And to end the day, a cracking card at Churchill, including a wide-open Kentucky Derby with a preview to come later. For now…
6.13 – Humana Distaff (Grade 1) (4yo+ Fillies & Mares) (Main Track) (Dirt) (4yo+): A very strong renewal here where Marley’s Freedom is a worthy favorite to make amends for her defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. The market has found her however, and Bob Baffert might have a big threat in Emboldened. Six furlong was too fast for her in the Las Flores Stakes but before that she ran a huge race to finish third in the La Brea Stakes when she blew the start, made a big early move to get back into contest. She lost nothing when third to Spiced Perfection (since a winner of the Maidson Stakes, beating Amy’s Challenge by a neck)
6.55 – Longines Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes (Grade 2) (4yo+ Fillies & Mares) (Turf) (4yo+): Well contested for the grade. Valedictorian got the better of Proctor’s Ledge on 4lbs worse terms in the Sand Springs Stakes and Preciuse on 6lbs worse terms in the Honey Fox Stakes and should be involved in the finish on those terms despite the likely improvement that Chad Brown will get from his pair of Preciuse and Envrions, along with Bill Mott’s Capla Temptress.
Advice: 1 pt each/way Valedictorian (8/1 Coral, Ladbrokes)
7.45 – 7f Churchill Downs Stakes (Grade 1) (4yo+) (Main Track) (Dirt) (4yo+): Top quality racing here and worthy of a Grade 1 upgrade. Mitole has been very impressive in his rapidly progressive career but he’s going to face a lot more pressure on the front end than he did in the Count Fleet Handicap at Oaklawn, when involved in their own private pace battle with Whitmore. Whitmore can sit back – as he did when second in the Breeders’ Cup, although he had no answer to Roy H. Promises Fufilled is very talented but he was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup when forcing the pace and he could be locked in with Bobby’s Wicked One, a game winner of the Commonwealth Stakes at Keenland latest, in a pace duel.
Advice: 1 pt win Whitmore (3/1 Ladbrokes)
8.37 – American Turf Stakes presented by Ram Trucks (Grade 2) (3yo) (Turf) (3yo): Tough to pick between a few but Digital Age impressed with his turn of foot and attitude when getting the better of Forever Mo at Tampa Bay and the way Forever Mo pushed Seismic Wave at Gulfstream subsequently suggested that was a decent effort. He’s probably got the most improvement to offer out of this field with just two starts and if Chad Brown feels comfortable putting him in here with such little experience then perhaps he’s worth chancing. A Thread Of Blue, the winner of The Palm Stakes at Gulfstream, sets a good standard along with Avie’s Flatter, the Transylvania Stakes winner.
Advice: 1 pt win Digital Age (4/1 Betfred)
9.28 – Pat Day Mile Stakes presented by LG and E and KU (Grade 3) (3yo) (Main Track) (Dirt) (3yo): Instagrand might be better as a sprinter than a 9-furlong horse but a repeat of his Santa Anita Derby third would give him a serious chance here are the odds suggest. Going with the three-year-old form, Rebel Stakes winner Market King could be interesting. He was beaten by Ohama Beach and Game Winner here and this is a lot less hot on paper if you forgive his blowout.
Advice: 2 pts win Instagrand (6/5 general),1 pt each/way Market King (20/1 general)
10.25 – Old Forester Turf Classic Stakes (Grade 1) (4yo+) (Turf) (4yo+): Bricks and Mortar was an impressive winner of the Pegasus Turf World Cup before giving 9lbs to Markitoff in the Muniz Memorial Handicap, and he ought to take the beating here now he’s broken through at the top level. He can get the better of Synchrony (third in Muniz handicap), and Raging Bull, fourth ion the Maker’s Mile. Indeed the big value in the race is probably Clyde’s Image who was runner-up in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mile at Keeneland on his latest start, ahead of Qurbaan.
Advice: 3 pts win Bricks and Mortar (15/8 general)
11.50 – Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade 1) (3yo) (Main Track) (Dirt) (3yo): One of the most open renewals of this race even by Kentucky Derby standards. Bob Baffert has made this race his own in recent years and Roadster, who’s unbeaten in two since a breathing operation. The way he closed to win the Santa Anita Derby off fractions of 22.34, 47.84 and 1.12.20 for the ¼, ½ and ¾ mile respectively was deeply impressive and he was never stronger than at the line when passing Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Game Winner. He will get a guaranteed stronger pace to run at today and if Florent Geroux can get a clear run through from stall 16, he will hold a major chance.
Game Winner, who took the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile here, has to be respected following seconds in the Rebel Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby, although on both occasions he was forced wide and on the front and he’ll have to do the same again from 15. Improbable, second in the Arkansas Derby, has the box seat of the Baffert Runners and is likely to take some passing if the early fractions are sensible.
The early fractions were very sensible indeed when Maximum Security made all in the Florida Derby – he was allowed the lead off 24.42, 48.98 and 1.12.90 for the ¼, ½ and ¾ of a mile before he left Bodexpress and Code of Honour for dust. His turn of foot that day was deeply impressive, but there’s no way he will have such an easy tie of things on the front end and holding off the closers will be tough.
Bill Mott is an elite trainer that has never won a Kentucky Derby, but in Tacitus, he might have one of his best ever chances to break his duck. The son of Tapit has improved hand over first since his Belmont success. On his first graded start in the Tampa Bay Derby he went wide and say back early before closing restlessly off fast fractions (22.79, 45.85, and 109.57) to win handily, beating Win Win Win (since behind Vekoma). In the Wood Memorial he did the same again, overcoming early trouble and taking a posse on the inside to close into hot fractions around the turn, getting the better of the previous Grade 3 winner Tax. On both occasions he was stronger finisher in the race and going by that evidence he ought to be even stronger in the stretch today. Stall 9 gives Jose Ortiz the potential for a perfect sit and with a good spot, few might be closing better.
Code of Honour, the winner of the Fountain of Youth when Vekoma (giving 6lbs) was behind never had pace to run into there but he will do today and is one of a number who make each/way appeal today. Vekoma himself was an impressive winner of the Blue Grass Stakes at Keenland, and with an ideal rail spot, is another who shouldn’t be too far away. He had Win Win Win comfortably held there and should do so once again.
By My Standards pulled off a bit of an upset when coming down the rail to deny Spinoff in the Lousiana Derby. Both are young improving horses who posted a decent time when coming well clear at Fair Grounds and neither are to be underestimated here, although Manuel Fanco will have a tough time getting a good sit from stall 12.
War Of Will was injured when disappointing in the Lousiana Derby and had previously won the Lecomte and Risen Star. He will need to improve on those efforts taking a line through Country House, who was second in the Risen Star but a well-beaten fourth in the Louisana Derby and then third in the Arkansas Derby.
The UAE Derby didn’t look like a strong renewal beforehand and that was confirmed when Plus Que Parfait (twice well beaten by War of Will) beat Gray Magician there and neither make appeal back on American soil. Long Rage Toddy last beat Improbable when he had a fast track and he needs to be respected for that, although what he will not get is a rail run today or the chance to drop back. At the time of writing, the track is currently taking some hard rain and will do for at least an hour, and he’ll surely be forced to run a good deal harder early.
Cutting Humor sprung a surprise in the Sunland Derby but that was out of turn and this is likely to be too too hard for him.
Japanese contender Master Fencer comes here off defeats in the Haychinth and Fukuryu Stakes, and it would be a surprise if he is good enough to get involved here.
Advice: 2 pts each/way Roadster (13/2 general), 1 pt each/way Tacticus (8/1 general)