The G3 Mint Julep led by the return of G1 Jenny Wiley heroine Juliet Foxtrot highlights a strong Saturday program at Churchill Downs. Our in-house handicapper has you covered with picks for all 11 races, as well as detailed analysis of the Late Pick 4 sequence that includes the Mint Julep.
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I’m not sure about seven furlongs for her, but Joyful Cadence (#10) ran a huge race last out in the G3 Miss Preakness and is an imposing presence as she drops in class for this optional claimer. The 82 Beyer Speed Figure she earned for the Miss Preakness looks plenty good as it is, but consider that the track that day at Pimlico was intensely favoring inside runners, while Joyful Cadence was wide every step. That bias was on full display in the stretch, when Joyful Cadence looked as though she was going to surge to victory but the winner, who looked hopelessly beaten at the eighth pole, battled back on the rail to prevail. Although I do have some questions about her stretching out in distance, I thought she showed a lot of heart in the Miss Preakness and I doubt she regresses enough at seven furlongs for it to make a difference.
The other runner I would strongly consider using in this race is second-time starter Portilla (#1). She did get a great setup in her debut victory to close out the Kentucky Oaks Day card at Churchill Downs, however she also launched a wide, sustained rally to beat a pretty nice filly. Her trainer Al Stall has strong numbers with horses making their second start after a maiden win, and it wouldn’t at all be a surprise to see Portilla take a big jump forward in this spot.
Main: 10 Backup (priority): 1
Order of preference: 10-1-9-2
The G3 Mint Julep obviously revolves around Juliet Foxtrot (#2), who finally notched her first G1 win last out in the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland. If Juliet Foxtrot shows up with her ‘A’ effort there’s simply going to be no beating her in this race, however I have some misgivings about her as the heavy favorite. For one, the Mint Julep wasn’t her intended target (she was initially pointed to the G1 Gamely at Santa Anita following her Jenny Wiley score), and her 2020 campaign was plagued by inconsistency, both of which leads me to believe she could be set for some regression. It may not even matter, but I’d prefer to take at least one shot against her in a potentially vulnerable state.
The mare I landed on as my top pick is She’sonthewarpath (#11). Admittedly, she’s confounded me a bit in the past as I’ve struggled to get a clear read on her, but I do know she has some ability and put forth an encouraging performance in her 5-year-old debut in the Unbridled Sidney over this course. That effort was particularly strong considering she likely wants no part of 5 ½ furlongs, yet she closed well to get fourth against a talented bunch. With that race under her belt she should be set for much better in this spot, and if she can improve upon her solid 2020 route form she has a legitimate chance at upsetting the favorite.
Main: 2,11 Backup: 1Order of preference: 11-2-1-3
The biggest question that needs to be asked in this starter allowance race is what to do with Southern Passage (#4), who is coming off a fourth-place finish in the G3 Matt Winn that earned him an 89 Beyer. A repeat of that number would make him pretty much unbeatable in this spot, however that race seemed to come out of nowhere for a horse that had previously been something of a plodder. I like that he showed improved early speed in the Matt Winn, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he was able to duplicate that effort, however I couldn’t possibly take him as the favorite here.
Instead, I prefer the Robertino Diodoro-trained Handy (#6). It may not seem like it, but this horse is in career form since being claimed by Diodoro three starts ago. He was unlucky not to win in his first start off the claim at Oaklawn, then he came back and smashed a field over this track in front-running fashion. Based on some of the races he was running last year for his old trainer Tom Vance, I believe this two-turn configuration will be more to his liking, and I fully expect Diodoro to keep this guy humming as he steps up in class. A recent bullet work over the main track here appears to corroborate that.
Main: 4,6 Backup: 2,7
Order of preference: 6-4-7-2
On its face this looks like a competitive maiden race to close things out with, however I don’t really care for the short prices among this field. Smith’s Point (#3) could certainly improve in her second start for trainer Chad Brown, but she’s going to need to in order to win and her big close on debut was due to her being completely devoid of early speed. As the likely favorite, she feels like a very shaky proposition.
The same goes for Kizzy B (#2), who is simply running out of chances with me. This filly has run fast enough to win on a few different occasions, but she just always finds one or two better than her. This isn’t a particularly good field, so perhaps she’s finally meeting the right group, but it really feels like she’s destined to settle for a minor award yet again.
Given my concerns with these runners, I think all signs point to Semble Juste (#5). She’s been running on turf lately, which is no surprise considering her grass-oriented pedigree, but one of the best races of her career came over the main track here as a 2-year-old. The 68 Beyer she earned for that effort absolutely puts her in the mix, and it’s likely she’s in even better form at the moment coming off a strong performance on turf. With a bullet over this track logged in the interim, I’m anticipating another top effort from her in this spot.
Main: 5 Backup (priority): 2,3,4
Order of preference: 5-2-3-4
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