by Dustin Fabian
June 14, 2018
It’s another ‘Downs After Dark’ evening at Churchill and the starpower is out in force for this one. The G1 Clark Handicap, a Breeders’ Cup Classic ‘Win and You’re In’ event, headlines the card and top runners like Irish War Cry, Backyard Heaven and Patch are signed on for that. Sprinkle in four other stakes races, and this is simply a night of racing you can’t afford to miss.
First post at Churchill is 6:00PM ET and the stakes action kicks off with Race 5, at 7:57PM ET.
Here are my picks and betting strategies for each of the five stakes races:
If #7 AX MAN loses this race, it’ll be nothing short of a shocking result. He’s simply much better than his rivals in here, as evidenced by his 6 ¾-length win in the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico on the Preakness undercard. He’s got Triple Crown winners in his corner (Bob Baffert and Mike Smith) and if everything goes according to plan, he’ll blow this field out of the water.
Defending Breeders’ Cup Mile winner, #4 WORLD APPROVAL (6/5), squares off against Churchill Downs specialist, #1 DIVISIDERO (3/1), in the deepest race on the card. If WORLD APPROVAL is back to his A-Game, he wins this for fun. But he hasn’t been sharp in two races this year and if there’s a time to beat him, it’s now. Also worth noting he’s 0-for-2 at Churchill, but those races came early in his career. There figures to be plenty of pace which would help both of these, but ultimately I loved DIVISIDERO’s comeback race at Monmouth and thought Jevian Toledo rode him great that day as he stayed closer to the pace. He’ll need to do the same here.
If the Wise Dan is the deepest race on the card, the Fleur de Lis is likely the most wide open. IDing a winner in this field won’t be easy, and I don’t fault anyone who punches the ‘ALL’ button in the horizontal bets. I’m betting on a quick pace, with #9 FARRELL (3/1), #8 APOLOGYNOTACCEPTED (12/1), #6 AWESTRUCK (8/1) and #3 BLUE PRIZE (7/2) signed on, which could set this up for a closer. How about #2 MOPOTISM (8/1)? She ships in from Southern California where she has been running against much nicer fillies (Unique Bella, Fault, Mended, Paradise Woods) and should get a favorable setup.
#8 IRISH WAR CRY (5/1) is the type of horse that’ll drive handicappers crazy. On his best day, he can run with anybody. On his worst day, he barely beats the water truck around the oval. And which one you get is completely uncertain. In 12 career starts, this horse is 1-for-5 as the favorite and 3-for-7 when not favored. He won the G3 Pimlico Special last out, but I can’t trust him. My pick is #6 BACKYARD HEAVEN (6/5). I think he has the potential to be America’s best older dirt horse this year. I loved his win in the G2 Alysheba here last out and this horse just continues to improve. I’ll use #5 MATROOH (20/1) in some of my bets. He’s better than his price suggests and is back in top form for Cipriano Contreras.
Before you toss some of the outside fillies, take note where this race starts – at the very head of the lane. Jockeys will have plenty of time down the stretch the first time to claim solid position, so ground loss should be minimized. I’ve always liked #1 HEAVENLY LOVE, despite showing atrocious form this year. I thought she showed some life in the G2 Appalachian at Keeneland against Rushing Fall and Thewayiam. I’ll put a small win bet on her, because otherwise I don’t have a strong opinion in this race. If you’re playing horizontals, I recommend a ticket that uses plenty of horses here.