The first stakes of the Churchill Downs spring meet will take place on Saturday, and the Louisville track will celebrate the occasion by hosting an all-stakes Pick 5 with a $500,000 guaranteed pool.

The competitive sequence kicks off in Race 7, the $100,000 Shawnee S. Eight fillies and mares have been entered in the inaugural running of this 1 1/16-mile event, including a pair of proven Grade 1 winners.

The star of the show, at least on paper, is #4 Dunbar Road (4-5), hailing from the barn of four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown. The daughter of Quality Road was among the top sophomores of 2019, rallying to victories in the Mother Goose (G2) and Alabama (G1) against fellow 3-year-olds before finishing third and sixth in the Spinster (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), respectively, while facing older rivals.

Although Dunbar Road is the most accomplished filly in the Shawnee field, she hasn’t run in nearly seven months and is catching a surprisingly competitive field in her comeback run. Brown does win at an impressive 30% rate with horses returning from layoffs of 90 days or more, but Dunbar Road has yet to win outside her age group, and 4-5 seems like a pretty short price to accept.

A logical alternative is #8 She’s a Julie (2-1), who has demonstrated a strong affinity for Churchill Downs while compiling three wins and a pair of placings over the local oval. A speedy daughter of Elusive Quality conditioned by Steve Asmussen, She’s a Julie showed determination when rallying to victory in the La Troienne (G1) over this track and distance last spring, finishing ahead of future Breeders’ Cup Distaff champion Blue Prize.

She’s a Julie seemed to burn out a little at the end of 2020, but perhaps taking the winter off will refresh her form and lead to an improved effort. In a race without much speed, She’s a Julie figures to sit a comfortable trip setting or stalking a slow pace.

The wildcard in the Shawnee field is #6 Vault (10-1), who posted some competitive Brisnet Speed ratings while winning a trio of races in Pennsylvania and Maryland last fall. She was much the best in the 1 1/16-mile Thirty Eight Go Go S., defeated future Endeavour (G3) winner Jehozacat by 3 1/2 lengths, and entered 2020 seemingly poised for a big season.

Transferred to the care of Brad Cox, Vault failed to fire her best shot when returning from a five-month layoff in a one-mile allowance race at Oaklawn Park, weakening to finish fourth. But Cox has been hot at Churchill Downs, winning with three of his first five starters, and he’ll remove Vault’s blinkers for Saturday’s test, a winning move for Cox 39% of the time.

For the purpose of the Pick 5, I would be tempted to use Dunbar Road, She’s a Julie, and Vault in equal strength. But for intra-race wagers, we’ll focus on the trifecta, essentially boxing them while emphasizing the lower-paying combinations with Dunbar Road and She’s a Julie on top:

$6 Trifecta: 4 with 6,8 with 6,8 ($12)
$4 Trifecta: 8 with 4,6 with 4,6 ($8)
$2 Trifecta: 6 with 4,8 with 4,8 ($4)

Good luck!


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