Expert Analysis of Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs (5/7/22)
Here's our TVG Experts' preview and analysis of the stakes race at Churchill Downs on Friday, May 6th. Head over to TVG.com on race day to place your wagers!
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Mike Joyce - Churchill Distaff Turf Mile - Race 5, 12:36 PM ET
The Longines Churchill Distaff Turf Mile is a Grade 2 event for fillies and mares that offers a purse of $500,000. As the name suggests, it is a contest at a mile on the Churchill Downs turf course, a surface all but guaranteed to be anything but firm come race day with local weather reports calling for rain. There are two horses cross-entered in the Modesty which runs Friday, but as of the writing of this article, we can only confirm that Mona Stella will be scratching in preference for the Friday Stakes.
#5 Wakanaka is winless in 2 starts in North America, but both came over the (extremely) firm turf course of Gulfstream Park. Two of her last three victories came in races over heavy or soft turf course. Also, her Italian form was strong enough for Hall of Famer Bill Mott to enter her in the Pegasus World Cup Turf for her first start stateside. She should get some pace to run into (even with the likely defection of Mona Stella who cross-entered in the Modesty) and find footing more to her liking. Yes, she lost to rival In Italian in the Grade 3 Honey Fox last time out, but In Italian had a lonesome and comfortable lead, and Wakanaka looked strong finishing for second. A little pace and a lot of water should tip the scales decisively in Wakanaka’s favor at Churchill. But In Italian isn’t the only Chad Brown runner Wakanaka has to contend with, which gets me to...
#8 Speak of the Devil is a head and a nose away from being a multiple Group 1 winner in France. Her resume was strong enough for her to fetch $2.2 Million at auction this fall and Peter Brant and Chad Brown have had tremendous success with European fillies. But, she’s likely to be favored and she’s trying U.S. soil and sod for the first time. There is no doubt about her ability, but this may be the best day to beat her. There is some caution to be taken here though. It’s Chad Brown and Flavien Prat with a Euro-filly in a graded stakes. It’s easy to over-think these races. Sometimes the simplest approach is best. I’m taking Wakanaka on top but using the Chad Brown runners in exotics so as not to lose all chance.
#7 In Italian has a very useful front-running style, and if anyone is going to steal this one on the lead, it’s likely to be her. I’m fairly confident she’s the fastest filly in this race, but she needs to prove it. She’ll have to battle Lady Speightspeare in the early stages, but if she puts her away, she’ll have the lead and momentum at the top of the stretch. She also broke her maiden over a good turf course at Belmont Park, so she can handle grass with a little cut to it.
8: Speak of The Devil
7: In Italian
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Caleb Keller - Pat Day Mile - Race 7, 1:56 PM ET
To some degree, the Pat Day Mile each year is The Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Horses that were hoping to make the Kentucky Derby did not get their wish. So now most of these talented three-year-olds will compete in Grade 2 named for one of the most beloved jockeys in the history of Churchill Downs. These horses could progress to races like the Woody Stephens and Allen Jerkens later on this summer.
#10 Doppelganger got his name because he is a spitting image of his champion sire Into Mischief. Even though Doppelgänger won on debut, he comes into this race off three straight losses. That being said, this is his best setup for a win since he started back in December. In the San Vicente and San Felipe, Doppelgänger had no shot in behind the very fast and loose leader Forbidden Kingdom. Then, the connections shipped to Oaklawn Park where he had a very stop and start trip throughout the Arkansas Derby. He finished 4th at the wire. This however looks to be a great setup. He is at a better distance and should be able to get an honest pace and clear outside running which is what he has been in search of.
#5 Jack Christopher was the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby. But, due to minor issues he had to scratch from the Breeders Cup Juvenile and we haven’t seen him race until now. His 102 Beyer in the G1 Champagne was one of the fastest two-year-old figures in the last 5 years. His stature is large and imposing. The bigger the horse however the harder it can be to get fit off an extended layoff. This undefeated colt could be a big player in summer racing.
#9 Trafalgar this colt by Lord Nelson has already shown an affinity for the Churchill surface when he broke his maiden at this very distance back in October. He doesn’t have much early speed, but I do see him progressing up through the field for a minor share.
5: Jack Christopher
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Gabby Gaudet - Derby City Distaff - Race 8, 2:48 PM ET
Happy Derby Day! There are some incredible races on the undercard for Derby Day, including the Derby City Distaff. It really all depends on how the race plays out and whether there is a slow or fast early pace.
I believe there will be a moderate to fast pace in here that will set up nicely for closers, including #6 Bell's The One.
Looking back on the Grade 1 Madison, I believe it was a fast pace that collapsed in favor of closers. #2 Just One Time got the best of the trip of all, making the last move into said fast pace. Bell’s The One, however, moved a little too soon, and her impressive closing kick fizzled out before she got to the finish line.
