McLean’s Picks for Churchill Downs on Thursday, May 17

Sunday Results10-3-3-4
Churchill Meet TD94-27-34-42
Top Pick Win %29%
Top Pick ITM % 51-8560%
Top 3 Picks ITM %36.50%
2018 Overall 664 Races242-259-278
Win % of Top Pick36.40%
ITM % of Top 3 Picks39.10%

What a day/night to kick off the racing weekend, which will be highlighted by the 143rd running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on Saturday. You can catch all the racing action live at Churchill Downs and still bet on the Preakness, as well. Come on out and enjoy the world’s greatest racetrack, just two weeks removed from the Kentucky Derby.

Here’s a closer look at today’s picks:

1st: 1-4-5-2-6-3…Misleading Lady (1) goes for the barn of Brad Cox, who is off to a rather shocking slow start. He has a record of 3-1-3 in the first 18 mounts here, but that is about half the winning percentage that Cox-fans are accustomed to seeing. He might be able to address that today, though, with several key plays. The first comes in the first. This 6YO mare has a win over this track in the past, and has been facing much, much tougher than the group she catches tonight. Ran a solid second as the beaten favorite in her last try at Indy. Look for a solid performance stalking the lead here. C Islandsurprise (4) ran a solid third against much tougher in the last out on March 22 at the Fair Grounds. Trainer is 1-for-1 this meet and should like the class drop here. Proud Dixie (5) picks up one of the top riders on the grounds for this one, and is coming off a win last time out at Keeneland. Has a win and a second in the only two previous starts here and a nice work at the Churchill training facility on May 11. Should be ready for the bump up in class today. I focus on the top 2 numbers here, and bet the 1 to win/place/show and then box the 1-4 solidly in one exacta. I key the 1-4 over/under all the other numbers in two smaller versions.

2nd: 4-7-2-3-8-1…Son of a Saint (4) is another Cox pupil, and could give the Louisville-native and based trainer the Daily Double to start the event. This one gets a nice class drop after facing much tougher in the last out at the Fair Grounds. Winner of that one came right back to win next time out, as did the horse that beat this one two back. Nice training session on May 7 at Keeneland. Minegold (7) has not been out since March 1, but the trainer does OK with the time away, and hits with .13% of those switching from dirt to turf. This one has two really nice races on the grass at Remington Park, and looks like he could prefer this surface. Nice work on May 8 seals the deal for me. Mr. Darcy (2) moves from the dirt to the grass for a trainer that only hits only 9% of those making this surface switch. Had a nice win over the sod at Tampa last year, but was off for about a year before returning to the races this March. Should be ready for this one off a nice work here on May 12, and for a barn that hits with .23% in the claiming ranks. Once again, I key on the top 2 numbers. I bet both the 4-7 across the board and then box them solidly. I key them over (only) the rest of the numbers in a smaller exacta.

3rd: 1-4-6-5-3…The first baby race of the day, and I go with the rail and Sir Truebador (1), who will be making his racing debut. This son of More Than Ready cost the connections $300,000 to purchase as a yearling, and his dam has 3 winners from 6 starters — including one SW. Nice training move at Keeneland on May 9, and this one could be long gone with a clean break. Grit and Glory (4) goes for a trainer off to a great 2018 start, with .24% winners from 45 starters. This is another first timer, but comes well advertised — being a son of Malibu Moon and out of a Giant’s Causeway mare. This Maryland-bred has been training very well here, too (look at the May 5 move). Dam of this one has 2 winners from 2 starters. Don’t dismiss. Ready and Rich (6) is another first time starter, who has been training super well over at Keeneland. Bullet move on May 9, and trainer does OK with debut runners (.12%). Top rider is off to a bit of a slow start here, but can warm up at any time. I bet the 1 to win/place/show and then box the top 2 numbers solidly in the exacta. I key the top 2 over the rest in a smaller version.

4th: 1-2-4-6…Prados Way (1) is another rail candidate that I like from the barn of Steve Asmussen. This one has run two seconds in a row this year, after a layoff over a year. Could improve with the third start back, and the rider has won .22% of his mounts for this barn in the last 122 rides. Take note. Granian (2) gets a nice class drop after running very well for a half against much tougher here on May 1. Trainer scores with .16% of those making this type of class dump, and has speed to burn. Watch out. Supreme  Venture (4) is the 9-5 ML favorite, but I think highly vulnerable in this spot. This 6YO gelding won his last start easily, but that was against others going for the second win in a lifetime. Moves up significantly in the class battle here, and may find the going a bit tougher. I bet the 1-2 across the board and then box those two in one exacta. I key the 1-2 over/under the 4-6 in two more.

