McLean’s Selections for Churchill Downs on Thursday, Nov. 8

Day Results10-2- 2-3
2018 Overall 1666617-598-736
Win % of Top Pick37.03%
Payoff % of Top 3 Picks Overall39.04%
Top Selection ITM / CD Nov 32-5459.30%
Top Selection Win / CD Nov 18-5433.33%
“Key Horses” @ CD Nov: 13-5-4-038.50%

On Wednesday, we had the card / selections that “could have been” something very nice. Instead, we carved out two hard-earned victories; a couple of seconds and three thirds on the 10-race card. In a word, “disappointing,” although we nearly made some nice coin.

Today, we hope that we can turn the corner on this Fall’s meet, and start getting to a competitive and profitable form. In order to get there, though, we have to go here. And, here’s a strong look at today’s handicapping card at Churchill Downs.

1st: 9-8-1/3-2-4-5…I will focus on the top 3 numbers in this sequence, led by Esposito (9). This 5YO son of Ghostzapper is really more of a grinder, and a trier as opposed to a flashy, speedy type that can dominate either on the front end or can close well enough to be “the Man” on the back end. This one was claimed two starts back and then changed barns after the last start. Kelly Von Hemel gets his turn handling this one now, and the barn has had a good run of it this year, with .20% winners out of the 183 starts. This son of Ghostzapper  has been working well of late, too, and will pick up a new rider for the first time. Who Cares (8) will get his second start for the new barn, and the conditioner hits with .20% of those that are making the second start. This one ran 5th last time out when wide, but, before that race, this son of Papa Clem had hit the board in four in a row, with two wins in that mix tape. Looks to be the one to beat on paper. Swamp Ruler (1) will be making his first start for a new barn after winning the last time out for trainer Ron Moquet, and being snatched up in a claiming maneuver. This trainer scores with .21% of those coming back for a price tag. I bet the 9 to win/place and then box the top 3 numbers in the exacta. I will key the top 3 numbers over the next four in a much smaller version.

2nd: 8-5/7-6-1-2/3-9…Positive Spirit (8) should be a solid pick in this tilt, but also capable of getting OK odds with a 3-1 ML installment. This one is a 2YO filly by the highly-respected sire Pioneerof the Nile. In the first two career starts, she has a third on debut at Saratoga, and returned to run two turns at Keeneland in October. Lost that one by only a neck late, when tiring from some nice fractions up front. This one is a true closer and will need some racing luck late to make a difference at the wire. Gets a nice rider for this one. Rumandice (5) has run three straight seconds to begin her career for the barn of W. Bret Calhoun. This Congrats filly made a run in each of them, from a nice stalking position. Has been training well for this affair, and the dam of this one is a Stakes-placed winner, who has 4 winners from 6 starters. All the ingredients are there for this one to graduate today. I bet the 8-5 across the board and then box those two solidly in one exacta. I will key the 8-5 over/under the 7-6-1-2 in two smaller versions.

3rd: 1-9-8/6-10/2-3-4…Dedicated (1) will get a slight edge in here for me, especially when you consider that this 3YO son of Midshipman is dropping all the way from $50,000 claiming event to $16,000 level. The trainer hits with .23% of those making this significant of a class drop, and this one does have a win and a third in just 4 career starts. Has the ability to use the rail to his advantage. Has enough speed to carve out a good spot early on. Teletap (9) is a 4YO Tapit colt, and is up for the bargain bin sales price of $16,000 for the Winchell Thoroughbreds ownership group. This one has been off the last three starts, but gets another drop today and he does have a 1-1-3 record over this dirt course. Broke the maiden here at 6.5 furlongs and the works have been solid. Not a super-talent colt by one of the world’s top sires, but does have enough ability to hit the board against this group. Fortythreeoeight (8) will get the saddle from the young Norm Casse, and this 4YO gelded son of Fu Peg is really working well for the barn in the a.m. Four starts back, this one ran a very game third against much tougher up at Saratoga. If he can rediscover that form? Look out. I bet the 1-8 across the board and then box the top 3 in one exacta. I will key the 1-9-8 over/under the 6-10 in a smaller version.

