The temperature and the racing at iconic Churchill Downs are heating up on Friday, with nine races set for a scorching daytime card. As usual, our in-house handicapper has provided picks for every race, as well as additional analysis of his strongest opinions throughout the day.
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Most Likely Winner: News Break (Race 9) - An old adage goes, ‘You never want to take a favorite doing something he/she hasn’t done before,’ but I’m willing to bend that rule in the case of News Break, who has been running races lately that are significantly better than his competition. He may be an unknown at this mile and a half distance, however he’s trained by Mike Maker, who is an absolute master at stretching horses out, particularly in turf marathons. That, coupled with abundant early speed that will allow him to work out an ideal position, has me thinking he’s not just going to handle this trip but thrive at it.
Best Value: Tootsie (Race 6) - It’s not easy to trust a horse trained by the low-percentage Paul Bachmann, who is winless on the year, and perhaps this mare has gone off form recently, however I think she has excuses for her last two races and if you key on her last turf race at this distance she’s a standout in this field. That April 3 race at Keeneland may look like she was merely sucked up into earning a 71 Beyer Speed Figure, but I think she did some actual running in that spot, and although she finished last she was just behind a bunch of fillies and mares that would be odds-on favorites in this spot. Whether it be getting back on this surface or the addition of blinkers, if she can get back on track here she’s going to have a big chance at double-digit odds.
Other Races of Interest: Race 4 - I’m not too interested in the dressed-up Glory Road (#1) or the wildly inconsistent Almashriq (#4), who figure to vie for favoritism in this race, which is why I’m keying on Catholic Guilt (#5) and Hombrazo (#6) at bigger prices. The former should bounce back for the underrated Jason Barkley after running on turf last out, while I’m anticipating the latter will move way forward in his first start for Joe Sharp following a useful 2021 debut last month. I think these two are both better than they look and at least one of them should be able to take down the vulnerable favorites.
Race 8 - Sonneman (#1) is no doubt the horse to beat as he drops out of a series of tougher graded-stakes assignments, but I prefer a pair of fresh faces in Core Beliefs (#5) and King Abner (#10). The latter is coming off a monstrous effort at Santa Anita that absolutely holds up to scrutiny, and while the cross-country ship is a concern, it’s heavily mitigated by the run his new trainer Chris Hartman is on at the meet; I’m expecting him to deliver a similar performance here. Core Beliefs is even harder to trust, but he ran a good race off a long layoff over this track last year and I think the streaking Brian Lynch could have this once-classy runner ready to fire a big one in his 2021 unveiling. A couple of very sharp works in the lead-up to this race seem to corroborate that.
*If you're interested in seeing payouts for these races, you can find them on our Results page linked to below*