Every year, Picks and Ponderings does a Thanksgiving Handicapping Feast. This year, it gets underway with a pair of graded stakes at Churchill: the Falls City and the River City.
Both races drew some familar local faces. The River City, a turf route for open company, drew The Pizza Man…and a very intriguing Illinois-bred on the also-eligible list. The Falls City drew a tightly matched group of distaffers…including a three-year-old ready to make a splash against older, and an Illinois-bred returning to her best game.
This Saturday’s feature at Churchill Downs is the Grade III Commonwealth Turf Stakes. It is one of the last chances for the sophomore turf set to run against their own age group…and one of the last chances for live stakes-quality turf racing in the midwest before winter sets in.
The race drew a competitive field of eleven. I don’t see a lot of pace — and I do see a big price who may just take the race from flag fall to “that’s all”.
What people thought for months would be a straightforward affair became far more complex with the defection of the champion, Songbird. Though not seeing her will be a disappointment…those who like to wager will get a minefield of a race, the sort of race in which if you are right, you will be well compensated for your correct opinion.
With twenty horses in the field, all three-year-olds young enough to still develop, it will not be cut-and-dried. But, we have enough information to identify which horses will likely play certain roles, and which ones have suggested enough versatility to be wild cards.
Thursday is a perfect time for Kentucky Derby talk: the draw will be over, and my picks will be finalized. I did Triple Crown race segments with Dane and Ben last year as well, and they were a blast. Thanks again for inviting me on to the show — let’s pick some winners!
Last year, nestled between the Golden Rod Stakes (GII) and the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII), Churchill Downs carded an allowance-optional. It was an N1X for two-year-olds, going a one-turn mile on the dirt.
Dortmund came. Dortmund saw. Dortmund conquered. Dortmund proved a force on the Derby trail.
This year, Churchill carded the same sort of race again: a top-shelf N1X allowance-optional, a mile over the dirt, between the Golden Rod and the Kentucky Jockey Club.
Though only seven horses saw the starter in that race on November 28, a pair from that group were on my radar before the race.
Stageplay (Stage Stop, by Valid Expectations) was no secret going into her maiden race. The two-year-old grey had a solid string of works going into her October 10 unveiling. She went off favoured in a field of ten for a maiden special weight going six and a half furlongs on the Keeneland dirt. She proved ready. Stageplay stalked in the second flight, made a sweeping move around the turn, ran down longtime leader Carina Mia, and won by three widening lengths.
Not since the heady early days of Saratoga has there been such a good day for Curlin babies. From Churchill to Parx to Laurel to Santa Anita, the sons and daughters of Curlin were running big and getting their pictures taken.
American Pharoah has won the Triple Crown. He will make an appearance at Churchill on Saturday evening, but it will hardly be interesting or useful to handicap that part of the day. Odds are 1/20 that he will look shiny, and that people will cheer a lot.
However, there are four graded stakes races Saturday night at Churchill Downs, including a pair of Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In races for the Classic and Distaff divisions. We tackle the sequence at Picks and Ponderings. I take a look at the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) for the handicap division, as well as the Matt Winn Stakes (GIII) for three-year-olds on dirt. Paul Mazur turns his attention to the Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII) for the older distaffers, and the Regret Stakes (GIII) for three-year-old grass fillies. The races will comprise an all-stakes Pick 4.
Last year was a banner year for a pair of Midwest Thoroughbreds homebreds, The Pizza Man and Work All Week. The Pizza Man handled rises in class with aplomb, dethroning Dandino in the American St. Leger. Work All Week became only the second Illinois-bred to win a Breeders’ Cup race, winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on his way to an Eclipse Award for Champion Sprinter.
Work All Week returns in the Grade III Aristides Stakes, facing six foes in an attempt to keep his dirt record unsullied. Paul Mazur takes a detailed look at the Aristides. The Pizza Man comes back in the Opening Verse Stakes, dialing back to 1 1/16 miles for the first time since last year’s Black Tie Affair Handicap against Illinois-breds almost a year ago. I provide my selections and analysis for the Opening Verse.
Two weeks ago, I went to the Kentucky Derby with Candice.
It was my first trip to the Derby (though not my first to Churchill Downs), and my first to any Triple Crown race. It was a bit different than I expected, mainly because I am so used to being a railbird, and yet general admission tickets did not cover access to the apron. We could get to the paddock or the infield. From the paddock, we could see the horses before the races, but would have to watch the races on the screen. From the infield, we would be in the midst of a huge party…but only be able to see the horses when they ran by our section of rail, assuming we were lucky enough to get a rail spot.
The Humana Distaff originally drew a field of eight, though it looks to be down to seven with the defection of Sweet Whiskey to Friday’s La Troienne instead. Sweet Whiskey looked to be lone speed, and now the sprint has become a paceless affair. Judy the Beauty looks that much tougher, but there are a few very nice long shots to use underneath.
Derby fever has set in…and has even caused Chicago Railbird to fly (at least figuratively) south to Kentucky for the weekend!
In the first of my two columns at ShapperDaCapper this week, I take a deep dive into the Kentucky Derby. I split the horses into tiers, explain why I like the horses I like, and explain why I am not enamoured with a few horse likely to go off at shorter prices.