6/17/2017 Churchill Downs-Race 5
The Matt Winn-$100,000—Grade III
1 & 1/16 Miles on Dirt for Three-year-olds
Post Time: 5:00 P.M. PST
Analysis by Michael Patricks
Congratulations go out to Tapwrit and his connections for his most meritorious victory of the Grade I Belmont Stakes last Saturday. For those who may have missed it, Tapwrit sat in the pocket just a few lengths off pace-setting Irish War Cry and Meantime before taking up the chase near the five-sixteenths pole and eventually grinded out a hard-fought two-length decision. Tapwrit was my choice to run second in the Kentucky Derby but never got into the race after Irish War Cry coldcocked him at the start. Much like the Warriors were able to bounce back against the Cavaliers earlier this week, Tapwrit paid back Irish War Cry with interest when the chips were down for vindication in the Belmont.
Irish War Cry and Tapwrit serve as Exhibit A that past is often prologue. Now we move on to Exhibit B. McCraken was my choice to win the Kentucky Derby ahead of Tapwrit and he responded in kind with a nondescript eighth-place finish over the creamed corn surface at Churchill. Installed as the odds-on 4/5 morning line favorite, will McCraken get back on the beam by making amends on his recent downtrodden form? Or will the para-mutuel bloodletting continue, thus causing his faithful followers to take yet another chalk bath off the Blue Grass flop and his bedraggled Run for the Roses? The immediate answers to all these questions and more are included below (Disclaimer: my conclusions are of course subject to the rebuttal of the official results to be posted after 5 p.m. on Saturday).
1-Excitations 9/2 ML- Sophomore’s stock had been on the rise until his lackluster effort on the Derby Day undercard where he was a big time also-ran at 10/1 in his graded stakes debut. Excitations drew towards the outside of the track which is well chronicled to have been the deep and gooiest part of the surface and that unquestionably did him no favors. Before that, this horse was just a head off Girvin in his debut and was a daylight winner going seven furlongs at Keeneland when defeating a next out repeat winner by better than four lengths (though those follow-up efforts came at Belterra Park and Hazel Park in Michigan respectively). All Excitations’ past success has been achieved while racing on a fast surface and the forecast looks much more promising for the Matt Winn than it did in the Pay Day Mile last start with temperatures expected up towards 94 degrees. His corner men are trainer Albert Stall who is batting at 28% this year and his usual rider Miguel Mena who when he unites with Stall clicks at 22%, (9% above his 2017 average). This colt should be sitting in the garden behind the other speed in this race and be able to get the jump on McCraken. Given he’s never run a bad one on dirt, I’m willing to give him a chance to clear his name off his poor showing last time; he’s not the horse to beat but he is the horse to bet in a mild upset.
2-McCraken 4/5 ML- The heavyweight at 123 pounds, McCraken heads into the Matt Winn looking to rebuild his confidence after suffering back-to-back defeats off his previously unblemished resume of four straight wins beginning his career. Many three-year-olds have found themselves at a deficit trying to live up to their two-year-old form and quite frankly there are no guarantees. By Ghostzapper, I’m inclined to believe McCraken remains a very good horse rather than a two-year-old flash in the pan type and he should find his bearings at some point, perhaps right here and right now. The reason I’m taking a stand against him is simply an issue of value. If you’re going to have a punt on this race, it’s completely unacceptable to go to the window at 3/5 when this horse has something to prove and critics to silence. If this horse was riding the wave of the best form of his life that is one thing, however, clearly that is not the case with McCraken, plus he’s coming back to the races off a minor setback in the Derby with a puncture wound to his left hind ankle. I will not fall out of my chair if he wins this race by five lengths on Saturday, but he’s not going to be carrying any of my hard earned given there are critics to silence; nevertheless, he’s the one to beat.