5th: 4-6-1-7-8-5-3…I key on the top 3 numbers in this one. Love thy Kitten (4) gets a slight edge in highly competitive spot, but drops back in with maidens after racing against winners last time out as the favorite. If she can duplicate the races back at GP against maiden-claimers here, she could be real tough. Nice rider change for this one. Absolute Love (6) drops into the claiming ranks and the trainer hits with .17% when he elects to make that drop. This will be the grass debut, but bred to like it. Has 3 seconds and a third in 8 lifetime starts to date. Time to graduate? Tofino (1) ran third last time out at the MSW level at Keeneland. Gets a significant drop in class for a owner/breeder operation known to be super aggressive with fillies that don’t win early. Can’t dismiss. I key on the top 3 here, with no real definitive conclusion. I bet the 4-6 across the board and then box the top 3 in the exacta.

6th: 3-4-1-5-6-7-2…Top 2 here get most of my attention. Wyatt’s Town (3), another from the barn of Steve Asmussen, looks to be the one to beat, for sure. He is 6-5 ML odds, but has never been off the board in the first 6 career starts. Now, drops down into the MC ranks for the first time, and the trainer does hit with .19% of those kind. This one is a money burner, to be sure, though. He has been the favorite the last four times and has come up short in each. Did don the blinkers for the first time last out and that may help today with the second usage. Jacktastic (4) is my most likely candidate to spring the upset, if there is to be one here. This one is trained by Ian Wilkes, who is off to a super start this meet. Has not been close at the finish line yet, but drops into the claiming ranks for the first time (trainer hits with .20% of those), and shortens up to a sprint distance. Changes could be helpful. Nice work here on May 3. Could be a difference horse as he makes the 2018 debut. I bet the 4 across the board and then box the 3-4 in the exacta. I key the 3-4 over/under all the numbers in smaller versions.

7th: 5-10-11-2-6-3-8-9-7…Once again, I focus on the top 2 numbers. Hard to separate them, but I opt to go with the more experienced Gagaoveryou (5), who has 10 wins in her career with 5 more seconds and thirds respectively. Has won half of her 16 starts at this sprint distance, and has three wins in a row, too. Nice work over at Keeneland in April, looks ready to resume where she left off. The one to beat, in my opinion, is Golden Days (10). This one is trained by Cox and is coming off a fifth place finish in a Stakes event at Aqueduct in April. Beaten less than 2 lengths in that one after back-to-back wins going shorter to start the career. Should appreciate the company relief here, and could develop into any kind still. I bet the 5 across the board and then box the top two numbers solidly. I key them over (only) the rest of the numbers in a smaller version.

8th: 4-1-6-2-8-5…The top three numbers are, IMO, the best of this lot, and I key on the top 2 again. For Goodness Sake (4) is 8-1 ML odds, and I think capable of springing the big upset in this spot. Didn’t finish the last, but that was against Stakes company. Now gets the plummet plunge all the way to the basement. May be a firehouse sale, or a nice opportunity. But the horse trained very well here on May 11 and does have 3 wins over this track. My Upset Special of the Day. Circle Unbroken (1) is part of an entry where only one is likely to make it to the starting gate, since the trainer named the same rider for both. If this one ends up being the scratch, I move on to the 6. I do not like the 1A, but the 1 is coming off a second and a win at Indy and looks solid at this level. I bet the 4 to win/place/show and then I box the 4-1-6 in the exacta. I key the 4 over/under all the numbers — hoping to catch some lightning.

Good Luck & All the Best/Gene

I don’t think it was a surprise really because she traveled here well and [jockey] Donnacha [O’Brien] wasn’t hard on her when she ran last week at the Curragh. Six days later, a mile and a quarter on hard ground is probably her trip. She can probably go a bit farther as well but it’s great to get her going at a mile and a quarter and she can go a mile and a half in time. She’s won over a mile and a quarter and she does it impressively.”

T.J. Comerford, The traveling head lad for trainer Aidan O’Brien and the winning connections
  • 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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