Betting the stakes action on Churchill’s ‘Downs After Dark’ Saturday card
"Downs After Dark" at Churchill Downs (c) Coady Photography
by Scott Shapiro
The lone September “Downs After Dark” card at legendary Churchill Downs on Saturday night includes three Thoroughbred stakes events over the strong 11-race slate headlined by the $200,000 Lukas Classic (G3) featuring $4.1 million-earner Mind Your Biscuits.
The stakes action commences in Race 7 with the $100,000 Jefferson Cup.
The 1 1/8-mile affair over the Churchill lawn drew a field of 10 three-year-old males led by 5-2-morning line favorite Majestic Eagle (#6).
The Southern California import makes his second start of September following a fourth-place finish in the Del Mar Derby (G2). In that first try versus graded competition, the Neil Drysdale trainee was caught wide throughout and farther off the pace than usual, but still showed some fight under Hall of Famer Gary Stevens to earn a 100 BRIS Speed rating in the process. The son of Medaglia d’Oro should appreciate the class drop, but how he will respond to his first race away from home remains a mystery.
Hot Springs (#5) (3-1 ML) moved into stakes company two-back in the Kent (G3) at Delaware Park and ran a solid second despite struggling to find room at the top of the lane. The son of Uncle Mo was in a bit over his head against a strong group in the Saranac (G3) but still finished fourth. He should get a perfect stalking trip on Saturday under jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. and is my top choice.
The Ack Ack (G3) is the 8TH race on the card and drew a compact field of seven. The one-turn mile event over the main track appears void of significant speed for a race of this nature, so horses with early zip are definitely at an advantage in the first of two Grade 3 races on the “Downs After Dark” card.
C Z Rocket (#7) (2-1) is the clear horse to beat after a stalk-and-fade fourth-place finish in late August in the Forego Handicap (G1) at Saratoga. The $800,000 OBS June 2016 purchase by Frank Fletcher Racing Operations has won four of seven lifetime, including two of three over this racetrack, and draws the favorable outside post. This should offer veteran jockey Shaun Bridgmohan options after the break, but given his tactical speed he should find a favorable early spot. The son of City Zip will be tough to beat.
Giant Expectations (#2) (3-1) is the wild card in the Ack Ack. The New York-bred ships East off a 6 1/2-month break for West Coast-based conditioner Peter Eurton. The five-year-old has trained forwardly for his return and should be keen off the freshening, but will he have the foundation to win off the layoff or will he need a race to be at his best?
Churchill Downs Racing Club’s Warrior’s Club (#4) (6-1) ran poorly last out in the Forego, but he has had a great 2018, posting a 2-2-2 mark from nine starts and earning over $392,000 in the process. He may be “over the top” after an arduous campaign, but if jockey Chris Landeros is aggressive from the gate the Warrior’s Reward colt may find himself on the lead. If he makes the front he has a shot, but otherwise I struggle to see him besting this group.
The runner-up in a pair of massive Grade 1 events in New York makes the trek to Louisville to headline the field in the aforementioned Lukas Classic. Mind Your Biscuits (#6) (even) had raced solely at one turn for trainer Chad Summers before stretching out to nine panels last time in the Whitney (G1) at Saratoga. The son of Posse found a comfortable midpack spot over the sloppy going and traveled well during the middle stages of the race, but was no match for eventual winner Diversify. He may be able to best this field on class alone, but as the likely odds-on favorite I am willing to take a shot against him since I still believe he is much, much better at shorter distances.
Honorable Duty (#1) (5-2) won this event by 4 3/4 lengths in 2017 and makes his first start since a runner-up finish in the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) in mid-June. The six-year-old gelding has performed extremely well over this surface (9-4-3-0) and he has handled the 1 1/8-mile distance as well throughout his career. He is a serious contender.
If you are looking for a horse who should provide even greater value Term of Art (#7) (10-1) is worth consideration. The Calumet Farm colt ran a midpack sixth last out in the Woodward (G1), but prior to that appeared to be a new horse since entering the Brad Cox barn earlier this year. If he can get back to his career best 102 BRIS Speed rating, earned for a runner-up effort in the August 4 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes (G3), he could spring the upset in the Lukas Classic.
There is a plethora of wagering options on the Saturday menu that include the Jefferson Cup, Ack Ack and Lukas Classic. A Pick 4 that starts in Race 6 and a Pick 5 in Race 7 are amongst them, but I am going to focus my attention on the Pick 3 since I lack a strong opinion in the 6TH and 10TH races.
With a favorite worth taking a shot against in the 9TH and relatively strong opinions in the other stakes races, I will play a few tickets and hope to hit the Pick 3 multiple times. Here are my suggested wagers:
$3 Pick 3
Race 7: 5
Race 8: 2+4+7
Race 9: 1+7
Ticket Cost: $18
$3 Pick 3
Race 7: 4+5+6
Race 8: 7
Race 9: 1+7
Ticket Cost: $18
TOTAL BUDGET = $36