Gene McLean has been handicapping Thoroughbred races for much of his life, and it still remains one of his most enjoyable things to do. It has been our pleasure to handicap the races throughout the entire Churchill Downs’ Spring-Summer Meet. We hope that we have provided you with some insights, and that you have benefited to some degree. Enjoy the last two nights of this year’s Spring-Summer Meet before all the Kentucky racing action turns to Ellis Park.
First Post: 5 p.m.:
1st: 2-6-4-7-5-1…Downwind (2) is a first timer for a barn not known for getting them cranked up and ready to pop at first asking. But all the other stars are lining up for this one. The trainer-rider combo has won at an amazing .53% clip in 15 starts this meet, and this one has been working lights out for a hot trainer. Brought his work tab with him when he switched over from Keeneland, too. Snowfire (6) is another filly getting to the gate for the first time. This daughter of Tapit brought $500,000 at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Sale at Saratoga and goes for the owner/trainer connection of John Oxley-Mark Casse, who team up to sponsor Classic Empire, too. Steady stream of solid works, with a dash of brilliance (May 30 at Keeneland). Sultry (4) is a high-end buy, too, and gets the saddle cloth for the first time, as well. Working lights out. The work on June 16 is brilliant for a 2YO. Would be no surprise, and gets my “dot” (have to use). I bet the 2 to win/place and then box the 2-6-4 in the exactas. I play a small 2-6-4 over/under the 7-5-1 in exactas, as well.
2nd: 8-7-2-6-1…A really solid race here, and my selection goes to Gettysburg (8), who is coming off an extended layoff and making his 2017 debut. This one looked like he just may be on the Derby Trail a year ago, facing some of the best. He made all the early fractions and looked to be sailing in the Arkansas Derby, before hitting a wall and fading to fifth behind Creator, who went on to win the Belmont Stakes. Starts this campaign at a 1-mile distance and may need a race, but goes for a super hot barn and has been working steadily for his return. Gray Sky (7) is making his third start on this race cycle and that is a key angle for me. But he loses jockey Corey Lanerie, who opts for another, and Gray Sky is only 1-for-21 lifetime. Can use underneath. Starship Zeus (2) is the beneficiary of the rider switch. Trainer Bill Mott gets his services today and that may be enough to get this one over the hump. I bet the 8 to win/place and then box the 8-7-2 and the 8-7-6 in the exactas.
3rd: 7-4-8-3-5-2-6…Homespun Hero (7) gets the nod here in the class drop and a return to his favorite distance (7F). In five starts at this distance, he has one win, three seconds and a third with earnings over $58,000 (over $11,000 per out). That’s an improvement over his regular $8,000 per start. Control Stake (4) may be the horse to beat in here, if you toss to failed attempts at Turf Sprints in his last two. This one has the stalk and strike running style that has played well all meet. Forge Ahead Franki (8) comes into this one off an allowance win and gets a drop to high-class claimers. Figures here, too, in a very well balanced field. I bet the 7 to win/place and then key the 7 over/under all the numbers listed.
4th: 1-4-3-6-8-9…Rock Shandy (1) hasn’t raced since Feb. 6, 2016 – well over a year ago. And, his work pattern is very modest, to say the least. And, this guy very well may want to run on the turf instead. But besides all that, I am going with him today in what might be the best claim possibility of the meet. Goes for a young trainer that is having a solid meet and a good year with a limited number of starters. If the back class shows up today, watch out. Combat Controller (4) broke his maiden last out and moves up the ladder today. And, he is a 3YO facing olders for the first time. Two strikes. But he ran a super race against Illinois Derby winner Multiplier three back and won easily despite being rank and checked early on in his last. That was his first start for a super trainer in Al Stall. A little more professionalism by this colt and he could be salty, too. Stone (3) should be the horse to beat for both of the first two. Had all kinds of trouble in his last and gets a rider switch to Lanerie today. Was claimed off trainer Ian Wilkes in his last by a guy who knows the claiming game very well. Watch out. I bet the 1 to win/place/show and then key the 1 over/under all the numbers. Note: Sheer Mayhem (8) is a Louisiana-bred trained by Brad Cox and was so impressive early on that his connections nominated him to the Triple Crown series. Working good for a return here, and scratched out of a race on Wednesday to take this spot. And, I picked him second yesterday.
