McLean’s Selections on Thanksgiving Day at Churchill Downs

Day Results8-3-6-5
2018 Overall 1764649-631-773
Win % of Top Pick36.79%
Payoff % of Top 3 Picks Overall38.79%
Top Selection ITM / CD Nov 87-14261.27%
Top Selection Win / CD Nov 48-14233.80%
“Key Horses” @ CD Nov: 21-7-4-133.33%

It’s Thanksgiving Day. The day where the Native American invited the immigrants to sit down and enjoy a festive meal, instead of threatening to build a wall to keep the rest of us (actually our forefathers) out. The day where we celebrate everything we have to be thankful for, and the bounty in which and where we live. The day we give thanks to our friends, and family — who are always there to pick us up when we are tired and heavy laden. The day that we love to sit, eat, enjoy and eat some more. (At least, I make sure to get a couple of trips through that food line. As I tell everyone…I didn’t get this way with passing up the food line).

It’s Thanksgiving Day. And, it has become The Day that my bride and I get up; get dressed (not like a turkey, mind you), and head to Churchill Downs. We will do so again today, joining my great friend and partner Mike Schnell — and his beautiful family — in his suite.

We will watch, wager, wine, and, of course, dine. But we will also give Thanks. To you. To all. For we have much to be thankful for. We have much to be thankful for.

Here’s a look at today’s 12-race card:

1st: 3-6/1-2/4-5…Conquest Windycity (3) comes into this one off a run in the G3 Longacres Mile — way out there at Emerald Downs in the great state of Washington. Ran last in that one after hopping at the start and losing all chance. Was wide throughout after that, as well. Now, the connections drop this one all the way to a price tag of $50,000. Has never been in a claiming race before, and the barn hits with .18% of those. Like the works back here after the return trip, and the jockey choice. If he break a bit better and can get back to either pushing or stalking the pace, he may be in for a real run today. Barn hits with .24% of those in the claiming ranks. My pick. Hollywood Critic (6) was claimed last time out after running third for the second time in a row. Moves up a notch for this tilt, but the barn hits with .12% on the first try after the claim, and with .09% when they put the blinkers back on. This one has run three times over this track, and has a win and two thirds. Loves it here. Gets back to the dirt, and the new trainer hits with .19% of those making this surface switch. I bet the 3 to win/place/show and then box the 3-6 solidly in one exacta. I will key the 3 over/under the 1-2-4-5 in two smaller versions.

2nd: 4-7-3/8-6-5/1-2…Flash n’ Dance (4) will be making the third start off a layup, and the barn has been right there at this level in the first two tries — both seconds against solid competition. In the last three starts have been expert, and the barn hits with .28% of those running in the claiming ranks. Mischievioius Lass (7) was claimed last time out for $20,000 and now moves up to a $30,000 price tag. Has hit the board in each of the last 7 races and 8 of the last 9. Trainer scores with .09% of those returning for the first time after the purchase. Gets a new rider, but does have 3 wins in 34 starts here this meet, and he doesn’t get the first pick of any liter. Say It Softly (3) was claimed last time out, as well, and this will mark the first career start for new trainer Jeff Hiles. Jeff was a former assistant to Kenny McPeek in the Louisville area, and is the son of KY HBPA President Rick Hiles. He and his owner, Mickey Ballew, picked this one up for $15,000 last time out, and she rolled to a near 7-lengths win in that effort. She has trained well since the barn switch, and here’s hoping Jeff has a long and productive career. A nice young man. I bet the 4-7 across the board and then box the top 3 numbers in the exacta. I key the top 3 over (only) the second group of 3 numbers in a softer version.

3rd: 5-3-4/2-11-12/8-9-10…Sacred Kiki Bird (5) is an Indiana-bred who will be racing against “open company” here today. That is a huge move up, but this 2YO colt will be dropping into the claiming ranks for the first time and the barn hits with .27% of those. Love the way this one moves on video, and he has 3 seconds and a third in 5 career starts. I look for this one to run very well. Wings Up (3) goes for a trainer who has won 2 of 4 going from a route to a sprint race. This one shortens up on a two turn effort, and he had has much trouble as you can imagine in that last run. Was steadied. Was shuffled back. Was blocked. And was altered in the stretch. Gets a new rider today and with a clean effort, could set sail. Clench (4) will drop another couple of notches down the claiming ladder for this one. The barn does well overall, with .21% winners out of 1,704 starters this year. This one always flashes speed. His trouble is holding on at the end. Maybe the softer company can help in that department. I bet the 5/3 across the board and then box the top 3 in one exacta. I will key the 5-3 over/under the 2-11-12 in two smaller versions.

