MCLEAN’S PICKS TODAY AT CHURCHILL DOWNS

Gene McLean has put together his picks for today’s races at Churchill Downs. No one in this industry has more experience or talent in reviewing, forecasting and handicapping Thoroughbred racing.

Remember to look a Gene’s picks for today’s Belmont Stakes races.

1st: 3-4-5-2…Secret Trick (3) is a true closer, and has never been better – winning two in a row. Catches a similar crowd in here and see no reason why she can’t make it a trifecta. Cheyenne Blues (4) pressed the pace in the last, before giving away to our top choice. She will probably try the same tactic today, and does get the benefit of going 1/16-mile shorter. That may be enough to enable her to hold on, this time. After all, she is 12-for-16 in the money at this distance. Don’t ignore that fact. Princess Dinah (5) is good right now, too, an has leading rider Corey Lanerie up. Won in the mud at Keeneland, but will get a fast track today to try to close on. I bet the 3-4-5 exacta box and the 3-4-2 exacta box and bet – note this – the 4 to win/place.

2nd: 6-5-4-7…Royal Blessing (6) gets a “dot” (must use) here, for me. She is ultra-consistent, and, despite the fact that she has not won over the Churchill course, she has two seconds in four starts here. I think the extra 1/16-mile will help her today and she gets the nod. Halo Nation (5) is a stronger stalker and has never been worse than second in three starts on the CD grass. She won a 1x in her last and steps up against more experienced today, and that is a concern. Plug Catcher (4) ran a big one in her last, but is 0-for-4 at CD and has only one second. She likes this distance, though, and I have to use in the exotics. I bet the 6 to win/place and wheel over/under the other numbers.

3rd: 2-7-6-1-8-10…Laudation (2) cost $110,000 as a yearling and has been training very well for her first start. Love the fact that the trainer hits with 2YO at the same level as others, and this one figures to get the break inside. In the Mood (7) goes for a barn that knows how to crank up 2YOs, but is having a cool meet after a torrid Keeneland go. Patrona Margarita (6) is a Texas-bred, but goes for a trainer known for getting them ready for a pop to start. Lady O’Toole (1) is by Colonel John, who I think is one of the most under-rated stallions in the business. Training OK, but draws the rail and that’s a tough spot for a baby firster. I bet the 2 to win/place and then wheel over/under the rest of the numbers.

4th: 4-6-5-7…Loyalist (4) is my pick here due to two facts: a) she was 6-wide in the last before tiring; b) she gets relief from 61/2 furlongs to 6. A cleaner trip at this distance could put her on top if she runs back the same type of race for a trainer that has had a superb meet. Improviser (6) is, on paper, the best of the rest. If he runs back to his Fairgrounds form, he will be salty in here. If not, then no. Neighborhood Cat comes off a brief respite, but showed some talent on the synthetic. Cn he duplicate the speed on dirt? I bet the 4 to win/place and box the 4-6 in the exacta. I wheel the 4-6 over the other numbers in one exacta.

5th: 3-4-1-6-5…Mineyerownmalone (3) drops in class for a sharp outfit and should be tough in this spot today. Crooked as Can Be (4) will run much, much better today, in my opinion, and could be a nice price play. Gold Hawk (1) gets a HUGE rider switch and that puts him in the middle of the fray, as well. I bet the 3 to win/place and then box the 3-4-1 and the 3-4-6 in the exactas.

6th: 10-6-7-4…Very Elegant (10) gets my pick here for trainer Bernie Flint. She drops in class and shortens back up to a sprint and I think the combination, with a positive jock change, can put this one in the circle. Top Tiara (6) is another class dropper and that, alone, puts in the mix here. Goes back to the dirt after three tries on grass, and that’s an OK angle for the trainer. E Lady Hansen (7) gets Lanerie, a huge class drop, a switch back to dirt, and a turnback to sprint. Wow. A whole new strategy may work here. I bet the 10 to win/place and then box the 10-6-7 in one exacta. And, 10-7-4 in another. I have to use Marnie Star (4), too. Just have to.

7th: 8-2-1-3-4-5…Jemrose (8) is a deep closer broke her maiden last time out, but was disqualified when bumped her fore in deep stretch. The same run today gets her what she earned the last time. Awesome Gal (2) goes for a barn-jock combination that I steer clear from at all costs. But, even I, have to admit that this one has a shot if she runs back to the race at Oaklawn in April. She drops in class and if she can find her speed again, she will be dangerous. Reward’s Girl (1) moves up in class after a claim by a sharp barn. Like the confidence. I bet the 8 to win/place and then box the 8-2-1 and the 8-2-3 in the exactas.

8th: 2-1-5-3…Nobody’s Fault (2) gets my strong “dot” in here after a win over this course in her last out. She is the sharpest of this bunch right now and looks to get enough solid pace to run into again. I love this closer. I bet her to win and wheel over/under the “all button.” I key her in the pick 3s, too.

9th: 2-7-11-1…Path Less Traveled (2) gets a huge drop in class and should be able to handle these today. If she can show a little speed like she did going a route, she may be able to air this bunch. Red Again (7) gets a similar drop from the Bill Mott barn and is likely to get claimed today. Hasn’t been able to sustain his speed going longer, so maybe he’s a sprinter? Altito (11) is well bred and cost $270,000; in today for $10,000. Drops from $45,000 claiming to $10,000. Have to figure the fire sale is on for this gelded son of Bernardini. I bet the 2 to win/place and wheel over/under all the numbers above.

Good luck &
All the Best/
Gene

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

    Full Bio >

More From Gene McLean