5th: 6-4-3-8-11-9-12-7…Wide-open affair with a multitude of options in here. I go with Aircraft Carrier (6), who ran a huge one last out and shortens up a bit tonight. That was her first try this year; any improvement at all and she lands in the circle. Mannerly (4) is a well-bred daughter of Unbridled’s Song and will be making her Midwest debut after being shipped East from Santa Anita. This one ran second (beaten over 10, mind you) by the super filly Unique Bella, who was scheduled to be this year’s Songbird before sore shins sent her to the sidelines. I like the way this one is training here. Ring Me Up (3) – like Mannerly – gets her first try on the green surface (turf) tonight. While not overly bred for the grass, she has faced a lot of good ones this year and may benefit from the switch. I love Mundy Road’s (8) last race, when she made a huge move from the back and just hung a tad at the end. Shortens up a bit tonight and that should help this one, who is by one of New Zealand’s best. I bet the 6 to win/place/show and then key over/under all the other numbers listed.
6th: 8-10-5-4-7-6-2…Toughest race on the card for me, and yet another reason why the Single Pick 6 carryover is likely to go to the last night of the meet on Friday. I settle on Clever Serve (8), who is 0-for-12 lifetime, but does have 8 ITM finishes. Finally gets some class relief and that might propel here. Look at the only other time she ran for a tag – four races back. She was right there. She has the most credentials to break her maiden for one of the best people I’ve ever met on the backside of any racetrack ever – trainer Neil Howard. Here’s rooting for you, my friend. Enchanting Embrace (10) drops into the claiming ranks for the first time and that should help here, too. Fancy Pinstripes (5) picks up the meet’s top rider in Lanerie and she desperately needed her last out. I go with the 8 to win/place/show and then key over/under all the numbers listed.
7th: 4-5-1-2-3-8…Did I mention that this is a tough card, with a number of wide open races? If I didn’t, I will again. Tough one. So tough that my first two picks in this race have trainers who are a combined 9 for 120 in 2017. Wow. Still, Mines and Magic (4) figures to be tough in this spot for trainer Victoria Oliver (6 for 67). So tough, in fact, that many will key her in the exotics. Anything close to her runs against Paulassilverlining and she gets to the circle. Fleet Bertie (5) goes for Charlie Lopresti (3 for 53 this year), but comes into this one for the third race off an extended layoff. Tired in previous two, but could use that conditioning to be tough tonight. She’s a True Beauty (1) has been on the turf or wet track in 11 of her 19 career starts. Hasn’t won on the dry dirt yet, and that is bothersome, for sure. But not without a shot to hit the board. I bet the 4 to win only (will be odds-on, in all probability, at post time) and then key the “all button” over the 4 in the exactas.
8th: 7-9-1-6-3-5-4…Note: If this one comes off the grass and Ntestinalfortitude gets in, the race – IMO – is over. If not, then read on…Ian Wilkes sends out War Stroll (7) in this spot and this true closer picks up some needed added ground in here. Very consistent performer for a hot trainer. Zapperini (9) picks up Lanerie after an awful, 6-wide trip in his last left him with no shot. If this son of Ghostzapper can run the same race he ran here last fall in the G3 Commonwealth, then look out. He’s gone. Wayward Kitten (1) should be sitting on a huge performance, but he will need to get a clean break from the rail to hold a good spot. Ran a huge one against Ascend last spring and that one has come on to run big this year. I bet the 7 to win/place/show and then box the 7-9-1 and the 7-9-6 in the exactas.
9th: 6-3-7-1-8-12…The night’s finale is not an easy one, either. I land on Blame Bernie (6), who is trained by Tom Drury. He doesn’t have a lot of starters, but does a great job with the ones he has. Drops to the near bottom of the claiming ranks for this one in a fire sale attempt, but should be able to handle these. Awesome Fu (3) goes for a top rate operation, who does well with horses they pick up. Coach’s Dream (1) is a first time gelding off the claim. Could be enough to help this one make the circle. I bet the 6 to win/place and then key over/under the rest of the numbers listed.
Good luck &
All the Best/