The first post-Triple Crown weekend of the year brings with it an exciting series of graded stakes races and Breeders’ Cup prep races, led by a pair of grade I races at Santa Anita and Churchill Downs. The action is bound to be exciting, so without further ado, let’s start handicapping!
Shoemaker Mile (gr. I)
8 furlongs on turf at Santa Anita
Grade I winners Bal a Bali, Seek Again, and Winning Prize comprise three of the five horses in this race and figure to attract a good deal of wagering attention, but the up-and-coming Midnight Storm is my selection. The four-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile is 3-for-3 on turf, winning an allowance race and the Del Mar Derby (gr. II) last August before returning from a long layoff to win a one-mile allowance race on April 16th by 7 3/4 lengths in the blazing time of 1:33.31. He’s got lots of early speed and the ability to sustain it for a long way, so if he can beat Winning Prize to the early lead, he should be very difficult to catch in the homestretch.
Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I)
9 furlongs at Churchill Downs
My full analysis of the race can be found on the Bloodhorse.com Unlocking Winners (click here to read), but to briefly recap, I believe that Lea and Commissioner could be vulnerable at short prices, so I will take a shot with Noble Bird (10-1) as my top selection. He gets a weight break from the top contenders and ran very well when second by a head in the Alysheba Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill last time out, a race in which he ran his final five-sixteenths in a sharp :29 1/5. If he can take another step forward on Saturday, I think he has a great chance to win at a nice price.
Matt Winn Stakes (gr. III)
8.5 furlongs at Churchill Downs
Bob Baffert’s up-and-coming three-year-old Fame and Power is the 6-5 favorite on the morning line off a gate-to-wire win in the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico last month, but may have benefited from a favorable track bias that day. When faced with more tiring track conditions two starts back in the Lexington Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland, Fame and Power could only finish third, beaten three lengths.
Therefore, I’ll try to beat Fame and Power with Bold Conquest, the runner-up in the Sir Barton. Overall, the son of Curlin has been very consistent during his eight-race career, and showed improvement when putting in a nice rally up the rail in the Sir Barton. Arguably the best race of his career came at Churchill last year when he was beaten a head in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III), and the return to Churchill should help his chances on Saturday. If Fame and Power regresses at all off his Sir Barton victory, Bold Conquest should be right there to steal the show.
Poker Stakes (gr. III)
8 furlongs on turf at Belmont Park
An excellent group of ten horses will contest the Saturday feature at Belmont Park, including 2013 Poker winner King Kreesa. Coming off of a strong third-place finish in the Kingston Stakes at Belmont last time out, the son of King Cugat should be ready for a peak effort in his third start off a layoff, and figures to be a major pace factor from the start. However, there are several other talented front-runners in this race that should ensure a fast pace, so my selection to win is All Included. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt is unbeaten in three starts on turf and has been successful racing both on the lead and off the pace, which should serve him very well here. Drawing the rail should help All Included save plenty of ground, and he will carry only 116 pounds, eight less than highweight Long on Value and four less than King Kreesa. With John Velazquez in the saddle, I hope to see All Included work out a very nice ground-saving trip before finding a seam in the homestretch and rallying for victory at around 8-1.
Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the weekend stakes races?