If my assessment is right about the pace in the Madison, then Kimari must be also respected because she held on very well despite being part of that fast pace.
I did actually pick #3 Center Aisle in the Madison, and unfortunately, she had a brutal break -- especially considering her front-running style.
As for the horses that didn’t compete in the Madison, I prefer Obligatory. The best race of her career was her last race and that was her first time over a wet racetrack. She is another closer in this race, but I prefer Bell’s the One and Just One Time when comparing all the closers.
Edgeway will be a shorter price in here, and I’m a bit against her. The last time she was at Churchill was in 2020 when competing in the Grade 3 Dogwood and finished second. I think this race came up much tougher than that race, and I also think she’s better at six furlongs versus seven furlongs. I’m also not sure she does her best running on a wet track. The weather forecast predicts it to be a sloppy mess come Friday.
In conclusion, the play is Bell’s the One on top. She competed in this race last year when Gamine was the controlling speed, and the dynamics of this race are completely different this year. I’ll key her in an exacta with Just One Time, Center Aisle, Kimari, and Obligatory underneath.
6: Bell’s the One
2: Just One Time
3: Center Aisle
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Simon Bray - American Turf - Race 9, 3:40 PM ET
With $500,000 up for grabs here in The American Turf, this race is always a deep competitive event for three-year-olds on the grass. There's o exception this year with a solid group headlined by the undefeated Sy Dog (#7).
The biggest issue for handicappers though might be the weather. As I write this at the beginning of Derby week, the forecast is for an 85% chance of rain on Friday and a 40% chance on Saturday. If those predictions come true, the turf course will become a test of the ability to handle soft conditions. While a few of the runners have handled a “good” turf course in the past, Saturday could be much softer.
With that in mind, I like #5 Balnikhov, the former European based runner now trained in California by trainer Phil D’Amato. He has proven form on soft turf in France last year and comes in off a good US debut finishing second behind a useful Richard Mandella runner. Balnikhov was slow away from the gate, saved ground and just came up a nose short. It was a good effort for his US debut. Expect a nice move forward in his 2nd US start on Saturday.
#7 Sy Dog, the probable favorite, remained undefeated with a nice win at Keeneland in the Transylvania. It was his first start in 6 months over a good turf course, and he railed wide and got up for the win. Expect another move forward. Trainer Chad Brown has won this race three times, and sends pot Portfolio Company (#6) who is making his first start since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in November. The layoff is not a concern for the barn; they always come fit off the bench. He won his debut on rain-softened turf, so hopefully, he can handle the conditions Saturday. The bigger issue for him is race shape. He likes to lay close to the pace where it looks like he will get company who could soften him up.
#12 Stolen Base is the price and could be the beneficiary of a pace meltdown. He will sit far back and come running late hoping to pass tired front runners. He gets the benefit of Flavien Prat in the saddle.
7: Sy Dog
9: Stolen Base
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Britney Eurton - Churchill Downs S. - Race 10, 4:31 PM ET
The G1 Churchill Downs Stakes will be one of the most highly anticipated races on the Kentucky Derby undercard. It's the rematch of Breeders’ Cup sprint winner, Aloha West, and Eclipse Award Champion, Jackie's Warrior. There are a myriad of reasons why this race, in particular, is a unique and intriguing one for the bettor — the distance of 7 furlongs, an affinity for Churchill, and the possibility of an off-track.
The Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner, #1 Aloha West, holds the edge for me. Brilliantly campaigned last year by Wayne Catalano and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, he peaked at exactly the right time. The biggest question, for many, is whether or not that race was a fluke. The G1 Churchill Downs Stakes marks his seasonal debut, and by all accounts, he’s “fired up” and “ready to go”, per his connections. He’s reportedly working off the charts, runs well fresh, has no problem with the 7 furlong distance, and should benefit from what appears to be a fairly contested pace scenario. He drew the rail, but with his running style and long run into the far turn, I don't see this as any issue. All of this adds up to what could be another Grade 1 win for the ‘Cat Man’ and his Breeders’ Cup champ.
To run behind him, I wanted to find a decent price. I think #3 Jackie's Warrior is vulnerable here (more on that to come), so rounding out the exacta for me will be up and comer, #6 Prevalence, for trainer Brendan Walsh. He’s a horse that’s seemingly improved in his four-year-old year and gave a nice account of himself last out in the G3 commonwealth at Keeneland. Make note, that was over a sloppy track, and we very well could have an off-track come Saturday with heavy rain in the forecast. His ability to rate will be key here with so much pace signed on upfront and his outside post will allow Gaffalione to play the break as he sees fit. A nice price for a horse that could be sitting on peak performance.
Now, I'd be silly to not include Jackie's Warrior in the top three. He's a multiple Grade 1 winner and reigning Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Sprinter. That being said, I was a bit underwhelmed by his four-year-old debut in the Count Fleet Handicap. He set the pace that day, much like he always does, got a fairly uncontested lead by the half-mile pole and saw a margin of victory cut down late to 3/4 of a length. There's no doubt that Rosario was easing up on him, leaving more in the tank for the next race, but he should’ve been a bit more authoritative in that win against the level of competition.
