The 26-day spring meet at Churchill Downs gets underway Saturday with a dynamite 11-race card. I will scout three horses based upon the following criteria:
Look forward to betting: #2 Adhhar (6-1 ML) in race 9. Trainer Tom Amoss gave the gelding a race against winners last time, raising him steeply in class for an $80,000 tag at 1 1/16 miles, and Saturday is go-time for Adhhar. The 3-year-old displayed good speed when finishing a close second in his lone Churchill appearance last November, and he was claimed for $50,000 from a convincing sprint win at Oaklawn Park two back. Amoss, who got off to a fast start during the spring meet last year, wins at a 39% rate in the second start off the claim, and the savvy conditioner appears to have Adhhar well-spotted in this 7-furlong, $50,000 claiming event for non-winners of two races lifetime.
Favorite against: #2 Portrait (4-1) in race 10. She’s been the short-priced choice in 4-of-5 starts, winning only once at Ellis Park when she had everything her own way by the far turn. And her Brisnet Speed ratings are underwhelming, with Four Graces (95 Speed rating two starts previously) among the rivals to run faster. Portrait showed little appetite for winning last time, coughing up a clear lead while drifting out in the stretch at Fair Grounds.
Live Longshot: #3 Mind the Gap (12-1) in race 8. Arnaud Delacour has won at a near 30% clip (100-race sample size) with horses returning from an extended layoff, and front-running Mind the Gap rates serious consideration against a non-descript group of entry-level allowance foes. The addition of blinkers made a difference for the gelded son of Street Sense, with Mind the Gap breaking through with a convincing maiden tally two starts ago. The dark bay got caught chasing a hot pace in his first start against winners last time, winding up fourth, but I expect a much different scenario Saturday. With the only other speed marooned on the far outside, Mind the Gap looks more than capable of dictating terms from post 3 beneath Manny Franco, and I give him a legitimate chance to lead wire-to-wire.
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The full Churchill Downs horse racing analyst crew is back and looking at the return of spring racing in Kentucky! Host Joe Kristufek asks Handicappers Ed DeRosa, Scott Shapiro and James Scully what they are looking for this weekend in racing from Louisville.