Hanson: 2023 Kentucky Derby Day undercard turf spot plays
The turf action on Saturday's Kentucky Derby Day card at Churchill Downs will be restricted to graded stakes quality runners, with most if not all of the four races looking highly competitive on paper.
Here's the way we're leaning in three of them:
Race 7: Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G2)
This marks the third U.S. appearance by #2 Go Bears Go (12-1), but his first since becoming a mainstay in the barn of trainer Wesley Ward, whose record in major turf sprints over the years needs no rehashing.
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Despite a poor run in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1) last fall, Go Bears Go might have been over the top by that point in the season, and he has some pretty good efforts to fall back on from last summer, not to mention his closing second in the 2021 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) at Del Mar. The bottom line is that Go Bears Go has talent, but isn't always consistent in showing it.
Following a winter of acclimatization to his new surroundings, and to Ward's regimen, Go Bears Go might be one to keep an eye in the Twin Spires Turf Sprint, especially as he figures to be in the double-digit price range. Jockey John Velazquez, who was aboard for the fine Del Mar performance, notably returns.
Race 9: American Turf (G2)
I doubt very much #4 Talk of the Nation (10-1) will go off anywhere near this morning line price, especially after his eye-catching win in the Columbia S. at Tampa Bay Downs on March 11. Backed down hard from an inflated morning line off a four-length maiden win over the same course, Talk of the Nation looked like a rising star when defeating subsequent Transylvania (G3) winner (and American Turf rival) Mo Stash. I like Talk of the Nation's chances to repeat, and the odds might still be fair with Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown trainees also expected to take money.
Race 11: Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1)
The Keeneland turf was unusually speed favoring for much of the recently concluded spring meet, which means #5 Up to the Mark (4-1) was certainly up against in the April 14 Maker's Mark Mile (G1). Nonetheless, the progressive four-year-old was beaten only a neck for second by the world-class 2022 U.S. champion male turf horse Modern Games, which isn't a bad measuring stick at all.
The Maker's Mark Mile was Up to the Mark's stakes debut after two Gulfstream allowance wins to kick off his grass career, and I can see him taking a step forward at Churchill Downs if the course is playing fair to all styles as the week progresses.
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Find expert analysis and overviews of all the contenders for the Kentucky Derby on our News & Notes page here on TwinSpires.com!