With the event of a 2-year-old maiden race, comes one of the greatest challenges in the handicapping world, and for some the most fun, in how will first time starters perform – or how will lightly run horses return? Can these juveniles put the pieces of their training together to hit the wire first among their peers?
Horse-by-horse analysis of Friday’s fourth race at Churchill Downs:
Race 4: Maiden Special Weight (5 1/2 furlongs on turf, 2:38 p.m. ET)
#1 Rustler — The progeny of sire Dominus strike at a solid 17% rate when trying turf for the first time and trainer Robert McCutchen is 3-for-27 (11%) lifetime with such runners, exceeding his overall 7% strike rate. Throw in a bullet half-mile workout on May 24 (:47 4/5 from the Keeneland starting gate) and it’s not hard to conclude Rustler can fire a big shot on debut with Churchill’s perennial leading rider, Corey Lanerie, in the saddle.
#2 New York One — Big Brown sires 11% winners on turf, with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) third-place finisher Somelikeithotbrown among his best foals, but the bottom half of New York One’s pedigree is a bit less promising since dam Guinevere’s Reign has yet to produce a winner from three starters. New York One’s work tab looks a little light and trainer James Chapman strikes at just a 7% rate with first-time starters, so New York One might do his best running down the road.
#3 County Final — Sold for just $9,500 as a yearling, this son of Preakness (G1) champion Oxbow has flashed some speed in the mornings at The Thoroughbred Center, cranking out a half-mile from the starting gate in :47 1/5 on May 12. But Oxbow sires just 9% turf winners and trainer John Ennis is 2-for-48 (4%) lifetime with these sorts, making County Final a tricky colt to read.
#4 Baytown Bear — Got squeezed between runners early in his debut sprinting 4 1/2 furlongs at Churchill and never recovered, finishing 14 lengths behind the winner in ninth place. Perhaps a clean run while transitioning to turf will awaken Baytown Bear’s competitive spirit, but sire Upstart was best on dirt (placing six times against Grade 1 company) and dam And You Can has yet to produce a winner on any surface.
#5 Brew Pub — $310,000 yearling purchase gets underway for trainer Dane Kobiskie, who strikes at a respectable 13% rate with first-time starters. Son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense was produced by a Giant’s Causeway mare, so Brew Pub’s pedigree leans toward stamina more than speed, and dirt more than turf. His best races may come with more experience.
#6 Workin It — Sire Outwork won the Wood Memorial (G1) and damsire Mineshaft was named Horse of the Year after excelling at long distances on dirt, suggesting Workin It probably won’t be at his best sprinting on turf. Trainer Michelle Elliot wins at a 10% rate with first-timers, but Workin It brings just four half-mile workouts to the equation (none quicker than :48 2/5). He figures to benefit from a run.
#7 Breakthrough — From the first crop of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Breakthrough sold for $330,000 as a yearling, but weakened to finish third in his debut dashing 4 1/2 furlongs at Gulfstream. Speedy colt has come back with a couple of half-mile works at Keeneland and will drop the blinkers for his second start while picking up hot jockey Gerardo Corrales, who has made quite an impact winning 31% of his starts in a deep Churchill jockey colony. Perhaps transitioning to grass will make a difference for this half-brother to Grade 1-placed Red Vine, and Breakthrough looms as the runner to beat for high-percentage trainer Wesley Ward.
#8 Lucky as a Seven — The second Ward trainee showed speed when sprinting 4 1/2 furlongs for a $25,000 claiming tag on May 1, ultimately finishing second by a half-length. Tale of the Cat sires 10% winners on turf and dam Adventure Love was stakes-placed on turf as a juvenile, not surprising since her sire, Orpen, won the Prix Morney (G1) on grass as a 2-year-old. Lucky as a Seven should enjoy the surface switch and might work out a more relaxed trip on Friday while breaking from an outside post and removing blinkers.
#9 Indy Tourist — From the first crop of Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) winner Tourist, Indy Tourist sold for just $50,000 in March but has cranked out six workouts in preparation for his debut, including a half-mile in :49 on May 25 at Turfway Park. Trainer Mike Maker strikes at a 12% rate first-time starters, but Tourist was a late-maturing type and dam Indy Sue has yet to produce a winner from two starters. Tough to tab from a pedigree perspective, and hot jockey Tyler Gaffalione will have his work cut out to bring Indy Tourist home on top.
#10 Fast Bob —Fast Anna was a quick sprinter siring 13% winners on grass, but only 6% of his runners win their turf debuts and trainer Eric Foster is just 1-for-23 (4%) lifetime with first-time starters. Four modest workouts at Riverside Downs suggest Friday’s test is more of a starting point than an end goal for this $9,500 yearling purchase.
#11 Little Alex — Wasn’t disgraced in a 4 1/2-furlong maiden sprint over the Churchill Downs main track on May 22, running an even race to finish third by 4 1/2 lengths at odds of 85-1. Sire Musketier was an ultra-durable turf star whose progeny strike at a 13% rate when trying grass for the first time, and stretching out another furlong should only benefit this stoutly-bred youngster, who sold for $1,200 as a yearling. Little Alex could have an outside chance to contend if he draws in off the also-eligible list.
#12 Our Commish — The second also-eligible has a pedigree slanted toward dirt more than turf, considering sire Commissioner finished second in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and damsire Northern Afleet is best known as the sire of Preakness/Belmont champion Afleet Alex. Trainer Billy Hardin is 0-for-39 with first-time starters, but Our Commish has posted some solid workouts at The Thoroughbred Center and Commissioner sires 13% winners on turf. Our Commish has a chance to outrun expectations.
#13 Miss Magdalena — Gray filly sold for just $5,000 as a yearling, but that was before sire Flashback enjoyed a round of success with British Idiom, a two-time Grade 1 winner and champion 2-year-old filly of 2019. Flashback sires 10% winners on turf and Miss Magdalena has turned in some encouraging workouts at The Thoroughbred Center, but trainer Cirilo Gorostieta is just 1-for-16 (6%) with first-time starters and Miss Magdalena will have to break from a wide post if she draws in off the also-eligible list.
#14 Mania — Trainer Pavel Matejka wins at a 25% rate with first-time starters, and sire Run Away and Hide was a graded stakes-winning juvenile whose progeny strike at a 10% rate in their turf debuts. Mania‘s work tab at The Thoroughbred Center is respectable, highlighted by a bullet 3 furlongs from the starting gate in :36 2/5 on May 22, so this gray filly can give her male rivals a challenge if she draws in off the also-eligible list.
#15 Hulen — Steve Asmussen trainee is entered for the main track only and will loom a major threat if this race is transferred to dirt. Sire Tapiture won three graded stakes races at Churchill Downs and sires 24% winners in the mud, so Hulen figures to rejoice if conditions are wet on Friday. He’s been burning up the track at Keeneland, cranking out fast half-miles in :46 2/5 and :47 1/5 from the starting gate, and no trainer has saddled more debut winners at Churchill in recent years than Asmussen. This January foal will be tough to beat if he starts with a surface switch.