Churchill Downs Picks & Analysis for May 22

Churchill Downs hosts an 11-race card on Saturday with two stakes races on the docket
Churchill Downs hosts an 11-race card on Saturday with two stakes races on the docket

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A strong, 11-race program is on tap for Saturday evening at Churchill Downs, featuring the G3 Winning Colors and the Keertana Stakes. As usual, our in-house handicapper is on hand to break down all the action, with detailed analysis of his best value plays to go along with picks for every race.

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Horse Racing Picks

Race 2

You have to look past a dismal try last out on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs, but I’m fully expecting Lil Miss Hot Mess (#7) to bounce back, especially following a sharp recent work on the main track here. Prior to that last-out debacle, Lil Miss Hot Mess had been in very good form over the winter at Oaklawn Park for trainer David Vance, who has struggled mightily in Arkansas. The race she ran two back in particular would make her a very likely winner in this spot. The two mares that finished ahead of her in that salty starter allowance race both came back to win, and I think the 73 Beyer Speed Figure she earned for her third-place finish belies just how strong of an effort it was. As the likely third choice in the wagering, the overachieving Lil Miss Hot Mess is in prime position to outrun her odds.

Although she’s listed at a shorter price on the morning line, I’m also somewhat interested in Centerfold Angel (#2), who could sneakily be in career form at the moment. I thought her effort two back at Keeneland was rock solid as she nearly prevailed at this level despite rallying into a glacial pace, and even last out she ran better than it looks going against the grain of the racetrack. It’s very possible that this mare moves forward in her first start with trainer Greg Foley, and if she drifts up from her morning-line odds I could see her offering value, as well.


Race 4

She’s not going to be a big price, but I really like Suki (#7) as she makes her second start on turf and first with trainer Matt Shirer, who claimed this filly for 30k in her last start at Churchill. The step up from 30k to 75k may seem daunting, however the field Suki just faced is actually comparable to this one and she was a revelation in that race. She didn’t show much early speed in her turf debut, but once she was uncovered at the top of the stretch she came storming home to nearly catch Runaway Mom, who is better than your usual 30k maiden claiming fare. Given Suki’s pedigree it’s kind of surprising she ran so well, but I have no doubts based on what I saw that she belongs on this surface. If she can attain a more forward position in this spot it would be ideal, though either way I think she’s going to be tough right back for the underrated Shirer.


Race 8

This is a wide open, high-priced optional claimer, so it should come as no surprise that I’ll be avoiding your morning-line favorite, Big Dreaming (#10). I actually really liked this guy in his last start, a turf race here at this same level, but he was a big disappointment in that spot in his 4-year-old debut. His lone dirt effort suggests that he’s a major player here, however he’s run very well on turf in the past, so his last race is pretty disconcerting. He could certainly bounce back and pick up where he left off as a sophomore, but that’s not generally a proposition you want to take with a favorite.

In my mind, if you’re looking for a horse to bounce back following a dull turf outing, then why not try Finnick the Fierce (#2) at a much bigger price? This horse also had a very promising 3-year-old campaign and has run well in a number of big spots in his career. Furthermore, he’s bred strongly for dirt, so I’m not too concerned with his recent duds on turf and the synthetic surface at Turfway Park. It could be that he’s just not in the same form this year, but at double-digit odds I have to give him one more chance to redeem himself on what figures to be his preferred surface.

I’m also interested in Royal Mesa (#5), who I believe will drift up from his 6-1 morning-line odds. This guy is coming off a try at Keeneland that is slightly better than it looks, and if he were to get back to the race he ran over this same track and distance last fall, when he just missed behind the talented Hog Creek Hustle, he’d be a major player here. There’s also a decent probability he takes a step forward in his second start of the year.


Race 10

Aloha West (#2) is absolutely the horse to beat after closing strongly and just missing at this level at Keeneland, however I have some serious doubts about the 93 Beyer Speed Figure he earned for that effort. It’s pure speculation on my part since TimeformUS assigned it a figure in line with the Beyer, but both of these feel unusually high given the competition he was facing that day, which wasn’t particularly strong. If he runs back to that number there’s probably no beating him, I just can’t in good conscience rely on him to do that as a heavy favorite.

Instead, I’m going to take a shot with Incorrigible (#4). He’s a tough read because he goes out for a trainer with just three lifetime starts to his name and has been dreadful at Churchill Downs in his career, however I think he might be sitting on a good race. For one, although he’s saddled just three runners, Jesus Esquivel has gotten promising results from that limited sample, including Incorrigible himself, who nearly wired a field last out at Oaklawn. And while this horse has shown nothing over this track to date, I’m hopeful that the removal of blinkers two back may help him find some needed consistency. I think the turnback to seven furlongs is going to hit him right between the eyes, and he also happens to have a major pace advantage on Aloha West.

 

*If you're interested in seeing payouts for these races, you can find them on our Results page linked to below*

Horse Racing Results
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