The Jury: Bets and fades for June 25

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June 24th, 2022

A relatively light stakes weekend is on tap in advance of bigger happenings over the next two, but the TwinSpires Jury of James Scully, Vance Hanson, and Ashley Anderson have nonetheless found some plays and fades to follow.

What is your best bet?

James Scully: #2 Pennybaker (8-1) in the Chicago S. (G3) at Churchill Downs. The four-year-old showed little on turf early in her career, but recorded four straight convincing wins when switching to synthetic tracks in France last fall. The Medaglia d'Oro filly made her U.S. debut in the April 16 Heavenly Cause S. over a one-turn mile at Laurel, and Pennybaker rolled from just off the pace, winning under wraps by a 6 3/4-length margin. Her Brisnet Speed rating (98) came back strong, the second-best last-out figure in the seven-horse field, and Pennybaker will have more to offer for Michael Stidham.

Vance Hanson: Connections succumbed to Kentucky Oaks (G1) fever last month, but that can be forgiven if #2 Venti Valentine (5-1) finds the return to one turn agreeable in Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Mother Goose (G2) at Belmont Park. The daughter of Firing Line is 0-for-3 around two turns, but perfect from three outings around one. The latter includes a decisive score in the Maid of the Mist S. against New York-breds over this track last fall, and the one-mile Busher S. at Aqueduct against open company in early March. Although she missed out on the Acorn (G1) earlier this month after taking the U-turn to go for the Oaks, this arguably is a more winnable spot.

Ashley Anderson: UAE Oaks (G3) champ #1 Shahama (9-5) suffered the lone loss of her five-race career when she came home sixth in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) last out after getting bumped near the five-sixteenths pole. In her second start on U.S. dirt, Shahama drew the favorable rail post in the Mother Goose for trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won this race a record-tying six times, most recently in 2021 with Zaajel. I’ll back the Munnings filly over 1-1 morning line favorite Juju’s Map, who makes a move up in class after winning an allowance on May 6 by 4 3/4 lengths on the Kentucky Oaks undercard.

Who is the horse to fade?

JS: #5 Juju's Map received a dream trip when returning in a May 6 allowance at Churchill Downs, dominating a paceless race on the front end, but there's speed to her inside in the Mother Goose starting gate. Her Brisnet Speed rating (93) came back soft, and I will try to beat the even-money morning line favorite in any multi-race wagers.

VH: Although the potential lone speed in the Chicago at Churchill Downs, #3 Lady Rocket (5-2) looks undervalued on the morning line. Lady Rocket is cutting back in distance after fading late in the one-mile Ruffian (G2), but has a bit of history flaming out, even at distances shorter than seven furlongs, when the competition is strong enough. Her gaudy win in the Go for Wand H. (G3) over a mile sticks out on the past performances, but this field is significantly deeper and I suspect some competitor won't allow her to open up too large of an advantage early.

AA: While #7 Sconsin (2-1) has won back to back at Churchill under Tyler Gaffalione, the five-year-old will get a rider switch with Mitchell Murrill in the competitive Chicago S. on Saturday. The Greg Foley trainee beat rival #4 Bell’s the One (7-2) by only a half-length two back in September in the Open Mind Stakes, and Bell’s the One has shown some improvement in her six-year-old season. The mare flashed a 101 Speed figure in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland, then disappointed with a fourth-place finish in the Derby City Distaff (G1) last out on May 7. Rival #6 Four Graces (8-1) surprised with a second-place finish in that race with a 99 BRIS figure, the highest last race speed rating of the field. #3 Lady Rocket (5-2), with Ricardo Santana Jr. picking up the mount, and #2 Pennybaker, off her winning debut on U.S. dirt, should pose the greatest threat to Sconsin.

What else is worth noting?

JS: The presence of Pineapple Man should ensure a solid pace in the Ohio Derby (G3), and #7 Tawny Port (3-1) will look to take advantage. The well-bred colt was thrown into the deep waters in February, splitting the field to finish fifth in the Risen Star (G2), and he's progressed nicely in the last three outings for Brad Cox, rallying for seventh in the Kentucky Derby most recently. His worktab suggests readiness, and I like Tawny Port's chances from off the pace.

VH: The premier race in Europe this weekend is the Irish Derby (G1) at the Curragh on Saturday, a 1 1/2-mile showdown that pits Epsom Oaks (G1) upsetter Tuesday against Westover, who finished an unlucky third in the Epsom Derby (G1). Aidan O'Brien is bidding to win his 15th Irish Derby with Yesterday, but no filly has triumphed in the classic in nearly 30 years. It doesn't appear on paper to be a great wagering opportunity, but from a sporting perspective this Irish Derby should be a fascinating watch.

AA: In Saturday's Ohio Derby (G3) at Thistledown, Kentucky Derby also-rans Tawny Port, White Abarrio, and Classic Causeway will face late Kentucky Derby scratch Ethereal Road, who won the Sir Barton S. on the Preakness undercard at last asking. While those names will draw plenty of interest, I'm curious to see how Wood Memorial (G2) fifth-placer Barese (9-2) competes in this spot. The Uncle Mo grandson last finished third in the 6 1/2-furlong New York Stallion Stakes and will return to a route distance for trainer Mike Maker. Two back, the three-year-old clocked a 105 BRIS figure at today's distance, and the addition of Lasix could get him back to the winner's circle for the first time since February's Gander Stakes.