Looking for a Breakout Performance in the Winning Colors

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

Although it's only a Grade 3 with a $100,000 purse, Saturday's Winning Colors Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs has drawn a surprisingly deep field. Eight talented fillies and mares have turned out to contest the six-furlong sprint, and it would come as no surprise to see the 2020 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) champion emerge from the Winning Colors.

The most accomplished mare in the field is #7 Spiced Perfection, winner of the La Brea (G1) as a 3-year-old and the Madison (G1) last spring. This daughter of Smiling Tiger is 3-for-3 sprinting six furlongs but has also proven effective running longer, even stretching out over a mile to dominate the 2019 Go for Wand Handicap (G3). A stakes winner at Del Mar, Santa Anita, Keeneland, and Aqueduct, Spiced Perfection has demonstrated the ability to win while on the lead, stalking the pace, or rallying from behind, giving her the versatility to be effective under any pace scenario.

But Spiced Perfection hasn't run since Jan. 25, when she finished a surprising fourth as the favorite in the Inside Information Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park, Since then, she's been transferred from trainer Peter Miller to Mark Casse, and while she's working sharply enough for her return—clocking four furlongs in a bullet :47 flat on May 17 at Churchill Downs—I'm hesitant to support Spiced Perfection off a poor effort while debuting for a new barn.

Expected favorite #8 Mia Mischief brings stronger recent form to the equation for trainer Steve Asmussen. The speedy daughter of Into Mischief loves Churchill Downs, cracking the exacta in seven of her eight starts over the local oval while winning five times, and she proved her worth against Grade 1 company when cruising to a comfortable victory over Grade 1 winner Marley's Freedom in the Humana Distaff (G1) at Churchill last spring.

A pace presser with a strong record dashing six furlongs, Mia Mischief is 2-for-2 so far in 2020, using an easy allowance win at Oaklawn Park as a springboard to victory in the six-furlong Carousel Stakes. Mia Mischief left no doubt about her superiority that day, drawing away to win by 4 1/2 lengths against a quality field, and the race came back fast on the speed figure scales (99 Beyer, 103 Brisnet). Drawing the outside post affords Mia Mischief with plenty of options for working out a clean stalking trip on Saturday, suggesting this classy 5-year-old is hands-down the runner to beat.

Yet victory might not be a shoo-in for Mia Mischief. Stalking trips can be dandy when you have the leader measured, but as talented as Mia Mischief has proven to be, there's no guarantee she'll find the speed and fortitude necessary to reel in #2 Break Even, who looms as the "speed of the speed" in the Winning Colors.

As a 3-year-old in 2019, Break Even was almost unstoppable for hot trainer Brad Cox. A pure front-runner, Break Even won her first six starts like a star in the making. She was particularly sensational in the seven-furlong Eight Belles Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs, carving out blazing splits of :22.08, :44.14, and 1:08.88 before powering clear over a sloppy track to score by 5 1/2 lengths over future graded stakes winner (and fellow Winning Colors contender) #4 Bell's the One.

Break Even seemed to regress slightly during the summer and took an extended break from training following a runner-up effort in the Prioress (G2) at Saratoga, the first defeat of her career. She also misfired in her 2020 debut, finishing last in the 5 1/2-furlong Spring Fever Stakes at Oaklawn after dueling for the lead through a destructive :21.43 opening quarter.

But Break Even turned things around in a six-furlong allowance race on Apr. 18 at Oaklawn, delivering a performance that hints she has the talent to be a top-class sprinter this year. Surging to the front through testing fractions of :21.73 and :44.79, Break Even turned on the afterburners in the homestretch, cruising clear without any special urging from jockey Joel Rosario to score by three lengths in 1:09.28.

Break Even appeared to have a lot left in the tank and could be poised to deliver a career-best performance in her third start off the layoff. Rosario retains the mount, and Break Even figures to play "catch me if you can" while breaking from post two. If she runs as well on Saturday as she did in the Eight Belles last spring, catching this fleet filly might prove to be impossible.

Assuming Mia Mischief attracts the most wagering support thanks to her Grade 1 win, affinity for Churchill Downs, and strong recent form, Break Even figures to offer a fair price in the wagering—perhaps 3-1 or higher. Yet as a 3-year-old she ran more or less as fast on the speed figures scales as Mia Mischief, so it's not a stretch to conclude a more mature Break Even is capable of outrunning the favorite in the Winning Colors.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Winning Colors?



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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.

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