by Scott Shapiro

The Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) is clearly the goal for top three-year-olds. However, the majority of these horses fail to live up to expectations at Churchill Downs. The question for handicappers, then, becomes how to properly evaluate their chances when they drop into easier spots following two of the biggest races of the year in U.S. Thoroughbred racing.

There is no definitive rule to follow in regards to Derby/Oaks horses in their return race, but overall my strategy is to play against these runners in their subsequent race for two reasons.

  1. Their name recognition coupled with the running line from the big race in their past performances almost always results in an underlay.
  2. I try not to invest in horses after competing in a race that they had been pointed to for months as regression is extremely likely.

This week at Churchill Downs there are a few horses that fit under this criteria with three fillies from the Oaks running in Friday’s 5TH race and Zayat Stables’ Solomini competing in Saturday’s 9TH race after a 10th-place finish in the slop in the Run for the Roses.

The fifth of nine races on Friday is a high-level optional claimer for a juicy purse of $62,000. The compact field of seven attracted three fillies cutting back to one turn after poor efforts in the Kentucky Oaks. Classy Act (#2) is listed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite while Raaya (#1) and Kelly’s Humor (#6) are both listed at 4-1 on oddsmaker Mike Battaglia’s morning line.

Classy Act has done her best running on the lead at two turns, but is probably not quick enough early to get to the front in this seven-furlong dash, so I am willing to let her beat me. If she is able to make the lead, I foresee my top choice Devine Mischief (#3) stalking her early and getting the best of her late.

Raaya made her first start in North America in the Oaks, where she finished a well-beaten 13th, but I can forgive the daughter of Tiz Wonderful since she was cost all chance at the start. If she stays at 4-1 or higher I can endorse wagering on her but I expect her to take much more support than that given her connections and class.

Kelly’s Humor lacks speed from the gate, which will hurt her chances given an overall lack of early zip in this spot. That along with a zero-for three record over this racetrack makes her a play against on top for me.

Devine Mischief has rattled off back-to-back 90+ BRIS Speed ratings and should have the speed to dictate terms on Friday. I am hopeful that the name recognition of the three Oaks fillies keeps this daughter of Into Mischief from going below her 5-2 morning-line odds.

Solomini (#1A) was once toward the top of many experts Kentucky Derby Top 10 lists, but he failed to move forward during the late winter and spring for Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. He gets some class relief on Saturday night when he meets a field of 12 runners in an OC 75000N1X run at 1 1/16 miles.

The son of Curlin failed to get back to a pair of triple-digit BRIS Speed ratings over his last two starts in 2017 and put forth a career worst 90 in the Derby. His lack of early speed and the fact that he has regressed thus far in each of his starts as a three-year-old make him a play against for me. However, there does appear to be a lot of pace signed on in Saturday’s 9TH, so if they battle early he could take advantage.

I already expected the Curlin colt to be an underlay, but the fact he is coupled with the third-place finisher in the Florida Derby (G1), Mississippi (#1), means the entry is likely to go off the heavy favorite. It is certainly a formidable one-two punch, but I prefer the value that Limation (#7) will likely bring.

The son of Alternation has not raced over a fast main track since his debut going six panels at Oaklawn Park in early February, but has rattled off 89 and 94 BRIS Speed ratings in his last two tries over off going for trainer Steve Asmussen. The $100,000 OBS April 2017 purchase appears to be a colt on the improve and in with a big shot to earn his second victory on Saturday night.

Good luck this week at legendary Churchill Downs!