Catching My Eye: Brendan Walsh at Churchill Downs

Profile Picture: Kevin Kilroy

May 13th, 2022

Having spent 10 mornings from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. on the Churchill Downs backside keeping tabs on the Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses, I couldn’t help but be impressed by a trainer other than those behind the featured three-year-olds.

Trainer Brendan Walsh’s sets came out en masse, almost always with him at the helm, leading the efforts from his pony. Quietly yet confidently he kept all his exercise riders and Thoroughbreds to the morning’s tasks in a professional and focused manner. I was impressed with his operation and the morning works, so I kept tabs on his May 5-7 entries. Here are the three best Brendan Walsh horses that caught my eye in the afternoon. 

May 7: Santin and Rising Empire 

Hearing Walsh talk about his four-year-old Santin leading into the spring Fair Grounds (G3) and the Muniz (G2), you knew he had high expectations for this Distorted Humor colt. A neck shy of a perfect three-year-old season, this Godolphin homebred ran well improving his speed figures yet still coming up short finishing fourth and second, respectively, in those two races.

Though he had a career-best 95 Brisnet Speed figure in the Muniz, Walsh decided to add blinkers for the Turf Classic (G1). The result was a game victory and a 101 BRIS Speed figure. Beating three Chad Brown-trained horses is never easy, but the best Santin showed was fighting back after being headed by Mira Mission near the 1/8th pole. He looked beat, but he dug in and surged. Santin is sitting on a huge four-year-old season.

Rising Empire stepped up in class, facing competitive second-level allowance company in the 13th race on Kentucky Derby day. Breaking as the bettor’s favorite in his last two wins at Fair Grounds, this Empire Maker four-year-old was made 6-1 on the morning line but went off at 9.40-1.

Coming out of the gate, he brushed with an inner foe and Adam Beschizza settled him back, a distant 10th through the first two calls. His move from the 1/4 pole to the 3/8th was scintillating, putting him immediately in the mix. But he was going five wide through the turn and was herded out in the stretch, finishing third.

For a horse who made his two winning runs stalking the lead, this was all the evidence I need to know that he can overcome obstacles, running out of favored position and losing ground. Definitely a bet-back for me.

May 6: New Year’s Eve

The Edgewood (G2) showed us another Walsh horse making a huge move into the second turn. Circling the field from last, three-year-old filly New Year’s Eve improved 11 Brisnet Speed points in her first stakes win, receiving a 95. At 12-1 on the morning line and going off just over 14-1, this Kitten’s Joy closer pulled away and won by three lengths. How’d she do it? You guessed right: Blinkers. Walsh is winning at around a 17% clip over the last 100 runners sporting first-time blinkers.

At five wins in 15 starts, Walsh’s barn is tied for first in the trainers standings with Brad Cox and Bill Mott. Look for him to stay near the top and vie for the lead throughout this summer meet at Churchill Downs.