Saturday May 3 – Churchill Downs
Scheduled local post time 3:46pm
11 older sprinters are scheduled to enter the gate for this strong renewal of the Churchill Downs Stakes, 8 of them graded stakes winners, and 3 of them Grade 1 winners. With our Pace Projector favoring horses on or near the early lead, it would seem that last year’s winner of this race, #10 Delaunay, is in a good position to defend his title. However, Delaunay has won only 1-of-4 starts since that impressive triumph in the slop last May, and he is facing a much tougher field of horses this year. Pace advantage or not, Delaunay is a difficult horse to take on top in this race.
The list of contenders in this race is long, but it must begin with Sahara Sky, winner of last year’s Grade 1 Met Mile and a horse who has raced himself back into top shape quickly after a long layoff out of that race. After getting in a proper prep race first back from that extended break, Sahara Sky powered up late to win the Grade 2 San Carlos over this distance, and then was an unlucky, but dead-game, second in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap last out. We think that the Carter is going to be a key race going forward, as it featured a very easy pace for the level, and several top contenders were compromised while racing behind the surprising wire-to-wire winner that day. Sahara Sky raced four-wide off of that slow pace, and emerged from his 1.5-length defeat with his reputation fully intact.
While we like Sahara Sky’s chances in this race, it is a horse who finished behind him in the Carter that interests us most, and that horse, Clearly Now, is going to be our key. We look at Clearly Now as a horse who, but for a few legitimate excuses, could easily be sporting an elite sprinter’s resume at this stage of his career. Instead, he has more excuses than graded stakes wins to his credit, but we are resolute in our belief that this is about to change. Despite enduring a troubled trip behind that slow pace in the Carter, Clearly Now still managed to put in a run through the stretch, and the fact that that race came in his first start off the layoff has us anticipating a step forward for him on Saturday. A clean break is going to be key for him from his inside post, but assuming he has no mishap, he has the kind of tactical speed that is going to have him forwardly placed in a race shape that favors that running style.
Of the others, we view Shakin It Up as a contender for Bob Baffert. Shakin It Up took advantage of a pace meltdown to pick up his Grade 1 win in last year’s Malibu vs. straight three-year-olds, but he has run well in every one of his one-turn starts, and we didn’t think he got the greatest trip (or ride) in the world when 5th behind Sahara Sky last time.
We will make Clearly Now our key in this race, using him with Sahara Sky and Shakin It Up in vertical exotics, and we will cover Clearly Now, Sahara Sky, and Shakin It Up in multi-race wagers, while pressing Clearly Now.