Playing the Exacta in the Cardinal Handicap

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

November 20th, 2018

The majority of the entrants in Saturday’s $100,000 Cardinal Handicap (gr. III) at Churchill Downs are veterans with more than a dozen races on their records, but the filly that interests me most in this nine-furlong turf test is the most lightly-raced horse in the field.

That would be #1 I Remember Mama, a four-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper who has never finished out of the trifecta in seven starts. This year alone, she’s just a length away from being unbeaten in four starts, sandwiching allowance victories at Churchill Downs and Keeneland around two narrow runner-up finishes in the Ellis Park Turf Stakes and the One Dreamer Stakes.

I was particularly impressed by I Remember Mama’s allowance win at Keeneland last month. Racing over a soft turf course, I Remember Mama dropped back to last place early on while front-running Esquisse carved out slow fractions of :24.66, :51.24, and 1:17.51, but despite facing such an unfavorable setup, I Remember Mama came rolling late to win by a length and was the only horse to gain any significant ground from off the pace. Not surprisingly, RacingFlow.com assigned the race a Closer Favorability Ratio (CFR) of 4, indicating a very speed-favoring race.

With that better-than-it-looked allowance victory under her belt, I think I Remember Mama will give a very strong account of herself on Saturday while stretching out to nine furlongs for the first time. Her main competition could come from #10 Bonnie Arch, who defeated I Remember Mama by a half-length in the Ellis Park Turf Stakes. Trained by Ian Wilkes, Bonnie Arch returned to finish a solid third in the Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf Stakes at Ellis Park before fading to eighth in the Ladies Turf Stakes (gr. III) at Kentucky Downs. I’ll forgive her latter effort since it came over the unusual, undulating turf course at Kentucky Downs—the return to more familiar footing at Churchill Downs should help Bonnie Arch rebound.

#5 English Affair, runner-up in the Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf Stakes and eighth in the One Dreamer Stakes, recently stretched out to 1 ½ miles for the Dowager Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland, where she was in contention to the eighth pole before steadying hard on the rail and dropping back to finish third by 1 ½ lengths (she was ultimately upgraded to second place via disqualification). In any case, that effort shows that she’s still in sharp form, and the cutback to nine furlongs should be no obstacle since she has a fine record running shorter.

I’ll box these three in the exacta while emphasizing I Remember Mama:

$4 exacta: 1,5,10 with 1,5,10 ($24) $3 exacta: 1 with 5,10 ($6)

Good luck!