The Jury: Bets and fades for Sept. 17
What is your best bet?
James Scully: #9 Pro Oxidant will make his first start against winners in Race 6 at Churchill Downs Saturday, and the promising three-year-old gelding doesn't face the most imposing competition. Most of his rivals have been exposed at this level, and Pro Oxidant has proved faster than his lighter-raced foes, registering a 93 Brisnet Speed rating for his debut win over the track on Aug. 13. Unhurried early, Pro Oxidant found his best stride on the far turn, offering a dynamic turn of foot to take a clear lead into the stretch, and earned a 101 Late Pace figure recording the seven-length decision. Eddie Kenneally wins at a 26% rate with horses stretching out in distance, and Pro Oxidant is listed at an attractive 5-1 on the morning line in the full field.
Kellie Reilly: #3 G Laurie (4-1), the only runner in Saturday's Natalma (G1) proven over a route, is also the lone shipper taking on the Woodbine locals. Trainer Graham Motion had the option of waiting for the Oct. 1 Selima S. at Laurel, near his Fair Hill base, so it's telling that he sends her straight to this Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In." From the first crop of turf star Oscar Performance, who won the course-and-distance Woodbine Mile (G1) in 2018, G Laurie was visually impressive in her Aug. 23 debut at Colonial Downs. The Madaket Stables colorbearer circled the field in her 1 1/16-mile maiden and drew off by six lengths. Motion wins with 22% of his second-time starters on turf, and G Laurie could be anything.
Vance Hanson: German invader #6 Ardakan (4-1) is worth a long look in the Jockey Club Derby (G3) at Aqueduct. In contrast to presumptive heavy favorite Nations Pride, Ardakan has already displayed some positive experience over this 1 1/2-mile trip, finishing a solid third against rivals in the Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1) last time. Victorious last spring in the 11-furlong Italian Derby (G2), his subsequent eighth in the German Derby (G1) was far from a bad effort as he was only beaten 2 1/2 lengths by Sammarco, who subsequently beat older horses in a Group 1 in Munich. In other words, these are solid form lines he brings into this test and with ace German connections in his corner.
Who is the horse to fade?
JS: Unplaced as the 3-2 favorite in his lone Churchill appearance, #6 Isolate has been installed as the 7-5 favorite in Saturday's Louisville Thoroughbred Society S. under the Twin Spires. He must avoid a regression following a massive performance in the restricted Tale of the Cat S. on Aug. 10, drawing off as lone speed and registering a 101 Speed rating, 10-plus points better than his two previous outings, and the four-year-old loved Saratoga. He's likely to face more pressure cutting back to six panels, and I'll fade the heavy chalk.
KR: #11 Justa Warrior (4-1) has been installed as the lukewarm favorite in Saturday's Pocahontas (G3) at Churchill Downs off a questionable stakes win at Ellis Park. She should be the type of juvenile I'd like — an unbeaten daughter of Justify and 2010 Frizette (G1) winner A Z Warrior, from a productive family, eligible to improve. Yet her Ellis Park Debutante score was much slower than the colts ran in the preceding Juvenile S., and her Brisnet Late Pace rating was a dodgy 71. The Debutante form isn't working out either, with three alumnae all well beaten in a Thursday allowance at Churchill.
VH: #3 Crazy Beautiful (9-5) faced division bears in the Shuvee (G2) and Personal Ensign (G1), and thus should very much appreciate the drop in class for Saturday's Locust Grove (G3) at Churchill Downs. However, outside of an early-season win over Turfway Park's synthetic strip, I'm not taken in by her record for much of the year. Army Wife hasn't exactly flattered the form of the Lady Jacqueline S. at Thistledown, which Crazy Beautiful lost by three parts of a length, and I feel the gray underperformed in other key spots earlier this season when she left on the table some of the larger minor awards that appeared hers for the taking.
What else is worth noting?
JS: Woodbine will offer a quartet of black-type events, including three "Win and You're In" races for the Breeders' Cup, and I will look to play #6 Wickenheiser (3-1) in her second stakes appearance, the one-mile Natalma. A rallying debut winner at six furlongs, the Lemon Drop Kid filly was bet down to 5-2 favoritism in the Aug. 20 Catch a Glimpse S., but she left herself too much to do after breaking poorly and closed ridiculously wide into the stretch. Bred to relish longer distances on both sides of the pedigree, Wickenheiser appeared to lose focus momentarily while out toward the grandstand last time, but she came again late to finish only 3 1/2 lengths in fifth. Look for a more professional showing, and for the added ground to help her chances, and the price won't be so deflated, as Cairo Consort and G Laurie figure to take more action.
KR: #1 Let's Go Big Blue (8-1) is intriguing in Saturday's $500,000 Nownownow S. for turf juveniles at Monmouth Park. Out of the Giant's Causeway mare Giant Win, and owned by Bill Parcells' August Dawn Farm, the well-named gelding handily beat fellow New York-breds in his Saratoga debut. Let's Go Big Blue was last at one point behind a steady pace, but rallied, despite looking green and lugging in, to prevail convincingly in the 1 1/16-mile maiden. The George Weaver pupil has to put it together more efficiently going a mile here, versus Chad Brown's #7 Oxymore (2-1), who stretches out from a game victory in the Skidmore S. at the Spa. The Skidmore has already produced a next-out stakes winner — third-placer Private Creed came back to take the Juvenile Sprint at Kentucky Downs. Yet perhaps it's worth noting that Oxymore is going the Monmouth route, rather than Saturday's Summer (G1) at Woodbine. Instead, Brown sent his staying-on Skidmore fourth, #3 Appraise (5-1), to the "Win and You're In" Summer (G1), where he tackles Godolphin's international invader #1 Mysterious Night (6-5).
VH: G Laurie overcame a modest pace to score by daylight on debut at Colonial Downs for owner Sol Kumin and trainer Graham Motion, and she can't be discounted stepping up to face winners in the Natalama for juvenile fillies at Woodbine. The one-turn mile test should feature an even stronger pace, which might help this daughter of Oscar Performance, who thrived over the course himself winning the Woodbine Mile.