Churchill Downs Racing Preview – 5/16/21 – By Eric Solomon

A nine race program ends the week of racing in Louisville. There are large fields in the four turf races this afternoon that look very competitive.

Race A B C Exotics Menu
1 5 2 4 DBL, PK3, PK5
2 5,7 14-AE 9 DBL, PK3, PK4
3 5 1   DBL, PK3
4 2,3,4     DBL, PK3, PK6
5 9,12 5,7,13-AE   DBL, PK3, PK5
6 6 5,7   DBL, PK3, PK4
7 4,9 2,11   DBL, PK3
8 3 9 4 DBL
9 4,7,10 3    


Race 1: Top Pick: 5

The opener is a five horse, $8K claiming contest for fillies and mares. Fleeta Belle (5) has been struggling with starter allowance company after being claimed for $10K in March at Oaklawn. She’s been keeping better company than any of her rivals and she fits well in this spot from a pace perspective. She’s drawn the outside, and she has good tactical speed. On deeper tickets, I’ll use the morning line favorite, Bonnet (2), who runs for an $8K tag in her first start since being claimed for $20K at Turf Paradise. She was most recently second at two turns with optional claiming/N2X allowance horses in Arizona. She switches circuits and finds a light field for this condition. I’m always wary of the claim and drop move, but the winner’s share of this race is about $17K, so that plus the $8K gets you close to the original claiming price (less fees, training costs, etc…). Longshot Diva Banker (4) has some races that would be competitive in this field, however, her recent form is suspect. She is running in her second race off the layoff, so there’s reason to believe that she could take a step forward.


Race 2: Top Pick: 7

A full field of $30K maiden claimers, going 1 Mile and 1/16 on the turf, starts the first Pick 4 on the card. There’s a lot to sort through in this race, but I ended up with Parrot Head (7) on top, making his first start off the claim. He’s been close in his last five on synthetic and dirt, and he figures to move forward getting on the grass for the first time since his debut at Indiana Grand last year. I don’t love that he hasn’t been able to seal the deal yet, however, he’s more consistent than anyone else in the field. Marvelousmoondance (5) debuted on the synthetic at Turfway in March and ran a respectable 4th. He stepped forward when moving up to this level on the dirt at Keeneland, finishing third behind a next out winner. The surface and the distance are question marks, but at 12-1 (ML), I think that’s a decent gamble. Harpoon Harry (14) will need help to get into the body of the field, however, I think he’s one to use if he gets to run. He’ll take on his elders today, but he looked good with three year olds at Tampa two back on the grass. He tried a maiden special weight race on the dirt last out, and finished last of five in a compact field. He returns to the turf, where he seems to be more comfortable, and drops back to the maiden claiming level.  On deeper tickets, Beocca (9) has looked a lot better in his last two starts after being beaten by double digit lengths in his first two tries. He tried the grass at the maiden special weight level last month at Keeneland, and ran 6th, beaten 8 while being sent off at 71-1. He adds blinkers and may have found a home on the grass. If he can run back to his last speed figure, he should be competitive at this level.


Race 3: Top Pick: 5

A field of five go seven furlongs in this $25K claiming contest. The race runs through the favorite, Cove Blue (5), who seems to be rounding back into better form after some dull races in the fall here and at Keeneland. He dropped in class at Gulfstream and started looking more his old self. He’s had a lot of stops and starts in his career, so this at this point, this level seems appropriate for him. I think there might be a little bit of value on Irish Hokie (1) who is the longest shot on the morning line here. His last was awful against starter allowance company at two turns at Oaklawn. His prior efforts while sprinting were more competitive. He was sharp three back in an off the turf optional claiming/allowance sprint at the Fair Grounds in February.


