McLean’s Picks for Churchill Downs Today

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: 3-5-7-6-1-2…Tough to narrow this one down and tougher, even, to pick just one on top. After scuffling to do so, I finally landed on Kentucky Dancer (3), who has run four decent races in a row and should like the cut back in distance. Gets a new rider in BJ Hernandez, and that should help, too. Bottle Walk (5) might be my favorite horse in this one, but I can’t take on top with this rider. Trainer goes from one apprentice to another and both are not really scorching the rider standings. This one should like the class relief and drop. Rose to Glory (7) was my original first selection, and gets class relief and a shorter distance, too. But this one was beaten nearly two lengths by the new #1. I bet the 3 to win/place and then box in the exactas with 3-5-7 and the 3-5-6.

2nd: 6-5-4-1…Cheyenne Blues (6) likes this track and gets the meet’s top rider. Her best today is good enough to take this bunch. Eufaula (5) goes for an ice cold barn, but gets the glasses for this one. Hasn’t been close in awhile, but she has a win over the track and some back class in a weak field. Gracequinnannamady (4) goes for a barn that is having a sneaky good meet, and won one on Thursday night. I bet the 6 to win/place and key over/under the “all button.”

3rd: 2-7-3-5-1…I think this shapes up as a two horse race, what with Sunny’s Funny (2) and Lady O’Toole (7) as the top picks. Both of these are making their career debuts and both of them look to be working good. If pushed, I give a slight edge to the 2. I bet the 2 to win/place and then key the 2-7 over/under the rest of the numbers in the exacta. I bet a 2-7 exacta box, too.

4th: 12-2-3-8-7-4-6-1…Wide, wide open affair with Mascarpone (12) getting the slight edge, but he’s on the AE list and no likely to draw in. So, with him gone, where do you go? Tipsy Kitten (2) has hooked two really good ones in his last two. If he improves at all on his last effort, he will be tough in this one. Hardly Seen Him (3) is a deep closer for a solid barn operation with a good assistant in town with Jeff Hiles. Must get a clean trip to have a shot. United Stand (8) takes another class drop for a good outfit and picks up a positive rider change to the meet’s top reinsman. Encrypt (7) and Latimer (4) are both worth a look for very different reasons. The latter gets Lasix and a big rider switch. Trainer’s second start percentage is solid and first turf is good, too. I bet the 12 if he draws in. If not, I bet the 2 to win/place and then key over/under all the other numbers. If 4 stays anywhere close to ML 15-1, I bet across the board and wheel top/bottom in exactas.

5th: 6-4-2-1-5…Raagheb (6) finally gets some much-needed class relief for a top trainer and a rider switch, too. This should be a good spot for a return to better form. Has 3 seconds in 7 starts on this dirt, but today may be the time to get to the winner’s circle. Rich Daddy (4) just missed in his last and earns a shot at better today. Lanerie sticks on this true closer and will have a shot at this distance, where he has hit the board in 9 of 11 starts. Epic Journey (2) goes for a barn that ships this one in from up north. Sneaky good trainer, who knows how to spot them. Albano (1) has a ton of back class. If the 6YO can find that magic, he can romp. And, he woke up a tad at Evangeline Downs in his last. Was it the competition or is he back? I bet the 6 to win/place and key the 2 over/under the rest of the numbers above.

6th: 9-8-4-3-1-6-7…Another tough one on a card full of wide open races and good betting opportunities. I finally settle on Hollywood Critic (9), who is coming off a long layoff for a good trainer. Takes a drop in class and has run good off a layoff before. Ran a solid one against Ascend last spring. That one is still kicking butt, like a big win last weekend in New York. If he can capture that glory again, Hollywood Critic will be salty – but still looking for first turf win. Mister Maestro (8) is another one looking to capture his old form. Hit for back-to-back wins in 2015, but was away until this June. Ran a solid race before tiring on the turf here, while going a mile. If that race helps, and it had to, then he might be good enough to spring an upset today. Oathkeeper (4) gets the meet’s top rider and a huge class drop. He’s been off since last November, but if he is ready to go, he may be the favorite to trump these. I bet the 9 to win/place and then box in the exactas with 9-8-4 and then 9-8-3. Throw in a small exacta wheel of 9 over all the numbers above.

7th: 2-1-7-4-3-5…Right On By (2) gets a class drop and will be closing in the stretch. The right trip could land her in the winner’s circle with trainer Ian Wilkes. Miss Helen (1) comes out of the same last race as the preferred choice and could have a better trip with a better break from the gate. This one would rather stalk the leader from just off the pace. Parking Ticket (7) goes for a trainer who has saddled only two horses all year and is still looking for the first win. This stalker could be another one with a shot with a good trip. I bet the 2 to win/place/show and then box the 2-1-7 in one exacta and the 2-1-4 in another.

8th: 8-9-2-1-4-10…Maniacal (8) was my selection the last time he ran here on May 19. This speedster got a horrible break that day and still rallied from the back of the pack to get third and was beaten just 11/2 lengths. A better start today and this one may be gone, in the third race of this cycle. My Bet of the Day and the only “dot horse” (must use) on this card. Shadow Rock (9) was shipped up to Canterbury in Minnesota for his last and he returned to KY with a small stakes victory in the saddle pocket. A consistent sort who ran behind the likes of Undrafted, Green Mask, Hogy and Galton in 2016. A similar run today makes him tough. Mongol Bull (4) has been no factor in his last four, but a return to his 2016 form, when beaten just a neck by Shadow Rock, could put this one back in the mix today. I bet the 9 to win/place/show and then wheel over/under the rest of the numbers in the exactas. I key the 9 in the double, too, and box 9-8 in a solid exacta box combo.

9th: 2-8-5-6-4-1…Conquest Goinggone (2) was shipped to Lone Star after being claimed back in April and he promptly broke his maiden on the grass in a MSW event. Returns to KY now and goes back on the dirt for Claiming $8,000 for a very clever barn that is always looking for ways to win races. He fits with these today. The horse to beat is Spicoli (8), who just may be the best claim prospect that I’ve seen in awhile. He broke his maiden for $10K in his last out, after being dropped from $30K ranks. His connections thought enough about him to purchase this son of Into Mischief for $150,000 last May and then promptly nominate him for the Triple Crown series. Has only one race on dirt and that was a winning one. Oriental Crown (5) is another one getting a huge drop in class, after being claimed for $20K two starts back. Fire sale today. I bet the 2 to win/place and then a 2-8 exacta box. I bet the 2-8 over/under the rest of the numbers in an exacta wheel, as well.

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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