4th: 8-4-10/9-2-6-5/3-1-7…East Moon (8) finally broke the maiden last time out when the 3YO Speightstown filly was making her 8th career start. She has been knocking on the door for a long time, though, what with 4 seconds and a third in the first 8, as well. Now that she has broken through that veil, she might keep going. The race two back was against a real runner, and she has faced some tough customers in the past. Like the works since the win, too. Light. Meet. Turn. On. Clever Serve (4) already has 3 wins under her girth, and has 6 seconds and 9 thirds on the resume, as well. She may not get there, but she always gives it all. Look for her to be tough at the wire again. Broome (10) was claimed for $40,000 last time out, and that was a winning effort over at Keeneland. This one has a 3-4-2 record in 13 career starts, and likes to attack from the get-go and push the pace. Gets the same rider back who booted her home last out. Looks good right now. I bet the 8 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in the exacta. I will key the 8-4 over/under the 9-2-6-5 in two smaller versions.

5th: 2-9-10-5/4/3-7-8…This is the first grass race of the day, or, at the least, it is carded to be contested over the sod. The grass races were moved over to the main track on Wednesday, so keep an eye to see if they stay green or no. If they are moved to the main track, I will simply skip the race. If it stays on the sod, here is how I will go: Extravagant Kid (2) has never raced over this track before, but this 5YO Florida-bred is very consistent sort. In 8 starts this year, he has put up a 2-2-1 record. the last race as a nice third in the G2 Woodford Stakes at Keeneland, where he lost by only a length to the likes of Bucchero and Will Call (both of whom made their next start in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint). The race before, this one won up at Saratoga over a “good” course. So, looks like he can handle a soft surface. Undrafted (9) is now an 8YO gelding, and has only one third to show for 4 races this year. But this one loves, loves, loves this grass course. In 4 previous runs over it, this deep closer has 2 wins and 2 seconds. Looks like he is training good right now and ready for this one Won over a “good” sod here last November. I will definitely put in my mix. Kid Perfect (10), Hogy (5) and Dragon Drew (4) all have a shot, too, and I will use in the mix. I bet the 2 to win/place/show and then box the 2-9-10 in one exacta. I will key the 2-9-10 over/under the 5-4 in two more.

6th: 5-7-3-(13)-(14)/9-10-6-8/12-2-4…Vomba (5) gets the nod here in this 6 furlong sprint for MSW company. The 2YO Candy Ride filly faded in the stretch in her career debut at Keeneland in October, but the homebred has been working well and the trainer hits with .20% of those making the second career start. Was well bet in the first race, too. Irish Mischief (7) is an Into Mischief filly who will be making her career debut. Has been training very well for a barn that has won .27% of the 824 starts this year. Hits with .21% of those making the career debut. Love the 6-1 odds, which are sure to go down. I can’t leave out. Neon Light (3) is a 10-1 shot and has been working really well for a barn that normally does not hit on first requests. But the dam has 4 winners from 5 starters and the rider is doing great this meet, as well. Adds up for me. This one went :35 flat for 3/8ths on Nov. 7. That’s getting it done. Watch for the two AEs that I mention, too. If they draw in, I have to use. I bet the 5 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in one exacta. I key the 5 over/under the 7-3-13-14-9-10-6-8 in two smaller versions.

7th: 8-6-3/4-1-7-9…Sterling Miss (8) will get the saddle from Tom Amoss, who is hitting with 12 of 34 starters here — which adds up to .35%. This one didn’t run well in the last up at Indy Grand, but was wide throughout in that one. Gets a good rider switch and a little easier group today. Drops into the claiming ranks for the first time ever, and the barn hits with .31% of those kind. Could be a nice price. Honor With Pride (6) won the last time out here on Nov. 10, running off to an easy win. Closed well as the big favorite that day and now will try to repeat that feat. Barn only hits with .03% of those coming back to win again. But this one has hit the board in each of the last five outs, and should slide into this group with some momentum. A bit leery. Hymn to Inanna (3) was claimed two starts back and immediately paid nice dividends last time out for the new connections. Now slides into this spot. This barn doesn’t have great success with back-to-back wins either, at .05%. But this one has hit the board in 5 of 6 lifetime starts, and fits here. I bet the 8 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 in one exacta. I key the 8 over/under the 4-1-7-9 in two smaller versions.

