By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Get ready, folks! An exciting weekend of racing is on the
agenda, featuring more than two dozen stakes at tracks across North America.
Some of the best action is taking place at Belmont Park
and Churchill Downs, where the Mother Goose S. (G2) and Stephen Foster S. (G2)
are the respective highlights.
Let's dig into the entries and see if we can't come up
with the winners of both races:
Goose S. (G2) at Belmont Park
Five sophomore fillies will negotiate 1 1/16 miles around
one turn in the Mother Goose, with #3
Clairiere the most accomplished of the lot. A beautifully bred daughter of
Curlin out of multiple Grade 1 winner Cavorting, Clairiere rallied to win the
Rachel Alexandra S. (G2) at Fair Grounds during the winter and most recently came
home fourth in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), beaten three lengths.
But Clairiere is a pure deep closer, and while cutting
back to one turn has the potential to sharpen her stretch kick, I'm not sure
the pace of the Mother Goose will prove favorable to her chances. There isn't
much speed in this small field, with #2
Always Carina looming as the lone front-runner on paper. And since Always
Carina looks like a potential Grade 1 winner in the making, the tactical
advantage she figures to receive may prove insurmountable.
Conditioned by four-time champion trainer Chad Brown, Always
Carina is undefeated and unchallenged in two starts. In her debut sprinting six
furlongs at Aqueduct, Always Carina led all the way to win by four lengths over
next-out winners Amendment Nineteen and After the Party. Then in a one-mile
allowance at Belmont, Always Carina overcame a stumble at the start to lead all
the way, finish fast (final quarter in :24.88), and dominate by 9 3/4 lengths.
Jockey Flavien Prat (5-for-8 teaming up with Brown over
the last two months) is slated to ride Always Carina. The daughter of Malibu
Moon is a half-sister to Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner Structor, so
there's plenty of class in her pedigree. And she's training sharply in
preparation for her stakes debut, with her last two workouts being bullet moves
at Belmont Park. What's not to like? If Always Carina shakes loose on an easy
lead as expected, she can bring her record to a perfect 3-for-3.
Foster S. (G2) at Churchill Downs
More often than not, the 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster at
Churchill Downs is an ultra-competitive race that ends in upset fashion.
Winning favorites have been relatively uncommon in recent years, with Seeking
the Soul (9-2), Pavel (6-1), Bradester (9-1), Noble Bird (9-2), Moonshine
Mullin (10-1), Fort Larned (3-1), Ron the Greek (9-1), Pool Play (36-1), Blame
(7-2), and Macho Again (7-1) landing surprises since 2009.
But once in a while, the Stephen Foster winds up being a
procession for a champion—think Gun Runner in 2017 and Curlin in 2008. Such
might be the case on Saturday when #8
Maxfield starts as a heavy favorite in the 2021 Stephen Foster.
Any way you slice it, Maxfield looms as a formidable
favorite. Just check out his credentials:
Maxfield boasts a near-perfect 6-for-7 record,
including five stakes wins. His lone defeat came when traveling to California
and stretching out over 1 1/4 miles for the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), where he
finished a solid third.
Maxfield owns a perfect 3-for-3 record at
Churchill Downs, including a powerful 3 1/4-length romp in the Alysheba S. (G2)
two months ago.
Maxfield has already defeated several of his
key Stephen Foster rivals, including Alysheba trifecta finishers #9 Visitant and #1 Chess Chief.
Maxfield hails from the barn of hot trainer Brendan
Walsh, a 30% winner at Churchill Downs this spring.
Maxfield has drawn well in post eight,
setting the stage for a clean, unencumbered journey stalking the pace or
rallying from mid-pack.
If you want to add some value to the exotic wagers, #7 South Bend—who received a
significantly troubled trip when fifth in the Blame S. at Churchill Downs last
month—is an intriguing choice under Churchill's leading jockey Tyler Gaffalione.
But for win purposes, I can't look past Maxfield, who figures to be unstoppable
at a short price.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the graded 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 www.theturfboard.com.