Thunderstorms are in the forecast for Thursday at Churchill Downs, but the show must go on with eight races on tap to kick off the week. As usual, our in-house handicapper is on the case with picks for the whole card and analysis of his strongest opinions throughout the day.
If you're looking for picks elsewhere around the country on Thursday, be sure to check out our Free Horse Racing Picks via the gold button below.
Most Likely Winner: Illegal Smile (Race 8) - With thunderstorms in the forecast it’s hard to predict if the turf races will remain on their intended surface, but for the purposes of this analysis I’m going to assume they do. If the finale does stay on the turf, I don’t think anyone’s beating Illegal Smile. I don’t necessarily think the race she’s coming out of is all that strong, but there’s little opposition standing in her path as she makes her second start of the year. She’ll probably be a much shorter price than her morning-line odds indicate, but she’s a very likely winner nonetheless.
Best Value: Sara Sea (Race 3) - I’m really hoping this race stays on turf, because I’m very interested in Sara Sea in her second try sprinting on this surface. Lady of Luxury was a runaway winner of her last race and will be tough here if she’s able to draw into the main body of this field, but I still think Sara Sea is capable of better than what she showed last out. She was ridden rather tentatively on the inside and never really got optimal clearance in the stretch along the hedge. I’d love to see her just blast off from the gate under Jon Court, and if ridden aggressively I think she can wire this field.
Other Races of Interest: Race 2 - Scabbard (#3) is certainly the horse to beat in the day’s second race, however I don’t love him turning back in distance after a pair of solid route tries. I have a feeling he could be set to disappoint as the favorite, which is why I’m siding with All Eyes West (#4) as he looks to make it two in a row over this track. There was nothing flashy about his last win, but it did earn him a very respectable 76 Beyer Speed Figure, which if repeated should be good enough to win. Ultimately I just think he’s a very logical player here that could get ignored a bit in the wagering.
Race 7 - Exotic West (#1) was very much in the running to be the day’s ‘Most Likely Winner.’ She’s coming off a poor performance over this track, however that came against allowance company and this claimer represents a substantial drop in class. With Polished Gem (#2) looming her main competition, who I believe is completely dressed up off an easy score at a comparable level, Exotic West should be able to handle her business with no problem in the softest spot of her career.
*If you're interested in seeing payouts for these races, you can find them on our Results page linked to below*