Let’s take a look at some of the races from Churchill Downs for today, Oaks Friday. I’m going to try to tread lightly in today’s races and then go a bit more in depth when handicapping the Derby card later tonight. Still, there are a few undercard races worth discussing before I get to the Oaks:
Race 2: Maiden special weight at one mile on turf
Monarchic (#4) has an excellent pedigree for grass. By Forestry, he is from a dam who was one-for-one racing on grass in France. She has produced four foals, the best of which was Mrs. Lindsay, winner of the prestigious Prix Vermeille (G1) in France and E.P. Taylor Stakes (G1) in Canada. Monarchic began his career on dirt, but made his turf debut two race back at Gulfstream and ran quite well that day. He battled for the lead early and then hung on gamely through the stretch just getting outfinished by a half-length at the end. After that effort, his connections brought him to Keeneland for a try over the Polytrack and everything went wrong in that spot. He was off slowly and then got boxed in on the rail for the entire backstretch run. On the far turn, when the leaders began backing up in front of him, he was still stuck down on the inside and was shuffled all the way to the back of the pack. He finally got clear in the stretch and passed a few horses to be fifth, but the race was essentially over at that point. Now Monarchic is getting back on turf and should have an excellent shot to turn the tables on favored Lord Tarzan who finished in front of him last time at Keeneland.
$6 Win 4
Race 5: Optional claiming $80,000/N3X at one mile on turf
Frontside (#3) looks like the lone speed on paper, especially with the scratch of Dawn Lane, and I doubt she’ll even be the favorite. It looks like she’s really come to hand as a 4-year-old and she should be very tough to run down. The bet;
$6 Win 3
Race 7: The Eight Belles Stakes (G3) at seven furlongs
There is plenty of speed on paper here so I went looking for a closer. Always Here Too (#1) may be a bit slower than the top contenders, but I think she is going to find the seven furlongs of this race to be a perfect distance for her. And while she hasn’t run a particularly fast race, she also hasn’t disgraced herself versus some nice fillies. The names Grace Hall, Believe You Can, and Summer Applause appear in her PPs and it’s not as if she was trounced in those races. It seems like her sprint races are better than her routes and although she was beaten by Good Deed in the six furlong Prima Donna at Oaklawn last time, I think the extra furlong will make a big difference today. I will also box her in the exacta with Xunlei (#4), who won’t be as far back as Always Here Too early, but can sit off the pace and should get first run on the leaders. The bet:
$6 Win 1
$4 Exacta Box 1-4
Race 9: The Alysheba Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles
For me, this race comes down to three horses. Nates Mineshaft (#1) is in excellent form, but he’s going to face early pressure from longshot Plutonium. I don’t see how I can leave him off my tickets, however, after that devastating performance in the New Orleans Handicap last month. He went fast early and fast late to the tune of a 113 Beyer speed figure and he should be tough to catch again today if he can shake loose around the far turn. Successful Dan (#2) at one point in his career would have been the favorite in here, but after missing all of 2011 he’s playing catch up. His comeback win was solid if not spectacular, but he should move forward off that race and will surely get a decent pace to run into. Finally, Mucho Macho Man (#4) looms as the likely favorite and I have no knocks on him. Both of his Gulfstream races were solid and the horses he beat–Jackson Bend and Ron The Greek–came back to validate that form. He should be stalking Nates Mineshaft early and he showed at Gulfstream that he’s not going to give the frontrunner a breather around the far turn.
Concerning the other major contenders, I’m against Fort Larned because I don’t believe his Beyer speed figure last time and the same goes for Apart since he may need a race off the long layoff. This should be a great race.
Race 10: The American Turf Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
This three-year-old turf stakes came up especially deep and it’s pretty difficult to just choose one or even two in here. This is going to be a spread race for me in multi-race wagers and I’ll be using a couple of pace horses, one stalker, and two closers. Silver Max (#13) and Howe Great (#14) are the likely favorites and they both prefer to run up on the front end. They also both drew the far outside post positions and, while I think they are the two most talented horses in this race, the presence of other early speed gives me cause for pause. Gung Ho (#2) ran an excellent race in the Blue Grass Stakes last time when chasing Dullahan and Hansen home and he may actually be best on turf. My two longshots are both closers. Travel Advisory (#10) finished second to Silver Max in the Transylvania at Keeneland last time, but Silver Max did get loose on the lead that day and Travel Advisory should have a much more lively pace to run into today. Look At the Time (#6) is my guess horse. If not for a disqualification in his debut, he would be a perfect 4-for-4 in his career. Yes, he’s only faced Louisiana-bred competition so far, but after watching some of his races I really get the feeling that he is winning with more left in the tank. He needs to improve a bit to win this, but it’s not as if he looks completely overmatched on paper and his closing style fits this race quite well.
Race 11: The Kentucky Oaks (G1) at 1 1/8 miles
I like Summer Applause (#3) here and if she is anything near her ridiculous 15-1 morning line, I’ll be making a big bet. I’ve been a fan of hers all winter and there’s no doubt in my mind that she’s the best of a strong group of fillies exiting the Fair Grounds this spring. She’s just continued to get better and better since leaving Woodbine and getting on dirt and she should love the stretch out in distance to 1 1/8 miles–something you cannot say for all of these fillies.
There is plenty of pace in this race and Summer Applause possesses a very versatile running style, so I wouldn’t mind seeing Garrett Gomez take her back as far as seventh or eighth place early in the race. You always need luck in a 14-horse field, but I feel pretty strongly that if Gomez can maneuver Summer Applause into the clear coming to the top of the stretch, she has the strongest finish of any horse in the race.
Race 9: $2 Pick-3 1-2-4 with 2-6-10-13-14 with 3
Race 11: $15 Win 3