The day North American horse racing fans look forward to the most is almost upon us. Before we take a look at the Kentucky Derby itself, here’s a quick peek at a few of the exciting races on the rest of the Saturday Churchill Downs card.
Churchill Distaff Turf Mile
When fillies and mares go long on the turf, it almost always manages to produce an exciting finish. How could we forget Perfect Shirl’s upset victory in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf? Saturday’s Churchill Distaff Turf Mile is significantly shorter than the championship event, but not without its interesting talking points and competitive appeal. There aren’t any 50-1 shots in this group. There aren’t any 7-5 shots either. When all is said and done, the race may very well be the event that is looked back on as the coming-out party for rapidly improving Ontario-bred Marketing Mix.
The Glen Hill Farm four-year-old has quietly won four of her past five races. Her lone blemish? The prestigious Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II at Keeneland. Since then, she won the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere Stakes from post 10 over the same course she’ll compete on Saturday. After a brief pause, she returned in April and barely broke a sweat in capturing an allowance event that should serve as a useful prep for the $200,000 Turf Mile. The allowance win came over a filly named Inglorious, who had defeated Marketing Mix by two measly lengths in the infancy of her development.
To win, Marketing Mix will have to best a field that includes quick-finishing Aruna, the fifth-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Aruna, who finished second in this event last Spring, is a Grade 1 winner on Polytrack, by virtue of her off-the-pace score in the Spinster at Keeneland. The Graham Motion trainee was second in the Grade 1 Diana at 1 1/8 miles last Summer. There’s no questioning her ability, but if the race doesn’t set up with any pace, she could be vulnerable, as she showed in her 2012 debut versus Daisy Devine in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley, in which she was sixth by 3 ¾ lengths.
Daisy Devine goes for her fifth straight victory in the Distaff. With the help of James Graham, she caught the Jenny Wiley group napping and led every step of the way after stealing an opening half in :50 and change. Question is whether she can pull off this trick again? Her winning streak began in the Grade 3 Valley View at Keenland last fall. That day she was dismissed at 43-1. What works against her chances on Saturday is the versatility that Julien Leparoux has at his disposal with Marketing Mix.
The $300,000 Humana Distaff should be an exciting race that reassembles the two mares that finished one-two in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies Sprint, Musical Romance and Switch. The seven furlong event is by no means limited to these two high class individuals.
Musical Romance has started three times since her upset score in the Breeders’ Cup. One of the efforts was a success, but the other two were rather disappointing considering the profile that exists surrounding this Florida-bred, who will be ridden, as usual, by Juan Leyva. The daughter of Concorde’s Tune was an outsprinted fourth in her return, the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mares Sprint at Gulfstream Park, defeated over 7 ½ lengths.
The champion atoned for the defeat in her second race of 2012, rallying to win the Grade 2 Inside Information by three-quarters of a length over 55-1 shot Hot Summer. Groupie Doll was third, another half-length back in the seven-furlong contest. Both rivals are in the Humana lineup. The Inside Information earned Musical Romance a Beyer of 95, which is just slightly lower than the 98 she earned in the Breeders’ Cup.
Meanwhile, Switch, the hard-luck Breeders’ Cup runner-up for the second consecutive year, hasn’t seen action since the effort, in which she closed from 12th but came up 1 ¼ lengths short. The John Sadler has been working quickly in preparation for her return. The belated start may give the daughter of Quiet American a freshness edge over this group.
Another fresh contender in the Humana Distaff is last year’s surprise winner, Sassy Image. The Broken Vow mare hasn’t raced since the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga, but she’s been training forwardly for her return. When this mare is in the zone, she can flat out run. She’s reeled off two separate three-race win streaks, which have netted her two Grade 1s, a Grade 2 and two Grade 3s.
Woodford Reserve Turf Classic
The Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic has lured last year’s Woodbine Mile champion Turallure. This fast-closing grey closed out his 2011 season in very strong fashion. After the timely Mile score, under Julien Leparoux, Turallure journeyed to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Once again, he closed with furiously out in the middle of the course, but wound up a nose shy of victory, defeated by the previous year’s Woodbine Mile winner Court Vision.
The Charles Lopresti trainee has competed once in 2012, finishing second in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland. The result is a bit of a puzzler because it didn’t appear Turallure had any apparent excuse. He basically was outfinished by Data Link who was flying on the outside and up in the nick of time to tag him in the shadow of the wire. Meanwhile, Doubles Partner, under Javier Castellano, had a horrendous trip and could only muster a third-place finish in the one-mile event. This Todd Pletcher trainee was stopped behind horses at the top of the stretch. Once he found room, he wound up on heels a second time and had to steady mildly. By the time he found a path long the inside, the damage had been done and he was able to quicken at the same rate as the winner, who had finished behind him at Gulfstream Park.
With all three of the aforementioned in attendance for the Turf Classic, it is a bit of a rematch, with one key difference. They’ll have nine furlongs to decide who is boss instead of eight. It should make for an interesting stretch run. Also in the hunt is last year’s Turf Classic winner Get Stormy, who has quietly compiled an 11-for-28 record with $1.5 million in earnings. He’ll certainly be dangerous, if he can elude pressure of Little Mike and Turbo Compressor.
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