That race aside, he might be up against it from a pace standpoint. There's plenty of other speed signed on here, and as he showed in the G1 Woody Stephens, he doesn’t love to be pressed. He's a talented sprinter and has the resume to prove it, but I'm going to try and beat him.
Best of luck with all your wagers on Kentucky Derby Day!
1: Aloha West
3: Jackie’s Warrior
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Simon Bray - Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic - Race 11, 5:27 PM ET
As I mentioned earlier in my analysis of The American Turf, weather will be an X-factor for handicapping on Saturday with severe rain forecast Friday and some potential rain on Saturday. At least in this event, we have several of the 10 runners with prior experience on not only good but soft and heavy ground. Trainer Chad Brown, who has won the last three runnings of this race, saddles 3 of the 10 runners with proven form on soft or heavy ground.
#8 Adhamo a former G3 winner and G2-placed horse in France made his US debut at the Fair Grounds. It was a huge effort rallying from far back to just miss by a head coming home the last quarter mile quicker than any of his 10 rivals. He moves forward in a big way Saturday as he has had plenty of time to recover from that huge effort. He is als0 proven on soft turf against some decent European competition. He should make it 4 in a row for Chad.
#3 Public Sector and #4 Tribhuvan, his two other runners, are not without a chance. The former hasn’t run since November and tries older horses for the first time, and the latter comes in off a poor performance in the Breeders Cup last fall.
All three have contrasting running styles: Tribhuvan a pacesetter, Public Sector a stalker, and Adhamo a closer.
#1 Ivar scratched out of the Makers Mile in favor of this spot. He ran a disappointing race in this event last year but went to the sidelines after, suggesting something was amiss, although his best efforts seem to be at a mile rather than this nine-furlong trip.
Shirl’s Speight (#6) seems to be on an improving trend with a nice win at Tampa last out but soft turf is the question mark though.
#10 Santin adds blinkers and is lightly raced and has room to improve for trainer Brendan Walsh. His race just behind Adhamo in Louisiana puts him in the mix.
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Todd Schrupp - Kentucky Derby - Race 12, 6:57 PM ET
When the field of 20 three-year-olds moves into the Starting Gate for the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 7th it will officially be six weeks straight that I’ve been traveling for TVG following most of the significant players in this year’s Triple Crown.
While this represents a personal record for my longest trip at TVG, most importantly, it has given me an up-close -- and I believe a unique -- perspective on who has the best chance to win this year’s "Run for the Roses". Based on my personal observations during this sojourn, and talking to the connections, here are my top three selections in order of preference:
#10 Zandon's win in the Toyota Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland was visually the most impressive Prep Race win of the Season. The acceleration he showed out of the final turn is how traditionally the Kentucky Derby has been won. Over the last 10 years, a majority of the Kentucky Derby winners have been no further back than three lengths of the lead turning for home. This has been a major departure from years prior. Zandon will turn back the clock to a time when horses with his running style and ability to overcome trouble were the most reliable prospects to win this race. In talking to his trainer, Chad Brown, his confidence level in this horse is almost ‘Ruthian’-like; he expects to win. A win by Zandon in the Kentucky Derby will not only give Chad Brown his first Kentucky Derby victory, but it will also turn the tables on Epicenter, who may have been lucky to beat him in the Risen Star at the Fairgrounds.
No horse has had a better Spring than #3 Epicenter. He not only improved race to race, but he showed versatility, leading gate to wire in the Risen Star, and then, returning to win from off the pace in the Louisiana Derby. However, what’s more astonishing is his form lines. Consider this fact when looking at some of the major prep races this year for the Kentucky Derby: the winners of the Arkansas Derby, Toyota Bluegrass Stakes, and the Stone Street Lexington all lost to Epicenter before their breakthrough wins. Form lines mean a lot when handicapping the Kentucky Derby, and Epicenter goes into the race having shown he can beat three of his serious rivals. And just like Chad Brown, trainer Steve Asmussen has never won the Kentucky Derby despite having won just about every major race in the sport.
#8 Charge It is the very definition of a ‘high ceiling’ when it comes to judging his potential. He finished a very green second in the Florida Derby. He lost to White Abarrio that day, and showed he has much more to give and could easily best his Florida rival this time. Whether that’s good enough to move forward and beat horses like Zandon and Epicenter is purely a speculative play, making him a "Money-Back Special" play consideration.
I hope you have a profitable Kentucky Derby, but mostly I hope you enjoy one of the greatest spectacles in all of sport. I know I have enjoyed being a part of TVG’s coverage of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby". Let’s get the winner home, and then it will be time for me to go home.
8: Charge It
Money-Back Special Pick: #8 Charge It
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