Vin is
currently ranked fourth on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard,
setting up the possibility that he could be invited to compete in the Run for
the Roses. A son of Declaration of War out of the Tapit mare Jealous Cat, Dieu
du Vin missed the Feb. 23 Hyacinth due to a minor setback and subsequently
disappointed when giving turf a try in the Apr. 18 Arlington Cup (G3),
finishing eleventh in a dull performance.
But since Dieu du Vin was switching surfaces and
returning from a 5-month layoff, I'll draw a line through that effort and
assume he'll rebound while returning to dirt in Sunday's 1,600-meter Seiryu
Stakes at Tokyo. His stiffest competition could come from Tagano Beauty, who
sits third on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard after rallying
to finish second in the Hyacinth. These two colts figure to wage a nice battle,
so Kentucky Derby fans are advised to keep an eye on what transpires in the
Seiryu. There's a chance the race will produce a starter on the first Saturday
Eye (Tokyo Racecourse Race 11, 2:40 a.m. ET)
A six-time Group 1 winner, Almond Eye has compiled a
fantastic record, sweeping the Japan Filly Triple Crown before dominating male
rivals in the 2018 Japan Cup (G1), 2019 Dubai Turf (G1), and 2019 Tenno Sho
Autumn (G1). A versatile mare capable of competing at a high level from 1,600
to 2,400 meters, Almond Eye will kick off her 5-year-old season in Sunday's
1,600-meter Victoria Mile (G1) at Tokyo, where she'll face 17 rivals in a deep and competitive
A few of Almond Eye's challengers are formidable, including
Loves Only You, winner of the 2019 Japanese Oaks (G1). But Almond Eye can
produce a wicked turn-of-foot on her best day, and she had no difficulty
winning the Dubai Turf in her seasonal debut last year, so returning from a
layoff shouldn't be a concern. Remember, we're talking about a superstar who
has at one time or another run 1,600 meters in 1:30.90, 2,000 meters in
1:56.20, and 2,400 meters in 2:20.60. I expect Almond Eye to put on quite a
show this week.
Wheel Drive (Churchill Downs Race 10, 5:44 p.m. ET)
Undefeated in three starts, all against stakes company,
Four Wheel Drive showed a ton of promise sprinting on turf last year. The son
of American Pharoah wrapped up his productive season with a front-running
victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2), holding off a late
surge from Chimney Rock to prevail by three-quarters of a length.
Trained by Wesley Ward, Four Wheel Drive will kick off
his sophomore season on Sunday in a 5 1/2-furlong grass allowance race at
Churchill Downs. He won't be facing an easy field—Chimney Rock is back to
challenge again, and Four Wheel Drive's own stablemate Maven could be a threat
if he runs back to the form that saw him claim the Prix du Bois (G3) at
Chantilly last year. But barring any surprises, Four Wheel Drive's pure speed should
win the day, potentially setting him up for a run at Royal Ascot in England.
Now it's your turn! Which horses are you looking forward
to watching/playing this week?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.