Churchill Downs Stakes
Wanderin Boy's inclusion makes the race an interesting one. I was expecting Commentator to be here instead. Zito's decision to run in the Alysheba or here will have a big impact on both races. For now I'll assume that he's not going to run here. I think he'll get his wet track on Friday and go with that. Without him it looks as though the pace will be moderate. Hewitts has some early speed but I think Elite Squadron will control the pace. Elite Squadron has done very well when he's allowed to get out there and lead. He nearly stole the Commonwealth and he'll be out to pull off the same trick. Hewitts is the wild card but I think he'll just offer mild pressure. Spotsgone should also offer some pressure but he does not have a sprinters speed. Because Elite Squadron can control the pace he will be the horse to beat. Junior College and Noonmark are the main threats to run him down. Junior College has been performing at a very high level lately. If not for Semaphore Man he'd have won his last 5 races. He's not brilliant but he is the most consistently fast sprinter in the race. This is a big test for Noonmark. It's a chance to prove that he is not the horse who repeatedly failed to live up to expectations as a 3yo. He should get a perfect stalking trip and I think that on his best day he can handle Junior College. I'm not really confident in this race but I'd likely look for Elite Squadron to wire them or for Noonmark to nail him late. As a saver I'd also use Junior College in the exacta. I'm not a fan of Wanderin Boy or Spotsgone sprinting so I'll oppose them.
La Troienne Stakes
This is a pretty evenly matched field on paper but the overall quality is not that great. I have a feeling that someone will step their game and win pretty easily. Secret Gypsy, Game Face, Informed Decision, Keep The Peace and Alina all have the capability to put in a big effort and win. Obviously not all of them will. I don't really like Alina cutting back from the route nor Secret Gypsy returning from a huge maiden last year. I think Game Face is a slightly better horse than Keep The Peace and I like that she prefers to come from off the pace. Perhaps because the field is even on paper Game Face will stay in the 3/1 region. She is the tepid choice here.
Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes
Tough to know whether or not it's wise to stick with Dreaming of Anna and just move on to the next race or look to get lucky and beat her. Anna's record on the grass is 9-7-2-0 and she is coming in off of an explosive race in the Hillsborough where she absolutely creamed the field. A flat mile is a slightly different game, she'll have a lot more pace pressure from Bayou's Lassie (if she runs) New Edition and even Sharp Susan. It'll be all eyes on Anna and rightly so. She is the controlling speed and the classiest horse in the race. Sharp Susan and Ventura are the only ones who can beat Anna if she is on the top of her game. Sharp Susan beat Criminologist last time and that one came back to win a stakes at Aqueduct. She is sometimes a bit fresh and that has seen her get beaten more than she should have been. I'll play against her because of the price and the fact that some of her best races have come on the front end. Her rankness in other starts maybe indicates that she prefers to be in front. But she won't be here. Ventura is the scary horse. We'd be lying if we said we knew what she was capable of. She has certainly been flawless on this continent and her running style does suggest proficiency at a mile. But there definitely is a wild card angle in that we've never seen her go this far in America nor encounter this type of turf course. She is the reason that I'd stay out of this race in real life but for the purposes of a selection I think you need to stick with the class of Dreaming of Anna. This fixture has seen a longshot or two in the past and I think this years longshot play is You Go West Girl. She does not look capable in terms of her speed but there are a few things to like. She is undefeated at a mile and her two best races have come at Churchill Downs. She is in good form right now and Leparoux is a perfect fit for her. I think that if she runs a race similar to the one she ran in the Regret last year she could definitely hit the frame and maybe even squeak by them if Anna gets softened up and Ventura doesn't fire.
Dreaming Of Anna
You Go West Girl
Humana Distaff Stakes
Wow, this definitely lives up to it's G-1 billing. It's a top quality race from post 1 to 9. The headliners are obviously Hystericalady, who is the defending champ, and Sugar Swirl the hottest sprinter in the nation. Miraculous Miss, Miss Macy Sue, Graeme Six and Baroness Thatcher are no easy touches either and of course that still leaves Intangaroo who has done nothing except win 2 of 3 starts this year including a G-1 over Hystericalady. I think the 7f distance will be a key factor. Miss Macy Sue, Graeme Six and Miraculous Miss all look like better 6f horses. The pace may also be key since there does not seem to be a ton of it. You'll probably see Change Up going to the front. She has a great record at CD and stands a good chance of hitting the frame but I do think that Hystericalady and Sugar Swirl will be too much for her. I'm going to give the edge to Hystericalady. She will likely show more speed from the 1 hole and she has been nearly unbeatable on dirt in the last year. Her running lines look almost the same as they did prior to the 2007 running of this race and I think she can pull one over on the Stronach filly. Price is not great though so it's likely just a great race to watch.
Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes
At this stage last year Einstein looked like he was getting ready to become the best turf horse in America. Things went badly for him that day and they got worse when he fell at Pimlico two weeks later. He's back and looking as good as ever. In three turf starts only Kip Deville has defeated him. I think he has a favorites chance again but it is hard not to notice that he is 0 for 3 at Churchill. Not only is he 0 for 3 but he not managed to hit yet at CD yet. It is not necessarily a clear cut case of him hating the track because he has performed at a very high level here it still makes me quite nervous. Looking for alternatives is not that easy. I'm not a big fan of the Californian Turf form and War Monger has some serious questions to answer after his last debacle. It really leaves me to Thorn Song and perhaps that's the best place to land anyway. Thorn Song has been a bit of a blog pet but I dumped him after the Canadian Turf and swore I wouldn't look at him again until he showed signs of good form. I was actually surprised how well he did in the Makers Mark Mile. That was a very tough field and he hung on grimly for third just a head behind Einstein. He in undefeated on this course including a very nice win over Cosmonaut and he is the only horse with speed. A recent bullet has me convinced he's back on song and we already know he's a tough customer when he's good. He also handles off going so rain would not bother him. I'd use him on top with Einstein and War Monger underneath.
So much thought and analysis has gone into this race it's almost a relief to sit down and write out my final thoughts. There are so many points to cover and directions one could go but I want to start off by saying that virtually no result will surprise me. Aside from Anak Nakal I think all of these horses belong and hats off to those who hit the trifecta without going more than 5 horses deep because in a field like this I'd be tempted to use just about everyone. I think a lot of the hype regarding Big Brown is justified. He is a very likely winner of this race but I will be opposing him for one reason. I think the distance will get to him. I do not expect a fast pace that sets things up for closers. I think the pace will be moderate and fair. This will help Big Brown but he has had a lack of seasoning in route races and I think the final furlong will find him out. The added ground loss from the outside post also won't help. It won't be the reason he loses but ground loss could get to him just like Unbridled's Song. I don't really fear dropping him despite all the hype. He will be nowhere near the best horse to lose the Kentucky Derby. I may actually have a saver exacta of sorts on him just in case the pace is ridiculously slow. I think Big Brown along with Cowboy Cal and maybe Z Humor would cover that possibility nicely. I like two separate horses for the win spot. Colonel John is a solid Derby horse from head to toe and perhaps the result that would shock me most is seeing him run poorly. He might not win but I'm expecting a huge race. We all know his merits but beyond what you see on paper he simply has the look of a Derby winner. Colonel John will be atop of every ticket and pivotal to all my Derby plays. I do think there is another legitimate winner in the race and that is Eight Belles. I certainly hope the public turns a blind eye to this amazon. The morning line on her reads 15/1 to me that is a steal and might be the best value in the race. No other horse in the Derby has combined speed, brilliance, toughness, versatility and consistency like she has. Some say her last race was somewhat unimpressive. I actually loved it, it showed that she has the guts for a battle. She isn't all about a quick burst of pace or simply outclassing lesser foes. Without that gut check I probably wouldn't be backing her because racing against males requires more than just talent. She'll need to be brave and tough. I really am looking forward to a good race from her. I think she'll be the first meaningful contender to get to Big Brown which means I fully expect her to be leading the derby in deep stretch. Whether or not the Colonel can get to her we'll have to wait and see. So Colonel John and Eight Belles on top, Colonel John is slightly preferred but Eight Belles is the value play. For underneath I like a few horses that might go under the radar. I have already mentioned Cowboy Cal and Z Humor. I think both are sitting on a big race. For all the criticism of Pletcher in the Derby he has actually had some underrated horses hit the board. Cowboy Cal can run all day and stands a good chance of picking up a piece. Z Humor's campaign has not gone the way it was supposed to but he is coming into the best form of his campaign. He has always been faster than Court Vision and I think he is the better of the Mott pair. At different points this spring only four horses have impressed me as possible examples of complete Derby horses Colonel John, Z Fortune, Denis of Cork and Eight Belles. You will find mention of them in my Derby Top 10 archive. I have chosen not to select Z Fortune or Denis of Cork as winners but I'd kick myself if they ran good races and I left them out. For various reasons those two are no longer the solid contenders they once appeared to be but the potential is still there. I think it would be the ultimate Derby for me if those four completed the superfecta. So in summary my plays will focus on Colonel John and Eight Belles in the win spot. Z Fortune, Denis of Cork, Cowboy Cal and Z Humor will be used underneath in exacta's and I also advocate a saver on Big Brown just in case. I'd also use Big Brown on the bottom of trifecta's and super's. Best of luck to all in the Derby.