Catching My Eye: Churchill Downs track profile

Profile Picture: Kevin Kilroy

September 28th, 2022

The majority of winners at Churchill Downs’ September meet have come from off the pace and down the center of the track. The question is how do we work with this knowledge going forward?

Our job as horseplayers is to form an opinion and flex it when these horses race back. Maybe the track is tiring or the rail is bad. Maybe paces have been hot or the frontrunners have been soft.

Here’s how I am interpreting the meet up to Saturday, Sept. 24 (speed held better on Sunday, Sept. 25). Jockeys are keeping their horses off the rail as much as they can, especially when making their stretch move. We want to move up formful frontrunners who were up against the track flow. We want to downgrade horses who won with a down-the-center-late move at a big price.

Saturday, Sept. 24

The most impressive run on Saturday came from Home Brew in the Bourbon Trail. Involved at the front end of the race throughout, the Pegasus-winner broke from post 2 and was stuck on the rail throughout the entirety of the race. With two game outside foes in Creative Minister and War Campaign running their eyeballs out down the center of the track, Home Brew dug in deeper and deeper and would not let either pass, even extending the lead in the gallop out.

In Saturday’s finale, there was another strong run on the rail. In the stretch of the maiden special weight, the two-year-old Pioneer Parade was herded in by his outer foe (Happy Secret) from the 7 path to the rail, which would seemingly be all she wrote, but Tyler Gaffalione kept asking, and the first-time-starter Pioneer Parade kept finding.

Happysecret’s tactics in that race should have enabled the win, but they didn’t: downgrade. 

Race 3 on Saturday we saw two two-year-olds take a promising step up: Lord Grantham and Swiss Guard. There was some trouble to note behind these two but really the race played out with a frontrunning effort by Swiss Guard and a stalk-and-pounce run by the winner Lord Grantham. We’ll take Swiss Guard out of this race.

Exiting a seven-furlong maiden special weight effort at Kentucky Downs, Steve Amussen’s Swiss Guard no doubt had the fitness to make it the entire six furlongs, and he didn’t appear to be tiring late. He was compromised by running against the track profile.

Jockey Edgar Morales has been hot, winning eight races at a 23% clip so far, and he made sure to be off the rail in the homestretch, leading Lord Grantham as he blew past his rail-stricken foe.

Friday, Sept. 23

Race 4 on Friday was a maiden claiming sprint for two-year-old fillies, nothing fancy, but, wow, what a late move for Lead Singer. After settling nicely near the rear, the Union Rags filly stayed off the rail in the turn then split foes out of the stretch, darting to the wide-open rail for the last furlong and rocketing past the two betting favorites to win by more than two lengths. Impressive run no matter how the track is playing.

Third-place finisher, Julia’s Chardonnay, had the lead and the rail throughout, and even though jockey Carlos Villasana shifted off the rail to the center of the track in the stretch, she was beat by Lead Singer’s monster effort and an off-the-rail outside bid. Slight upgrade.

The second-place finisher, Lily’s Creed, had the perfect set-up, tracking the frontrunner on the outside and making the widest bid in the stretch of the top three. Downgrade.