As part of an elongated week that includes a special Memorial Day card on Monday, Churchill Downs is back in action on Sunday with another nine races. As usual, our in-house handicapper has broken down the card with detailed analysis of his best value plays and picks for every race.
If you're looking for picks elsewhere around the country on Sunday, be sure to check out our Free Horse Racing Picks via the gold button below.
Field Day (#5) is the horse to beat in this race coming off a stakes win in the William Walker over this turf course, but man is he a dicey proposition as the odds-on favorite given the fact he has very little margin for error. He did win the William Walker last out, which is certainly a feather in his cap, but he did so in relatively slow time and it was a depleted edition of that race. His prior turf sprints aren’t really anything special, either, so I think he’s an easy bet against at his morning-line odds of 4-5.
I actually prefer another horse coming out of the William Walker, third-place finisher Cees Get Degrees (#4). While he’s not nearly as reliable as Field Day, there’s no doubt in my mind he ran the better race in the William Walker as he broke well but was gradually shuffled back to last down the backstretch and around the turn. From there he rallied nicely to gain a bit of ground on the winner in the stretch, but the handful of lengths he lost early on were insurmountable. Given his recent races he should find himself much closer to the pace in this spot, and if he shows up with a similar effort he can easily upset the favorite.
To a lesser extent I’m also interested in Rolling Fork (#1) as he makes his turf debut for the underrated John Ortiz. He’s taken advantage of some soft spots at Oaklawn Park in his past few starts, however he’s bred strongly for this trip and should appreciate the change in surface. Since no one in here is all that formidable, any improvement is going to give him a big chance.
I really don’t have much interest in the fillies that have been running lately at this level. Horses like Seascape (#4), Deemed Essential (#6), and Music App (#7) can win, but they’re really nothing special and are going to be overbet based on their recent races, which are probably worse than they appear on paper.
Despite it being a maiden claimer, this just feels like the type of spot ripe for a first-time starter, so my top pick is Speed Zone (#2) for owners Gary and Mary West. The Wests aren’t shy about debuting a horse for a tag, so I don’t think the fact this filly shows up for 50k is necessarily an indictment of her considering these owners also famously debuted multiple G1 winner Maximum Security for 16k. Speed Zone has a good deal of pedigree and appears to be working for trainer Wayne Catalano, who also does fine work with first-time starters for a tag, and if she has any ability at all she should be able to handle this group.
If this race were at a longer distance I’d be very interested in Good Penny (#5), however I’m a little worried that 6 ½ furlongs might be too short for her as she returns off a fair-sized layoff. I do think she still merits inclusion because she’s going to be a big price and showed some ability over this track as a 2-year-old, but I’m not sure this is the right spot for her. Still, her trainer Denis Roberson does a sneaky good job at Churchill and I’m expecting her to outrun her odds.
Soros (#1) is the horse to beat as he drops out of an allowance race on the Kentucky Derby undercard, but he did very little running in that spot and is tough to trust while dropping precipitously in class. I’m also not sure that the turnback in distance is going to do him any favors considering he has only routed to this point in his career. At a short price I think it’s probably wise to stay away.
The horse I landed on is Pintxos (#4), who takes a slightly lesser drop in class than Soro but should benefit from the inferior competition he meets nonetheless. Pintxos has gone off form in his past two starts, but prior to that he broke his maiden sprinting at Oaklawn Park and ran a pair of decent races over this track to conclude his 2020 campaign. The brief freshening he’s gotten should hopefully get him back on track, and if he gets back to his good races on dirt I think he’s a very likely winner.
There’s really no one that scares me in this turf optional claimer, so I have to go back to Gamblin Train (#6) at a price. I was really high on this mare last time in an allowance race at Keeneland at a whopping 44-1, but unfortunately she really didn’t do much running and faded to finish seventh. It’s possible her poor performance in that spot was due to her running on short rest, as her prior outing at Keeneland was very good, in my opinion. Facing a substantially better field than this, Gamblin Train finished well in the stretch and may have even been encumbered by rallying along the inside. If she can get back to that kind of effort, there’s no doubt in my mind she can win this race considering your likely favorites Alnaseem (#1) and Guitty (#8) look pretty ordinary. She’s not going to be 44-1 again, but Gamblin Train should still provide plenty of value in this race.
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