Hold tight, we’re almost there! So far, we appear to be still on schedule for a June 1st restart in Britain at Newcastle before moving straight into Guineas weekend at Newmarket.
While that is an incredibly exciting prospect for us all, we can of course continue to keep things ticking over with some overseas bets and once again on Saturday night it’s America flying the flag for us.
Five stakes races worth at least $100,000 are taking place at Churchill Downs, while two more at Santa Anita for big money are both worth betting in.
21:08 Churchill Downs – Race 7 (Shawnee Stakes) – SHE’S A JULIE
This is a good quality event for the fillies and mares over 1m1f, one in which despite a wide draw our mare She’s A Julie of Steve Asmussen’s barn may just be able to make her class tell.
Both she and Chad Brown’s Dunbar Road have form with proper Grade I type Midnight Bisou, though it can be argued that She’s a Julie has fought that little bit better against her and still has more to come despite her rival having a year on her.
This race features plenty of representatives from top yards, Mark Casse saddling two with the older Moonlit Garden being the best of his pair although her better days may be behind her, while Todd Pletcher’s Another Broad will be another horse to consider for show bets.
22:12 Churchill Downs – Race 9 (Blame Stakes) – OWENDALE
This is another $100,000 race, this time for the older horses over a mile and featuring some pretty high-class performers who have taken part in huge races.
While the competition in this 14-runner field is pretty vicious and I get many of them rated so close to each other, including Global Campaign, Alwaysmining, Silver Dust, American Anthem and Diamond King, Owendale could just be that little bit better that the rest and is worth chancing.
His winning form last season entitles him to go well in this event anyway, but it’s hard to forget also that he’s been so highly thought of that he’s been pitched into some of the biggest races around. Brad Cox’s runner was a pretty hot tip for last season’s Preakness Stakes, a race in which he finished third, while he also represented the barn in the Travers Stakes as well as the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
As a four-year-old he is entitled to improve and looks just the type to go on and do so, so he gets the nod under jockey Florent Geroux in what could be a race that sets him up for a crack at the bigger 1m/1m2f races later in the year.
22:30 Santa Anita – Race 5 (Daytona Stakes – Grade III) – TEXAS WEDGE
A good 5½ furlong turf sprint for the older horses, one in which we could see the emergence of a key contender for this year’s Grade I Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in the shape of Peter Miller’s five-year-old gelding Texas Wedge.
Having already taken a race around this course and distance on New Year’s Day, he was sent all the way to Gulfstream Park in Florida for his last start where he came off the rail to collar the decent Carotari on the line, giving away 6lbs too.
He has plenty in his locker and can get the job done once again here, probably at the main expense of John Sadler’s Cistron and Doug O’Neill’s Murad Khan at these weights.
22:44 Churchill Downs – Race 10 (Matt Winn Stakes – Grade III) – MAXFIELD
This 1m½f race for the three-year-olds could prove to be a very good event and a strong guide towards the upcoming Triple Crown races, starting unusually this year with the shortened Belmont Stakes in June.
Even if this ends up having to be a watching brief at the odds, Maxfield is more than worth a mention for the season ahead and so his return is a hotly anticipated one.
The Godolphin runner, trained by Brendan Walsh, was simply brilliant in taking the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in October by 5½ lengths, doing so on his second start in the style of a proper horse. Having been allowed to sit further back than ideal, he showed a terrific turn of foot off the far turn to easily brush aside solid yardstick Gouverneur Morris that day and has tons of improvement in him.
After chipping a bone he was ruled out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and of course he’ll need this run, but his class not to be questioned.
I commented after Keeneland that I thought Maxfield was the best juvenile in the States last year, nothing I saw at the Breeders’ Cup made me change that opinion and now despite the performances of Nadal and Charlatan this season, it may still be the case that he remains the best sophomore out there when he’s back to full fitness.
His trainer says he has filled out brilliantly and looks a proper horse, while it was always thought he’d show his best at 3 and 4 making his juvenile form seem all the better.
Attachment Rate and outsider Necker Island may also go well in a race worth $150,000 and offers 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.
00:00 Santa Anita – Race 8 (Charles Whittingham Stakes – Grade II) – UNITED
Another turf race, this time an all-aged affair over a mile-and-a-quarter. While this race is admittedly tight, the class of the runners on show means that the form should remain pretty solid and reliable and so even with just a couple of pounds in hand on private ratings, Richard Mandella’s horse gets the nod.
United, under today’s jockey Flavien Prat, was only just denied after having to take a very wide path on the turf at Del Mar over a mile-and-a-half in December while he’s proven his well-being with a win on the dirt since.
He should be spot-on for this and comes out just ahead of Originaire and Rock Emperor.