McLean’s Picks for Churchill Downs’ “Downs After Dark” Card on Saturday Night

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.

1st: 7-2-5-1…Tough one to close in on and select a top contender, but I settle on Tizthesound (7), who drops from $40,000 Claiming to $25,000 tonight for trainer Dale Romans. This one likes to gun it from the start and find a spot near the lead. Will try to hold on for a mile, turf event. Throw out her effort at Gulfstream in December – when wide throughout – and she has been knocking on the door six straight tries. Audrey’s Double (2), on the other hand, moves up after being claimed off Neil Pessin in her last. This one is a deep closer and will need some late racing luck from rider James Graham. Play the Break (5) is another deep closer who ran a solid one back in February to repeat winner Vendita. Has won over this course, but not at this distance, which may be a tad short. I bet the 7 to win/place and then box the 7-2-5 and the 7-2-1 in the exactas.

2nd: 1-5-6-4-2…Hardly Home (1) plummets from the $50K ranks all the way to $16K and goes from the grass course – where he has run on exclusively in 11 career starts – to the dirt. So, this race should be either feast or famine. I am betting on feast. Trainer Eddie Kenneally does well with turf-to-dirt angle (.21 win percentage) and this one has trained super over this surface – firing a bullet work on June 7 (:47 2/5 over 4Fs). If he can transfer that work to tonight’s race? Look out. High Multiple (5) is another class dropper, who should relish the easier company. This son of Scat Daddy ran a big one against Dunk a Din two back and that one has run well here, already this meet. Apprentice jockey selection keeps me looking for another one here. Silver Wraith (6) is one I’ve watched since he broke his maiden at GP in February, on the grass. Switches to the dirt, again, and figures to be a close stalker throughout in this one. Can he hold on going this far? Gets huge jock improvement. I bet the 1 to win/place and then box in the exactas with 1-5-6 and 1-5-4.

3rd: 4-1-3-2-5…Cerro (4), an Irish-bred 7YO, gets top billing in this one for trainer Kim Hammond. Ultra consistent performer, who is coming off a dynamite race in Indiana and has trained well all spring. Mesoma (1) will be the post-time favorite for the meet’s leading rider, Corie Lanerie, and the solid training operation of Chris Hartman. The duo has won at a .36 clip this meet. This one is coming off a 71/2 length victory here and is in top form. Has 2 wins, 2 seconds and 2 thirds in 7 lifetime starts at the distance and has 2 wins & a third in 4 starts here. Deserving favorite. Toasting Master (3) is another that could upset the field in this one, though. Nice win last November here, when claimed by Kenneally, but hasn’t been seen in a race since. Training very well for this return, and he’s never raced for his low of a tag. Contender. I bet the 4 to win/place in an upset and then box the 4-1-3 and the 4-1-2 in the exactas.

4th: 9-6-8-4-2-10…Kismet’s Heels (9) returns to the grass surface that he prefers tonight and gets a field that he can handle. Picks up the services of Julien Leparoux, again, and they have won together before. This one ran against some heavy hitters last year and a return to that form makes him super dangerous in here. Sixty Five (6), is a French-bred gelding who was claimed last by trainer Michelle Lovell. She wins with .27 percent on the first try after a pick up And, this one endured a horrendous trip last out and still nearly won. Kasseopia (8) was bred in Great Britain and formerly trained by Graham Motion. Now he goes for Mark Casse and appears to be sitting on a big effort. The work on June 9 was super. Don’t ignore. I bet the 9 to win/place and then box in the exactas with 9-6-8. I bet the 8 a tad across the board, as well.

