Handicapping Kentucky Derby Day stakes action

Profile Picture: James Scully

May 7th, 2016

Seven stakes races will be offered Saturday at Churchill Downs, including the 142nd running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby (G1), and I’ll be paying close attention to how the main track is playing early in the program.

Speed played well on Friday and traveling wide was no detriment to stakes winners Cathryn Sophia, Carina Mia and Majestic Harbor.

Tepin, who heads a field of nine in the Distaff Turf Mile (G2), is the biggest standout on the program. I’ll give some thoughts on the remaining six stakes races:

Churchill Downs (G2), 7th race: A few horses possess early speed but #7 Holy Boss (8-1) should be the one to catch. A winner in five of 12 starts, the Steve Asmussen-trained colt concluded last year with a good fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) and may have been a little short when opening 2016 with a third in the Commonwealth (G3) at Keeneland. The three-time stakes victor appears capable of developing into a top sprinter at age 4, registering century-topping BRIS Speed ratings in the last two starts, and he’s won over the track. I’ll include Limousine Liberal (#5) and Speightster (#6) in any multi-race tickets.

Humana Distaff (G1), 8th race: The 7-furlong test for distaffers is loaded with front-runners and #6 Enchanting Lady (8-1) is eligible to receive a perfect stalk-and-pounce trip. A sharp allowance scorer in her 4yo bow at Santa Anita, the Bob Baffert charge returned from a two-month freshening with a respectable fifth in a salty Madison (G1) at Keeneland last time. Enchanting Lady can move forward off that performance. Wavell Avenue (#10) must avoid leaving herself too much to do from off the pace but is worthy of inclusion in horizontal exotics. The classy Taris (#8) also can’t be dismissed at short odds.

American Turf (G2), 9th race: Easy to spread in this contentious turf affair. #8 Shakhimat (5-1) looks like the one to catch off a sharp win in the Transylvania (G3) at Keeneland and rates a slight edge in my estimation. Azar (#13) is intriguing at a price – the Todd Pletcher trainee should relish the return to turf – but must overcome a difficult starting position. Airoforce (#1), Dressed in Hermes (#11) and Surgical Strike (#12) are others I’ll look to include on some tickets.

Pat Day Mile (G3), 10th race: Tough to imagine any horse being a short price. With a fair amount of speed signed on, #7 Forevamo figures to receive the right set-up. The Uncle Mo colt rallied for second in the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star (G2) but found the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Louisiana Derby (G2) too taxing. A cutback to a one-mile mile could hit him right between the eyes and Forevamo appears to be training well under the Twin Spires for Al Stall Jr., who has fared well on Kentucky Derby & Oaks undercards in recent years. Ralis (#2), American Freedom (#11) and Star Hill (#13) all appear dangerous as well to me.

Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1), 11th race: Big Blue Kitten (#12) has a class edge over these foes but the classy 8yo hasn’t started since November and has become a long-distance specialist in his old age. I’ll include him in multis but will take a shot with #11 World Approval (20-1) in any straight pools. The 4yo was too far back in the early stages of the Muniz Memorial (G2) last time before rallying well for second, but jockey Julien Leparoux needs to use the gelding’s natural speed to avoid being caught wide into the first turn. I expect him to receive a favorable trip up close and World Approval has the look of a live longshot in the third start of the year for Mark Casse. Divisidero (#8) also offers appeal in this spot given his affinity for the course and improving form.

Kentucky Derby, 12th race: I’ve tabbed #17 Mor Spirit (12-1) to win this year’s Run for the Roses and will be saving with Gun Runner (#5), Exaggerator (#11) and Nyquist (#13) in exotics.

Good luck!