Race 4: Top Pick: 4

There’s another five horse field, this one for maiden special weight fillies going seven furlongs. Front Street (5) is the favorite on the morning line, and despite staying in maiden special weight company, she is getting class relief, as she’s run into salty competition of late. That being said, she really wasn’t very sharp in her last three, and I can’t play her again after her money burning efforts. There are three second time starters in here, and I’ll use all three, as each one looks live. The best value is on Priddis (4) making her second start for Robertino Diodoro. She debuted last month at Oaklawn and outran her 17-1 odds by finishing 3rd, less than 2 lengths behind the winner that day. Stretching out to seven furlongs seems like a logical choice for this one. Perhaps (2) closed a lot of ground in his debut in a 6 Furlong sprint at Oaklawn for Larry Jones. She’s sired by Candy Ride, out of a Broken Vow mare, so there’s reason to believe she’ll continue to improve while going longer distances. Poetic Honor (3) debuted at Keeneland last month, finishing second when going 6 and ½ Furlongs. Eddie Kenneally doesn’t have great numbers with second time starters, but he enlists the services of leading rider, Tyler Gaffalione. She’ll be the one that should keep Front Street honest on the front end.


Race 5: Top Pick: 9

This is the first division of a maiden special weight for three year olds and up at one mile on the grass. Both this race and the 9th race oversubscribed, as 14 are entered here (+1 MTO), but only 12 can run. Defied (9) is a horse that caught my eye this winter at the Fair Grounds, running sharp races in both of his turf starts. His last race was at the end of February, and he made the front after a strong wide bid off the turn, only to get caught in the final stages. He’s been working well for his return at the Skylight Training Center down the road, and he appears to be a good fit in this race. Pregame (12) is the lukewarm morning line favorite after showing vast improvement since progressing to two turn racing. He likes to be forwardly placed, so Hernandez may have to use him a little bit to avoid going too wide in the first turn. I thought his only turf start at Gulfstream on 2-28 was very strong and an effort like that would make him a definite contender in here. Project Thunder (13) is first in line on the also eligible list, but he’s worth considering if he draws in. He was outrun in the early stages in his debut at Gulfstream, but he improved position and finished with some interest. The draw is not ideal for him, but he should be able to improve off his last in start number two. I like a pair of horses trying the turf for the time today, and I think both could pop here at decent odds. Beduin Fighter (7) has run in two fast dirt maiden special weight races, and has been beaten double digits in both. He’s sired by War Front, and Asmussen tried to get him on the grass last out at Keeneland, but the weather had other plans. I think he’ll benefit from the two turn experience last out and could be a player here. Brad Cox and Florent Geroux team up with Burrow (5) making his three year old debut after a pair of respectable tries on the main track as a two year old. He’s another one that was intended to start on grass, but that October effort was washed on the turf. Turf wasn’t an option at the end of the meet here in November, and his debut was good enough for Cox to give him another go on the main track. This son of Candy Ride has been working well in Indiana and should be forwardly placed in his return.


Race 6: Top Pick: 6

Maiden claimers carrying a $75K tag go 7 Furlongs in the first leg of the late Pick 4. I think this race runs through the favorite, Tenth of Gold (6) making his second start off the layoff and moving up in class after big effort last out. He was close in his debut here in September when running for a $50K tag. He resurfaced last month at Oaklawn and dueled the majority of the trip before giving way in the late stages, losing by less than a length. The final time and speed figure was strong in that spot, and there’s reason to believe he can perform at that level again. Savoy (5) ships in from the NYRA circuit after a troubled trip last out in maiden special weight company for Chad Brown. Watching that race, I don’t believe that he was going to win, as I think the winner was going better on the outside, however, it was not a comfortable trip for him by any means. He was in tight quarters down the backstretch and Franco had to move a little early on the turn to get position, as he had some run. The leader was all over the place in the stretch, coming into his path twice, the second time clearly costing him a placing, hence the DQ. There’s certainly enough there to endorse him here in his second race off the layoff, but I would have liked to see him try once more in a maiden special weight race before dropping for the tag today. I’ll still use him, but I’ll be a little more conservative as seeing has how he’s entered with a claiming two that is slightly more than half of his purchase price. American Union (7) ran a credible third at the $50K maiden claiming level at Keeneland, while going today’s distance. He got a little tired late, which could be expected. I think this field is deeper than what he faced on debut, but I believe there is room to move forward for him and I think he may offer some value, as Savoy and Tenth of Gold figure to take the bulk of the money at the windows.