4th: 8-6-5/4-7-10-3…Cowboy Culture (8) used to be a real good one. And, not that long ago, either. He won the G3 Arlington Classic over a yielding grass course in 2017, and subsequently won the Centaur Stakes at Indy Grand. Before both of those, he ran behind Big Score and Ticonderoga in Graded Stakes. But this year, it has been different for the 4YO son of Quality Road. He has raced three times, and he has not been close in any. Yet, all of those were either Stakes or high end allowance races. Today, he will get two huge changes. He will drop into the claiming ranks for the first time — and the barn hits with .27% of those. And, he will get blinkers — and the barn scores with .20% of those. Don’t know if he wakes up, but this will soon decide his future. Patrick’s Day (6) has not won in 8 starts this year, but does have 2 seconds and 2 thirds. Ran a really good one at this level two back at KY Downs. Has 2 wins in 5 starts over this Churchill Downs sod. Should be closing late. Hay Dakota (5) comes from a barn that is not known around these parts. But the trainer has won with .17% of 270 starters this year, and was very competitive up in Minnesota this summer. This one drops into the claiming ranks after facing some good company up North. Is a deep closer, and will get a top hand in the irons today. Don’t dismiss at some possible odds here. I bet the 6-5 across the board and then box the top 3 choices in one exacta.

5th: 8-12-10-1/6-9-7-5…A wide open affair in this one, and I spread out both horizontally and vertically. I give a slight edge to another # 8 in this spot — Because It’s Time (8). This one is dropping down from the $20,000 price tag to $8,000 today, and the trainer hits with .43% of those making this dramatic of a drop. This one didn’t fare well last time out against the tougher comp, but was bet down to favoritism. Barn hits with .17% of those returning as a beaten favorite. And, this one has 2 wins in 4 starts here. Adds up for me. Harlan’s Dynamo (12) could spice up the exotics rack here if he can find his running shoes. He is 10-1 in the ML, and won here in November of 2017. But this 4YO gelded son of Harlan’s Holiday has been away from the races since January. Will plummet to an all-time low price tag for this one, and the trainer scores with .15% of those away from the races this long. A try. Kiss My Note (10) is yet another on the outside that warrants a look. And, this one is 15-1 ML odds. Has been away from the starting gate since September, when he tired and ran 5th here in the slop. The race before that, though, he won easily down at Ellis Park. In 8 career starts here, he has only one second place finishing. But he is training well and could hit the board. I bet the 8-12 across the board and then box those 2 in the exacta. I will key the 8-12 over/under the 10-1 in two more, and then key the 8-12 over the 6-9-7-5.

6th: 1-8/4-5/3-2/7-9…How did they load the Ark? Two by two? That’s the way I see this race today. I will key on the top 2 numbers in this sequence, led by Debating (1). This 3YO son of Giant’s Causeway cost $525,000 as a Keeneland September Yearling in 2016. Has only race three times in his career to date. But this is another one that Woodford Racing has transferred from Chad Brown to the care of Steve Asmussen. And, he ran so much better the last time out that I think he could improve again today. The winner of the last race as already come back to win again, and this one trained very well here on Nov. 4. Looks ready to go today. Shining Knight (8) could be an interesting one to watch enter the paddock and what the tote board has to say. ML odds are 10-1 on this first time starter, but the dam has 2 winners from 3 starters and 1 SW already. And, the a.m. works are solid, if not spectacular. I use the son of Into Mischief. After all, the barn hits with .22% of those making the debut. I bet the 1 to win/place/show and then box the 1-8 in one exacta. I will key the 1-8 over/under the 4-5. And, I will key the 1-8 over (only) the 3-2-7-9.

