The newly-restructured Road to the Kentucky Derby takes its first big turn on Saturday when Churchill Downs hosts the $150,000 Matt Winn (G3), a 1 1/16-mile race awarding 85 Kentucky Derby qualification points on a 50-20-10-5 basis to the top four finishers.

Top Picks for the Matt Winn Stakes

  • #10 Maxfield
  • #2 Pneumatic
  • #12 Major Fed
  • #6 Ny Traffic
  • #8 Crypto Cash

Suggested Wager

  • $2.50 trifecta: 2,10 with 2,10,12 with 2,6,8,10,12 ($30)

The Matt Winn Stakes contenders

#1 Mystic Guide made a fantastic visual impression when crushing a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Fair Grounds by five lengths. The Godolphin homebred sprinted the final five-sixteenths of a mile in about :30 flat while running straight and true down the lane, giving the impression he was just getting started. A son of Ghostzapper out of the five-time Grade 1-winning mare Music Note, Mystic Guide is bred to improve with maturity, and even a small step forward could land him in the winner’s circle on Saturday. (Update: Mystic Guide reportedly will scratch so the betting strategy is changed above.)

#2 Pneumatic is undefeated in two starts for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, most recently rallying from mid-pack to win a one-mile allowance race at Oaklawn by 2 1/2 lengths. The son of Uncle Mo brings competitive Brisnet Speed ratings to the equation and will retain the services of Asmussen’s go-to jockey, Ricardo Santana.

#3 Informative posted an eye-catching 97 Brisnet Speed rating when rallying to finish second by a nose in the James F. Lewis III S. at Laurel Park last fall, but the Lewis was a 6-furlong sprint, and Informative’s efforts running long have been a bit less inspiring. A sixth-place effort in the Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct suggests Informative has form to find against this caliber of competition.

#4 Celtic Striker has the speed to be a pace factor on Saturday, having achieved both of his career wins in gate-to-wire fashion. The bigger question is whether Celtic Striker has the stamina to carry his speed against this level of competition — his previous forays on the Road to the Kentucky Derby saw him finish far behind the winners of the Jerome S. and Gotham (G3).

#5 Flap Jack Winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity on Polytrack as a juvenile, Flap Jack ran deceptively well in his first start of 2020, unleashing a strong middle move in the Gotham (G3) before flattening out to finish sixth. He subsequently faded badly when chasing a fast pace over a sloppy track in the Oaklawn S., but returning to dry footing could trigger a rebound from this son of Preakness (G1) winner Oxbow.

#6 Ny Traffic performed admirably in his two previous starts on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, finishing third in the second division of the Risen Star (G3) before improving to runner-up status in the Louisiana Derby (G2). Cutting back slightly in trip could aid this speedy son of Cross Traffic, who figures to set or stalk the pace for hot trainer Saffie Joseph. The bigger question is how the Fair Grounds form will stack up on Saturday, considering Louisiana Derby winner Wells Bayou returned to finish off the board in a division of the Arkansas Derby (G1).

#7 Necker Island is 2-for-2 at Churchill Downs and performed reasonably well in a trio of stakes races this year, finishing fifth or better every time. But he ran out of steam when stretching out around two turns in the 1 1/16-mile Unbridled S. at Gulfstream last month, weakening to finish fourth, and with Brisnet Speed ratings generally hovering in the upper 80s, Necker Island will need improvement to challenge in the Matt Winn.

#8 Crypto Cash doesn’t have much tactical speed, but he showed some interest late in the first division of the Arkansas Derby (G1), rallying mildly to finish sixth while only beaten four lengths for the runner-up spot. Crypto Cash’s record on dirt is solid and he fired off a fast workout on May 17 at Keeneland, so given a fast pace this Triple Crown nominee could be an intriguing longshot player with Churchill’s leading rider Corey Lanerie in the saddle.

#9 Shake Some Action didn’t receive the cleanest trip in the Louisiana Derby, getting squeezed and steadied in traffic before rallying mildly in the stretch to finish sixth. Conditioned by hot trainer Brad Cox, Shake Some Action had previously gone 2-for-2 in route races on both dirt and turf at Fair Grounds, exhibiting plenty of stamina and versatility. A clean trip in the Matt Winn could make Shake Some Action a contender for the bottom of the exotics.

#10 Maxfield was nothing less than spectacular in Keeneland’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1) last fall, sweeping past horses with a breathtaking rally on the far turn to pull away and score by 5 1/2 lengths over a deep field. Beaten rivals Gouverneur Morris, Enforceable, and Ajaaweed have all returned to win or place in Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races, flattering Maxfield’s performance. The Godolphin homebred is returning from an injury-induced layoff, but he’s been training sharply at Keeneland and trainer Brendan Walsh wins at a 20% rate with horses returning from breaks of three months or more.

#11 Attachment Rate finished ahead of a few Matt Winn rivals when battling to a third-place effort in the Gotham (G3), which he followed with a game runner-up effort in the 1 1/16-mile Unbridled S. at Gulfstream. With four straight 90+ Brisnet Speed ratings to his credit, Attachment Rate has the speed to compete in the Matt Winn, but the distance could be a stumbling block — he flattened out in the final furlong of the Unbridled after vying for command at the eighth pole. Drawing post 11 also sets up the potential for a wide trip.

#12 Major Fed ran a deceptively good race in the Louisiana Derby (G2), rallying to finish fourth after breaking slowly and racing wide. When employing midpack stalking tactics in the second division of the Risen Star (G2), Major Fed forged on gamely to edge Ny Traffic by a neck for the runner-up spot.  Major Fed runs the risk of racing wide again while breaking from post 12, but a sharper break might be all he needs to finish on the board.


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