3-Colonelsdarktemper 4/1 ML- Son of Colonel John is owned by “Super Tex” A.J. Foyt Jr., who is the only man in history to win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. His horse is the winner of an open allowance event at Churchill on May 29th where he out finished 3/2 favorite Awesome Saturday in a long drive, some eight lengths clear of the third place runner. Off that race, his Beyer speed figure clearly stacks up and shows that he belongs but he will have just three weeks between races while Excitations and McCraken will have twice the rest headed into this. The ‘Colonel went down in the proverbial battle on the front lines of the Pat Day Mile but as I’m expecting to see with Excitations, the ‘Colonel bounced back nicely with a return to the fast track in Louisville. Coming off the seven furlong sprint race and stretching back out to two turns, you can expect to know him early and be kept company by Aquamarine on his flank in the early proceedings. If he can take another big step forward off his lifetime effort then he figures, but given that Aquamarine figures to be all over him like a cheap suit for at least six furlongs, I’m disinclined to play the role of Polyanna in buying into this one’s chances; not for me.
4-Mo’s Mojo 10/1 ML- It took a transfer in circuits and reduction in purse money for this well-bred colt to get his mojo going last time while securing his diploma at Churchill. His string of 74 Beyer speed figures finally came to an end as well but keep in mind the open length win last time came over a wet surface in a maiden race which was washed off the turf course. Uncle Mo’s typically take to the wet track quite well so that number might be a bit inflated and now he faces a field of multiple race winners and sports just the maiden victory on his ledger. ‘Mo has some speed and should be somewhere close in tow early on but both Colonelsdarktemper and Aquamarine each seem like much more professional and sharpened versions of this customer. His rider may be his biggest asset heading into the starting gate and my instinct says it’s going to take much more than a heady ride to see him greet the camera man late Saturday afternoon; barn is 1-for-61 looking for back-to-back victories; pass.
5-Aquamarine 5/1 ML- This chestnut has begun to find his stride while sprinting on the east coast after serving up as an also-ran against winners on the west coast when in the care of Bob Baffert. This will be Aquamarine’s two-turn bow and in all likelihood he will be the torch bearer up the Churchill Downs back stretch with Colonelsdarktemper pushing him along. His second place finish in the Chick Lang was a solid effort, noting that he turned the tables on Bobby Abu Dhabi in that affair who previously had “ownage” on him from their head-to-head March 19th at Santa Anita. Joel Rosario and Javier Castellano both opt for an ordinary day of riding at Belmont Park so up goes Florent Geroux to serve as his fourth rider in as many starts. Lukas and Geroux are 2-for-28 and 1-for-16 at Churchill together, and ‘Coach has fallen to below 10% win rate for his 2017 stats overall. Unfortunately for Camp Lukas, it’s beginning to look more and more like Willie Mays playing center field for the Mets in the twilight of his career. Lukas has won 122 races since January of 2013, compared to having won over 100 each year from 1984 to 2000, including a whopping 343 in 1987. Would love to see Coach D. Wayne get one more nice horse to ride off with into the sunset, but I do not believe Aquamarine is the animal for the Hollywood ending; expect the sprinter’s legs to start shaking by the quarter-pole leading Aquamarine into a deep dive by mid-stretch; likely pace victim.
6-Society Beau 12/1 ML- If you are so inclined to skim through his company lines (as I was), you’ll quickly observe quite a few noteworthy names from the Triple Crown season on his resume. By Curlin, ‘Beau has a very strong two-turn foundation which should serve him well in this contest. He’s nine out of 11 placing in the trifecta and is a solid performer on many an occasion. His problem really is that he appears to be an allowance sort and he’s all out of conditions to compete in so this Grade III is one of only a few spots he can actually run in, unless his connections want to risk him for a tag. It took him six times to break through at the allowance level so he’s a bit unlovable as far as a win play goes, but he’s more than likely to enter trifecta and superfecta calculations from the attrition of his weak-legged competitors in the closing stages of the contest. His record-high 78 Beyer isn’t likely going to get him any black type however and his win-shy nature in general is enough to curb the residue of any real enthusiasm regarding his chances of victory; best used underneath.