5th: 2-6-1-5-4…G3 Matt Win Stakes…This race is the first of five Graded Stakes races in a row on Churchill Down’s biggest race card outside of the Kentucky Oaks and Derby programs. And, this is the long-await return of McCraken (2), who sustained a serious puncture wound at the start of the Derby, and undoubtedly contributed to his disappointing 8th place finish for trainer Ian Wilkes. If you have visited this site before, you know that I loved McCraken going into the Derby and bet him accordingly. He will be a huge favorite tonight, but I am happy to see him return to the races. It will not be a walkover for McCraken, though. The small field of 6 has plenty of challenges and challengers. Excitations (1) is a super talented colt that was very impressive before he caught a muddy track in the Pat Day Mile here on Derby Day. Couldn’t handle that surface, at all. Stretches back out to two turns again, and that didn’t look like his game the try before. I love this colt, but maybe not at this distance? Aquamarine (5) is a speedball that has elevated his game since being shifted from the West Coast here and to trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Ran huge to Recruiting Ready in the Chick Lang at Pimlico, but gets his first test at two turns tonight, too. So, with questions abounding about both 1 and 5, I settled on Society Beau (6) to give McCraken a test tonight. This son of Curlin is a deep closer in a field that seemingly has a lot of speed and stalkers. And, he has talent. He easily won and impressed in a two-turn race at Keeneland, beating a nice one in Eastport. He edged Hollywood Handsome, who ran in the Belmont Stakes, three back. He narrowly lost to Senior Investment, who ran a closing third in the Preakness Stakes, four tries back. I bet the 2 to win only and then wheel over/under all the numbers above in the exactas. I key the 2 in the Pick 3s and Doubles.
6th: 7-5-6-1-4-2…G2 Wise Dan Stakes…A wide open affair going 11/16 miles on the turf, named in honor of one of the great grass horses of our time. I give a slight edge to Pleuven (7), a French-bred gelding who easily won the Opening Verse Stakes here on May 4 and won this same race a year ago. Loves this surface here, with 2 wins and 2 seconds in 4 career starts, and loves this distance, too (3 wins and 2 thirds in 6 starts). This stalker was just nipped by the talented Divisidero two starts back and is at the top of his game right now. Kasaqui (5) is 6-1 ML and has a chance to drift higher on the tote board. If so, I have to use. This 7YO has caught every tough grass horse in the country, or so it seems, over the last 9 races, and if you throw out his lone try on dirt, he has been right there every time. Picks up James Graham, a good turf rider, tonight and will be closing strong. Has a shot. Conquest Panthera (6) is another longer shot (6-1 ML) that could surprise. He’s a stalker that ran a huge one in the Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland. Probably prefers a little less ground than today’s distance, but could hang on for a part. Security Risk (1) ships in for trainer Shug McGaughey especially for this one, and this speedster will try to take the field wire to wire. Ultra consistent son of the turf expert War Front did not fare well against Graded Stakes company last out, but gets another try tonight. I bet the 7 to win/place and then wheel over / under all the numbers.

7th: 2-1-3-5-6-9…G2 Fleur de Lis Stakes…Undoubtedly, the overwhelming favorite in here will be Forever Unbridled (1) and rightfully so. The 5YO mare by Unbridled’s Song ran a huge third to the great Beholder and the great Songbird in one of the game’s greatest races – the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. And, Forever Unbridled was only 11/4 lengths behind the championship duo. But…? She hasn’t raced since then and she hasn’t shown, in the past, that she is great coming off an extended layoff. And, she has only one second in 2 lifetime starts over this track. And, her trainer, Dallas Stewart, is 0-for-6 with horses off this long in 2017. So…? It may not matter, but I go, instead, with a hot horse and trainer in Walkabout (2), conditioned by Ian Wilkes. She has won her last two – including the Grade 3 Matron here – and is the centerpiece of our own Dan Liebman’s column (see the homepage). In addition, I really like Carrumba (3) who is being shipped here just for this race by McGaughey. She ran a credible race last time, finishing second to Terra Promessa in the G3 DuPont Distaff at Pimlico and gets the services of John Velasquez (2017 Derby winner). So, I bet the 2 (at 10-1 ML) to win/place and then wheel her over/under all the numbers in the exactas – looking for the boxcars (a nice payoff).

