Seeking an Upset in the Roxelana Stakes

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

On a relatively quiet weekend of racing in North America, one of the most intriguing events on the agenda is Saturday's $110,000 Roxelana Stakes at Churchill Downs.

At first glance, the 6 1/2-furlong sprint for fillies and mares isn't the most appealing betting race. Just six horses have been entered, with #5 Sconsin (1-1) a heavy favorite on the morning line. Isn't this the type of race where we simply single the obvious choice in multi-race wagers and move on?

But dig a little deeper, and the Roxelana becomes more appealing—more competitive. Because truthfully, I'm not sure Sconsin is as unbeatable as she appears at first glance.

That's not to say Sconsin lacks impressive credentials. Three of her four victories have come at Churchill Downs, where the daughter of Include boasts an impressive 5-3-1-0 resume. After rallying to win the seven-furlong Eight Belles S. (G3) at Churchill last fall, Sconsin returned to her favorite track this spring to finish second in the Derby City Distaff (G1) and first in the Winning Colors S. (G3).

But Sconsin has been the beneficiary of pace meltdowns on more than one occasion. In the Eight Belles, for example, she settled more than eight lengths behind hot fractions of :22.11 and :44.14 before swooping to victory by 2 1/4 lengths. Then in the Winning Colors, Sconsin rated casually behind splits of :21.72 and :44.55 before rolling past the leaders to score by 3 1/4 lengths.

Sconsin might not receive as favorable a setup in the Roxelana. On paper, there isn't a ton of speed in the entries. Last year's Madison S. (G1) winner #4 Bell's the One (7-5) is a deep closer who enters off a fourth-place finish in the Derby City Distaff. #2 Miss Mosaic (12-1) prefers to stalk the pace or rally from mid-pack. #1 Shesomajestic (20-1) and #6 Jungle Juice (30-1) have tactical speed, but although they've been known to set the pace on occasion, neither can be viewed as a pure front-runner.

This could set the stage for #4 Four Graces (7-2) to secure a favorable trip in her 2021 debut. The daughter of Majesticperfection showed significant promise as a three-year-old, winning her first four sprint starts by a minimum of 1 1/2 lengths. She put her speed to especially good use in the Beaumont S. (G3) at Keeneland, setting fractions of :22.29, :44.37, and 1:08.83 before drawing off to beat Sconsin by 4 3/4 lengths.

Sconsin subsequently got burned up dueling for the lead in the Eight Belles, where she fought on bravely to finish second behind Sconsin. This effort seemed to take a toll on Sconsin, as she failed to flash her typical early speed when fading to seventh in Keeneland's Raven Run S. (G2) to conclude her 2021 campaign.

On the bright side, Four Graces has been freshened since the Raven Run, and she's come back to post an eye-catching series of workouts at Churchill Downs. With eight timed breezes under her belt since the beginning of April (capped off by six furlongs in 1:11 2/5), Four Graces should be fit for a strong effort off the break. Keep in mind, trainer Ian Wilkes wins at a respectable 15% rate with horses returning from layoffs of 90 days or more, exceeding his overall 11% win rate.

So my hope for Saturday is to see Four Graces come out running and secure the early lead through a modest opening quarter-mile split. Unless the pace intensifies during the second quarter—and on paper, there's no reason to think it will—Four Graces can kick on down the homestretch to spring a surprise at 7-2.

Sconsin is a deserving choice to round out the exacta, while trifecta tickets can add Bell's the One for third place. Winner of the Winning Colors S. (G3) and Derby City Distaff (G1) at Churchill Dowens last summer, Bell's the One was compromised by a slow pace when attempting to defend her Derby City Distaff title seven weeks ago. But the field was deep; in addition to Sconsin, the race featured champion female sprinter Gamine and next-out Bed o' Roses S. (G2) winner Estilo Talentoso. And even in defeat, Bell's the One earned her sixth straight triple-digit Brisnet Late Pace rating. She'll be an exotics player if she runs her typical race on Saturday.


1st: Four Graces
2nd: Sconsin
3rd: Bell's the One

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Roxelana Stakes?


Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!

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

Recent Posts

More Blogs