The Jury: Bets and fades for April 30
The TwinSpires Jury, consisting of James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson, are back with thoughts on this weekend's racing action, highlighted by opening day at Churchill Downs, a quartet of graded stakes at Santa Anita, and the kickoff to the classic season in Britain.
What is your best bet?
James Scully: A two-time winner over the track, #3 Bayerness (5-2) will make her first start since winning the Shine Again S. at Saratoga in Saturday's Roxelana Overnight S., the ninth race at Churchill Downs. The five-year-old mare returned from a similar layoff to win a stakes-quality allowance (Grade 3 winner Lady Rocket finished second) under the Twin Spires, and six furlongs is her best distance. The Cherie DeVaux trainee has registered 97 Brisnet Speed ratings in two of her last three starts; unbeaten favorite Carribean Caper earned career-best 93 Speed figures in her last two outings.
Kellie Reilly: Christophe Clement unveils well-bred #6 George's Gambit (8-1) in Saturday's 10th race for state-breds at Belmont Park. By the much-lamented Laoban, who made such a splash as a New York freshman sire that he was whisked off to Kentucky, George's Gambit is out of a Godolphin castoff. His dam, Lapinski, is a Street Cry mare from the immediate family of champion Bernardini. Although George's Gambit didn't set the sales ring alight, the gelding shows a few bullet works at Payson Park. Clement boasts a 23% strike rate with first-time starters, and in the past two months, he's 38% (+0.48 ROI) when teaming up with Joel Rosario.
Vance Hanson: He might not be much of a price, but #6 Masteroffoxhounds (2-1) can return to his winning ways in the Charles Whittingham (G2) at Santa Anita on Saturday. Victorious in the 2021 San Marcos (G2) in his only prior run over the course and distance, his subsequent runs outside Southern California and at longer distances can probably be dismissed. His recent comeback effort, in a one-mile allowance on March 25, was a solid piece of work. He can move forward off that, and might get an ideal trip behind likely pacesetter and favorite Beyond Brilliant, who doesn't always set a relaxed pace and would need to do so in order to see out 10 furlongs.
Who is the horse to fade?
JS: #10 Bay Storm (9-5) will be a prohibitive favorite in Saturday's eighth race at Churchill Downs, a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint, and she's lacked the necessary kick when flattening in deep stretch of her last two starts, finishing second at short odds both time. Her best two efforts have arguably come at six and seven furlongs as well.
KR: While it might be foolish to underestimate a mare in career-best form, I can't get over the notion that #9 Miss Bigly (5-2) is an underlay in the Santa Margarita (G2). The hard-knocking mare has been admirably consistent in stakes company, but she's been more of a minor-award type at the graded level, except for an opportunistic-looking Bayakoa (G3) at Oaklawn. With a few less-exposed rivals eligible to move forward on Saturday, my hunch is that Miss Bigly might be vulnerable as a win candidate.
VH: He might still prove Europe's best three-year-old miler this season, but #10 Native Trail (4-5) might be worth taking a stand against in Saturday's 2000 Guineas (G1), the first classic of the British season that goes as the fifth race at Newmarket. The powerful-looking Godolphin homebred son of Oasis Dream is undefeated from five starts, including a facile prep score 17 days ago in the Craven (G3). However, he does have a bit of a habit in needing encouragement to get fully revved up. When he does, certainly watch out. But there are three rivals among the 15 he faces in the Guineas he can't afford to dither against. I'll have my own view written up elsewhere on the TwinSpires Edge, but Coroebus, Luxembourg, and Perfect Power are intriguing prospects in their own right, and their odds will be more enticing than the even-money or less on offer for Native Trail.
What else is worth noting?
JS: Calm before the storm best describes this weekend, with so much focus upon Kentucky Derby (G1) and Oaks (G1) contenders, but will watch to see how Express Train performs in Saturday's Californian (G2) at Santa Anita. The five-year-old has won three consecutive graded stakes for John Shirreffs, including a commendable nose triumph over Hot Rod Charlie in December's San Antonio (G2), but Express Train's workmanlike head score over Warrant in the March 5 Santa Anita H. (G1) left something to be desired. He's eligible to show more in the Californian.
KS: The 2000 Guineas at Newmarket is shaping up as a vintage edition, with a Godolphin versus Coolmore angle as well as intramural tussles. Godolphin's Native Trail is all the rage as the unbeaten champion two-year-old who returned to conquer the course-and-distance Craven (G3), but I've been smitten by his Charlie Appleby stablemate #4 Coroebus (9-2). He should be undefeated too, only his monster move in the Royal Lodge (G2) came a trifle soon. Aidan O'Brien's unbeaten Luxembourg has looked a class act all along, and I'd love if he can emulate sire Camelot by springing the Guineas/Derby (G1) double. Camelot had a lesser bunch to beat at a rain-affected Newmarket, however, and Luxembourg might already need more than a mile. Ballydoyle stablemate #12 Point Lonsdale (15-1) was no match for Native Trail last season, but the full brother to Broome has the right to be an improved customer at three.
VH: Following the recent defection of Inspiral from Sunday's 1000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket, for which she would have been a strong favorite, the first British classic of the season for fillies has come up a more wide-open race. We'll have more thoughts about it on the TwinSpires Edge later in the weekend, but just want to take this chance to raise awareness of it as, in most years, it goes head to head with most folks' Kentucky Derby hangover.