Saturday May 3 – Churchill Downs
Scheduled local post time 2:08pm
The Humana Distaff, the first of three Grade 1 events on Kentucky Derby day, features a tidy and competitive field of seven four-year-old fillies, plus Judy the Beauty (#3, 3-1). This remarkable five-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper has yet to finish off the board in 15 starts (15-7-7-1). Despite that consistency, we were foolhardy enough to pick against her in the G1 Madison at this distance on the Keeneland Poly. Our excuse that day? Her best distance is six furlongs, and she had fallen just short in her four races at longer.
Oh well, so much for that. So, what would be our excuse this time? Well, we could point out that her win that day was aided by a track rated as strongly favoring closers (as denoted by the dark blue in the race rating box).
Or, if we want to stretch, we could point out that trainer Wesley Ward’s rating for horses going third time off a layoff is a cut below his general performance. Yeah, that probably is a stretch. Suffice to say that we still believe that this mare is at her best up to six furlongs. Six of her seven wins, and her two best speed figures, have come at distances of six furlongs or shorter. While we wouldn’t be daffy enough to eliminate her entirely, we think it’s worth looking for an alternative at the top of the ticket.
Looking at the contenders:
Midnight Lucky (#8, 5-2) returns after a long layoff for trainer Bob Baffert. How long, exactly? 341 days. We love our days-between-races line.
That 115 that she earned after stumbling at the start in the Acorn is the top speed figure of anyone in the field. She defeated Close Hatches, who went on to win four of her next five, three of those Grade 1 stakes. Her only defeat came on this track a year ago, when she faded after setting an insanely quick pace in the Oaks. Forgiving that mishap, it’s certainly hard to argue with her running lines. Pace Projector places her just behind Saturday NThe Park (#4, 20-1), whom we have in the “hopeless longshot” category, in a race favoring early speed.
Midnight Lucky comes into this off a long series of steady works, including the highly impressive bullet works that one typically sees from Baffert horses. If she returns in top form, she will be tough to handle. However, there is that layoff –341 days if we recall correctly. One never quite knows how a filly will return from a break that long. We’d be willing to take a shot against her as the favorite in favor of a filly with sharp recent form…
..Such as Iotapa (#6, 7-2). This four-year-old daughter of Afleet Alex comes off two fabulous efforts in two-turn graded stakes at Santa Anita. After winning the G2 Santa Maria, she was a gallant second in the G1 Santa Margarita after being hung out three-wide around the turn for home. She cuts back here to seven furlongs, a move she executed successfully in California last spring (and with similar spacing between races).
She also has that nice seven furlong race off the layoff three races back. In fact, that second-place finish is her only loss in four tries sprinting. She has stepped up the class ladder since her return, as shown by her ascending race ratings. After those three tough races in 49 days, trainer John Sadler gave her the same amount of time off, and her solid worktab indicates that she’s ready to roll.
Iotapa has the tactical speed to stay within range, and the second-best late pace rating in the field. She is our top selection.
Heart Stealer (#2, 5-1) has shown distinct improvement since transferring from the Baffert barn to that of trainer Martin Wolfson, and has found her niche sprinting on dirt. Her recent speed figures are on a par with those of our top selection, with the only blemish being two races back, when she was crushed by Groupie Doll.
The 42-day layoff is right in the trainer’s wheelhouse, and she has a win at this distance over this surface last year. This improving daughter of Speightstown is a threat on her best effort.
Scherzinger (#5, 7-2) defeated Iotapa in her last, when the latter was returning from her layoff. She’ll need to improve her speed figures to compete here off a 98-day layoff, but she has done exactly that in each of her last three starts on dirt.
Speedinthruthecity (#7, 15-1) has returned from a 245-day layoff with two smashing wins for trainer Steve Asmussen. She also has two wins in two seven furlong tries over the Churchill strip last year. She too needs to move up in the speed figure department, and could liven up your deep exotics tickets if she does.
The play: Iotapa to win. Exacta box with Judy the Beauty.