Race 7: Top Pick:

The feature is an optional $62,500 claiming/N2X allowance sprinting 5 and ½ Furlongs on the grass. Like the other three turf races on the card today, a large field has been assembled. I’m not sure any of these are fast enough to go with Oceanic (9) in the early stages of this race, and he has proven to be very dangerous when he can make the lead in a turf sprint. He’s sprinted on the grass three times, twice at Tampa and once at Keeneland, winning once on both courses. His lone loss came in a very competitive N1X allowance at Tampa where there was very good inside speed and he couldn’t make the front at time when it was very difficult to pass horses on that course. He broke his maiden and cleared the N1X condition by open lengths when he was able roll on the front end. I think the strategy is clear for Bejarano in this race where many like to be near the front, but I think he’s the one that will be leading the way. If he’s not able to hang on, I think there are three logical closers in here, and the one that will offer the best value is American Butterfly (4) from the D. Wayne Lukas barn. He’s only sprinted on the grass once, and that came in the Grade 2 Shakertown last month at Keeneland. He was gaining in the seven path in the stretch, but couldn’t keep up with top notch turf sprinters like Bound For Nowhere and Imprimis. He’s capable of running big races and his pedigree, American Pharoah out of a War Front mare, suggests that he’ll like the grass just fine. Chaps (11) is the morning line favorite, making his first start in 2021. This is not the easiest spot for a debut, but he was game last year in stakes company after clearing this condition three starts ago at Colonial Downs. He has a win over this course and would likely benefit from a hot pace to set up his late move. Bad Beat Brian (2) regressed last out in allowance company at Keeneland after running some very strong turf sprints at the Fair Grounds, including winning at this condition two starts ago. Like Chaps, he’s in for the tag today and he is better when they go quicker early on. He’s been a much better horse since transitioning to turf sprints after primarily being a two turn horse earlier in his career.


Race 8: Top Pick: 3

The last dirt race of the day is an optional $20K claiming/$10K starter allowance at the tricky one turn mile distance. Mike Maker’s barn was red hot in Baltimore this weekend, winning 4 graded stakes (The Black Eyed Susan, The Pimlico Special, The Dinner Party, and the Maryland Sprint), and he sends out the favorite, Exulting (3) who is in very good form right now. He has run three strong races in a row at the $12,500 starter allowance level at Oaklawn, which is always a salty condition there. He cuts back to a one turn mile, which is a change, but he has handled that transition before. He’ll be a short price here, but he is strictly the one to beat. Don’t Forget (9) is a stretch out sprinter that has been in very good form since being claimed by Diodoro at Remington in December. In his four starts since, he has two wins, a narrow second at Keeneland at this level, and a close up 5th with better horses last out at Oaklawn after a bad start. The distance is the obvious question mark, but he’s the only one that can come close to matching the current form of the favorite. On deeper tickets, I’m wondering if Laughing Fox (4) can wake up off the claim and with putting blinkers back on today. He hasn’t been in the Winner’s Circle in over two years, not since winning the Oaklawn Invitational in May of 2019. His form this year has tailed off, but he was claimed and cuts back to a one turn race. He has the back class and is making enough changes that he could be playable at 12-1 or better here.


Race 9: Top Pick: 7

The nightcap is the second division of the maiden special weight on the grass. City Tavern (7) debuted at Gulfstream on the Florida Derby undercard and closed well to finish a decent 5th after being a bit lethargic in the early stages when he was bumped a bit at the break. Danny Gargan wins with 41% of his second time starters (7 for 17 since 2020). At 8-1, he might be the best value play here there is definitely reason to believe that he can put together a better race here. El Kabong (10) is the deserving 5-2 favorite on the morning line after running two sharp races at Gulfstream and Keeneland. He just gave way late after being forwardly placed going 9 Furlongs last time out, beaten by a hard knocking horse, Absam. I like the cutback in distance for him here. Emphasize (4) may be overlooked after he debuted in March in a very useful maiden special weight race on the Jeff Ruby Steaks undercard. He tried to go to the turf last out, but that race was transferred to the main track, and his effort was not his best, finishing third, a long way behind the top two. His synthetic effort makes me think that he’ll take to the turf, and Florent Geroux sees fit to take the call for Graham Motion. The second choice on the morning line is Modern Science (3) making his three year old debut today. He was favored in all three starts as a two year old, including two at Saratoga. He was close both times there and adds Lasix for his return today. His connections paid $400K for him, so there are expectations that he’ll be a runner. I think he might need this race today and will be better next time, but I think you’ll be wise to cover him on some of your tickets.

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