How to Bet the William Walker Stakes
The Kentucky Derby is still more than a week away, but the Churchill Downs spring meet is set to kick off on Saturday with a ten-race card highlighted by the $100,000 William Walker Stakes.Although conducted on dirt in the past, the William Walker has been turned into a five-furlong turf sprint for the 2018 renewal, which presents an interesting challenge since the race is restricted to three-year-olds. At this time of year, there’s so much emphasis on the Triple Crown that relatively few young colts have any significance experience sprinting on turf, so handicapping the William Walker could be tricky.
The favorite could wind up being #7 Beckford, if only because he has ample experience in turf sprints. The son of Bated Breath started his career in Europe, where he won the six-furlong Railway Stakes (Ire-II) and placed second in both the Phoenix Stakes (Ire-I) and the Vincent O’Brien National Stakes (Ire-I) at the Curragh. He ended the year by finishing a close fifth behind Kentucky Derby contender Mendelssohn in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. II), his first start beyond seven furlongs.
Following the Breeders’ Cup, Beckford stayed in the U.S. and was transferred to the care of trainer Brendan Walsh. The William Walker will mark Beckford’s 2018 debut and much will be expected of him, but it’s worth noting that Beckford didn’t get off to a very alert start in the Breeders’ Cup, and a similarly hesitant break going just five furlongs in the William Walker could be problematic.
Therefore, I’ll try to beat Beckford with #8 Battle Station. Racing for the powerful team of trainer Wesley Ward and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Battle Station has spent the majority of his career racing against fellow New York-breds, but caught my eye while battling through a fast pace to win the six-furlong Rego Park Stakes at Aqueduct on February 11th. In that race, Battle Station posted BRIS E1 and E2 pace figures of 101 and 109, so we know he’s got the speed to be competitive in a five-furlong sprint.
Overall, Battle Station’s past performances don’t jump off the page, but if you draw a line through his two poor runs going a mile, his form improves to three wins and a close second from four starts sprinting. Even better, he won his only start on turf last summer, unleashing fast fractions of :21.40 and :44.40 in a 5 ½-furlong maiden race at Saratoga while winning in gate-to-wire fashion.
There’s a lot of early speed in the William Walker, but if Battle Station enjoys the return to turf the way I think he will, he should give a good account of himself. I’ll bet him to win and play him in the exacta with a few of the other logical contenders, including #5 Masked, 2-for-2 on turf for trainer Bob Baffert, and #4 Elusive Mischief, who is one of few late runners in this race.
$9 to win on #8 Battle Station $4 exacta: 8 with 4,5,7 ($12) $3 exacta: 4,5,7 with 8 ($9)
Total cost: $30