7th: 9-8/3-1-2-4-10-(12)…This is a competitive filed compiled for a 11/16-mile event over the grass. I give a slight edge to Soft Cheese (9) here. She has run two bad ones in a row, but the last was in the slop over the main track and the other was against tougher at Ellis Park. In 3 previous runs over this grass course, she has 2 wins and has won at this same distance. Gets a nice rider up today, and could spring a slight upset in this spot. Bella Belle (8) has a win over this grass, as well, and will be moving back to the sod after a try over the dirt — that didn’t go well. Trainer hits with .12% of those making this surface switch. Love the work here on Oct. 29. And, gets an aggressive rider up today. Should find a nice stalking position to launch her late run. I will bet the 9-8 across the board and then box those 2 in the exacta. I will key them over the 3-1-2-4-10, as well.

8th: 7-5-2/3-1/6-4-8…Proximus (7), who is 6-1 in the ML, might be a nice upset winner in this spot today. The 3YO son of Oxbow has not run since winning the first time start at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 19. That one was contested over a muddy track, but he beat a nice one in Wyatt’s Town. Has been working at High Point since moving back to Louisville from Keeneland. And, the work pattern has been OK. Top barn looks to be warming up a tad. Rubus (5) is the horse to beat, IMO. This one has run 7 times in his life with a 1-1-1 record. Ran 4th here in the slop on Sept. 23 in the last out. But the work here on Oct. 23 suggests that he is really ready to motor. Would be good to see Miguel Mena, on the rebound from that horrific ankle injury at the Fair Grounds last Spring, back in the winner’s circle, too. Tap Master (2) has not run since May, but has been working steadily for the comeback try today. Another Tapit in the barn of Steve Asmussen for owner Ron Winchell. Broke the maiden on debut, and then caught some tough customers. Watch for a return today. I bet the 7-5 across the board and then box the top 3 in the exacta. I will key the top 3 numbers over the 3-1 in a softer version.

9th: (9)-5-4-3/1-7/6-2-8…If this one comes off the grass, then I will immediately use the #9. If it stays on the sod, though, I will go this direction: Smart Shot (5) has not been close in either of the last two, but that was against Graded Stakes company and others that have been on that stage before. The last time this one was at this level, she was winning back-to-back here in the Summer. Is a perfect 2-for-2 under the Twin Spires when racing on the grass, and has been training OK for this one, too. Stave (4) ran really well before tiring late at Keeneland in the last. Has a win over this grass, as well, and comes into this one with a perfect “Z” pattern. Ran well coming off the pace two back and then went right to the lead in the last out. Should be tough if she can find middle ground today. May Lily (3) has 2 seconds in 2 tries over this grass. Gets an aggressive rider in the irons today, and that may help this one turn the trick. Has a 2-4-1 record in just 11 starts, and figures to be close at the wire. I bet the 5-3 across the board and then box the top 3 in the exacta.

10th: 12-8/6-2-1-10/5-11-3…I had to go all the way to the far outside to find my choice in this bargain basement claimer to finish the day. Ferocious Tiger (12) will get his third start off a layup today, and the barn hits with .16% of those. Love the last works, and will be dropping down in class for this try. Last time offered at this price? Won back to back at Indy Grand. Hot Dad (8) will pick up a huge rider switch for this one today, and the Illinois invader has been facing much, much tougher. Plummet’s to this level for the first time. Like the 8-1 odds, and I think this one figures in this spot. I bet the 12-8 across the board and then box those two in the exacta. I will key the 12-8 over/under the 6-2-1-10 in a much softer version.

Good Luck & All the Best/Gene

He gave me a great run and he did everything right. He broke like a bullet but then we had quite a lot of speed in front of us. So he sat really nicely behind the speed and made a really nice run around the turn and after that it was done.”

FLAVIEN PRAT, Kanthaka, Winner San Vincente at Santa Anita
  • 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