8th: 11-12-10/8-9-1/7-5-4/2-3…I’ll go to the extreme outside for this MSW event for the 2YO fillies, led by Ulele (11). Brad Cox will saddle this one, who nearly won the career debut as the favorite at Keeneland on Oct. 26. Well-bred daughter of Candy Ride brought $300,000 as a yearling. Trained super here on Nov. 17 and looks primed. A Key Bet. Les Biz (12) has run two solid races in the first two career outs, and may improve with the move back to the dirt today. Gets blinkers for the first time and the barn hits with .21% of those donning the new equipment. Dam was a Stakes winner and has 4 winners and 1 SW from 7 starters. Pedigree is there. Northern Beauty (10) got nipped a neck when debuting back in April. Has not run since, but is training lights out for the return. Trainer is ice cold here this meet, though, and that brings a dose of caution, but the winner of the first and the show horse both came right back to win. So, she faced some good ones. I bet the 11 to win/place/show and then key the 11 over/under the 12-10-8-9-1. I will key the 11 over (only) the 7-5-4-2-3.

9th: 5-1-10/2-6/4-9-8…G3 Cardinal Handicap…The second turf race of the day is also the first Stakes event on the card — the 11/8th mile for fillies and mares 3YOs & Up. I give a slight edge to English Affair (5) in this spot, for the barn of Rusty Arnold. This daughter of English Channel is coming off a wonderful performance in the G3 Dowager at Keeneland. Was moved up to second in that one when she had to be steadied late in the going — or she might have won. Will cut back from that 11/2 mile endurance run, but has a second in only try at this distance. Has a 1-1-1 record over this track, and has done very well on a “good” sod course before, as well. My pick at some nice odds. I Remember Mama (1) is certainly a sentimental play with that name, and this 4YO daughter of Ghostzapper has the game to back it up. In 7 races so far, she has 3 wins, 3 seconds and a third. Won over a soft turf in the last at Keeneland. But will face much tougher today, and lost to our top pick last year in July. They remember. Bonnie Arch (10) is a mare that I think will up her game today for the barn of Ian Wilkes. Has 2 wins and 2 thirds in 5 tries over this track and a 1-1-1 record at the distance. Ran a neck behind our top pick two races back and beat the #1 three races back. Like this one’s odds, too. I bet the 5-10 across the board and then box the top 3 in one exacta. I will key the 5-10 over/under the 1-2-6 in two smaller versions.

10th: 1-9-7/8-10/6-2/3-5-4…M G Warrior (1) will get my nomination to win this one. He has 2 wins and 3 seconds in 6 career starts to date and has a win and 2 seconds in only 3 tries here. Ran really well here on Nov. 2, but had significant traffic issues that prohibited him from getting on top at the wire. The stretch out in distance should help, and the only time he ran this far, he won. Reunited with his favorite rider, doesn’t hurt either. Rail is winning at a .22% rate. Take note. Rated R Superstar (9) has run in two straight Graded Stakes events and has been in Stakes company in 6 races in a row; 7 of the last 8. Now, gets a little class relief. Should relish a little bit of a break. This is a deep, deep closer who will need space to make the race. But hard to overlook. Midnight Pleasure (7) has won three races in a row for trainer Mick Ruis and has hit the board in 11 of 18 career starts. Still, the ML has him at 12-1? Kidding me, right? I use. If you get at those rates? I use a lot. I bet the 1 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 in the exacta. I will key the 1 over/under the 9-7-8-10 in two smaller versions.

11th: 1/5-4-6/3-2-7…G2 Falls City Handicap…My second Key Play of the Day comes right here with Divine Miss Grey (1). Now, don’t get me wrong. That’s not a great discovery. After all, she is 3-5 ML odds. And, may dip lower in the odds column — she is that good. But she is a single for me in all of the horizontal plays — such as the Double, Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5 and Pick 6. Only way I can play it. I bet a 1 over/under the “all button” in two small exactas. And, I will enjoy watching her run.

12th: 2-1-11/10-6-5/8-9-12…Whew. We made it. Today’s finale is also a grass event for fillies and mares 3YOs & Up. And, it is wide open. I will give a slight edge to Artistic Quality (2) — who nearly won over at Keeneland in the last race. Lost lay a neck while closing strong. That was her first race since March. If she doesn’t bounce off that effort, she will be tough in here. Trainer hits with .18% of those making the second start off a layup like that. Love the rider switch here. Celia’s Song (1) is another who just missed in her first turf try last time out, over at Keeneland. Beaten only a half-length in that one, while pushing the pace from the get-go. This one will get here second try off a layoff, as well, and this barn hits with .20% of those kind. Homefieldadvantage (11), who is trained by my great friend Buff Bradley, and Regal Serenade (10) both have a shot in here, as well. If the 13, 16, or 15 draw in — watch out there, as well. I bet the 2 to win/place/show and then box the 2-1-11 in one exacta. I will key the 2-1-11 over/under the 10 in two smaller versions.

Good Luck & All the Best/Gene

P.S.: Happy Thanksgiving.

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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