8th: 3-4-8-7-6-1…G1 Stephen Foster…How do you not like Gun Runner (3)? Well, I just went against Forever Unbridled didn’t I? I won’t try to bite too much off and out-think this one. Not on this paper, but maybe in betting paper. Gun Runner is rated as the 4th best horse in the world, right now, after running a huge 2nd to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup back in March. Since his game 3rd in last year’s Derby, he has run 8 times and hit the board in all but one try – when fifth in the Travers, behind Arrogate, again. He has five straight races with Beyer Speed Figures over 102. He is the choice here, even at 4-5 ML odds that may even go lower. But the Foster will not be an easy race for him, either. There is a ton of speed in this one to challenge the front-running style of Gun Runner. And, it is quality speed. Bird Song (1) is super good right now and comes off a nice win in the G2 Alysheba here. He wants the lead. Stanford (8) caught an awful, sloppy track in the Charles Town Classic and tired off of fast fractions. But he had been super in the three previous races, winning twice. He is super fast for trainer Todd Pletcher. He wants the lead. Breaking Lucky (2) only needs another $47,000 in earnings to break into the $1 Millionaire Club, and he is another who likes to be near the front. They all may have trouble catching up to Gun Runner, but they all will give him a try. And, it may just sit up perfectly for the closing kick of one Honorable Duty (4). He couldn’t get past the easy pace-setter Bird Song in the Alysheba, but he had won three in a row previously and he gets a huge jock improvement today with the pick up of HOF Jockey JJ Castellano. Watch out…at 6-1 ML, he could be tough. I bet the 4 across the board (yes, even to win) and then box the 3-4-8 and the 3-4-7 in the exactas. I take a small 4-“all” and “all”-4 in the exactas, as well.

9th: 10-12-7-4-2…G3 Regret Stakes…Wide open tilt for these fillies, but I finally land on Fizzy Friday, a Brit who has run her last two against the colts. She lost a Mile Turf event here on May 29 to the accomplished Sonic Boom in her first try in North America and first time being saddled by Ignacio Correas IV. To makes matters worse, she was 6 wide in that one and really had no chance. Now, she picks up a huge jock change – going to John Velasquez – and back against her own gender. My big pick here at 10-1 ML. Chubby Star (12) has caught some of the game’s best 3YO turf fillies of late, including a game second to the ultra-impressive Yoshida in her last out. This dead closer should be right there at the wire with a little racing luck and may be the post-time favorite. I love Summer Luck (7) in this spot, as well, and she is 10-1 ML, too. This one tries the grass for the first time after chasing after all the best this spring. And, she is out of a Deputy Minister mare – and should love this surface switch. Has been training super. Watch out. Proctor’s Ledge (4) and Sweeping Paddy (2) are, most likely, two of the top fan choices tonight. And, rightfully so. Both have credentials. I bet the 10 to win/place and then wheel over/under the numbers above in the exactas. I also bet one exacta box in 10-12-7. And, I bet the 12-7 across the board, a tad.

10th: 2-3-9-4-5…Whew…if you are still standing after that whirlwind, the last two races of the night are MSW events. This one is for Fillies and Mares, 3YO & Up. I go to What A Star (2), who nearly broke her maiden last out despite some traffic issues on the backside. She got blinkers for the first time in that one, and she figures to be very tough tonight if given a better trip. Miss Kentucky (3) ran a huge one when last seen here in April. And, has trained great, including a bullet work here on June 11. Figures to be the speed, and she ran behind the Black Eyed-Susan winner, Actress, in her career debut. Tough one here. Golden Amber (9) has been the beaten favorite in her only two previous races for trainer Brad Cox, who is having a super meet. I bet the 2 to win/place and box the 2-3 good in the exacta. Play the 2-3 over/under the rest of the numbers, in case of a split.

11th: 8-9-3-6-11…This MSW is for 3YO & Up. My choice is Portal (8), who came with a rush and was bumped rather significantly in the stretch in his last. He finished just a head back. A cleaner trip tonight and he’s got a huge chance to break his maiden. Tapsolute (9) is a Tapit colt owned by the Winchell Thoroughbreds family and trained by Steve Asmussen, who is atop the trainer’s standings here. Has hooked some good ones this spring, running second to Meantime in his last. Meantime set the early fractions in last week’s Belmont Stakes. Don’t dismiss Leading Cause (3), who is trained by Phillip Sims — a really good conditioner that few people give enough credit to. This one nearly won a 11/4 miles in his last here and now backs up to 11/16. Jockey doesn’t help, but may get a part. I bet the 8 to win/place and then wheel over/under all the rest in the exactas. I also play a stronger 8-9 box.

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 ...

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