The $125,000 Mint Julep Stakes (G3) will be run as Race 10 at Churchill Downs on Saturday afternoon. Contested at 1 1/16 miles on the turf course, it attracted a field of 10 older fillies and mares. The race appears to be a wide-open affair and you can make a strong case for several major contenders in the field.
Here’s a brief look at this year’s Mint Julep field:
COCO CHANNEL (#1) (30-1) takes a big step up in class while coming off losses in lesser spots. The five-year-old has ventured into graded competition before unsuccessfully. Her best shot in this spot would be for the race to come off the turf based on her close third-place finish in the Cardinal Stakes (G3) in late 2017, which was moved from turf to a sloppy, sealed main track.
SMART EMMA (#2) (8-1) exits a career-best outing last time in a big victory on this turf course in an $80,000 level optional claiming race. One can’t blame trainer Dan Peitz for taking a shot here with his confidence buoyed by the impressive victory.
MOM’S ON STRIKE (#3) (7-2) makes her 2019 debut in this spot after last being seen in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), where she finished eighth at 33-1 odds. That spot might have been too ambitious, but this kind of spot looks ideal for this multiple stakes winner who scored in last year’s Bewitch Stakes (G3) at Keeneland going 1 1/2 miles. The six-year-old mare has the talent and ability, but if she is favored she looks like a vulnerable chalk based on the seven-month layoff and based on the fact that this 1 1/16-mile distance is probably shorter than her best at this point of her career.
SHE’S PRETTY LUCKY (#4) (8-1) won a $100,000 level optional claiming turf race at 1 1/16 miles here at Churchill last out and shows a good-looking pattern of steadily improving form. She is versatile from a pace perspective and can be effective from on or off of the pace.
VAGABOND PRINCESS (#5) (12-1) makes her Churchill Downs turf debut off a pair of solid, but not spectacular, turf tries this winter at Fair Grounds and Gulfstream where she was third in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes and fourth in the Suwannee River Stakes (G3), respectively. The bay mare lost to repeat winner Beau Recall last time out, but will need to turn the tables on Mom’s On Strike, who had her number when the pair faced off a year ago at Fair Grounds.
SMART SHOT (#6) (8-1) nice win last time cemented her credentials as a Churchill turf horse for the course, giving her three wins in four career outings on this grass course. There is nothing not to like about the late-closing win last time, but she was not a factor when last risen up in class against stakes competition last year.
LIMARI (#7) (5-2) makes her stakes debut in this spot but lands in a winnable spot and has passed every test so far this year with a perfect three-for-three record in 2019. The dark bay filly goes to the front and goes all the way, and looms the best and perhaps controlling speed of this race. It will be difficult to deny her with anything close to her winning effort last out in an allowance at Keeneland for trainer Brad Cox.
STAVE (#8) (6-1) appears to be in good form now for trainer Larry Jones and beat one of these rivals, Phantom Opening, rather handily two races ago in a race here last fall. She lost to Smart Emma by four lengths last time and will need to turn the tables on her at least, but improvement could be on the way in the filly’s second race off the six-month layoff.
PROMISE OF SPRING (#9) (10-1) is mainly a dirt horse and possibly entered hoping for rain to move this contest to the main track. However, she also shows a solid turf outing on her resume when second back in January in the Marie G. Krantz Memorial Stakes at Fair Grounds. The dirt-to-turf stats are huge for trainer Steve Margolis, and Promise of Spring is fast enough to not be ignored no matter the surface.
PHANTOM OPENING (#10) (8-1) has been keeping good company of late with outings in the Hillsborough Stakes (G2) at Tampa Bay Downs and Jenny Wiley Stakes (G1) at Keeneland, but draws the far outside here and has come up short in past races when facing some of those entered here.
The key to his year’s Mint Julep could be the pace, since it seems like the morning-line favorite Limari owns a solid pace advantage over this field as the best and possibly only speed in the race. She exits a strong Keeneland allowance win with a fast BRIS Speed figure, and she’ll beat these as well if able to repeat that kind of an effort.
This race also can be played in exactas and trifectas by keying Limari over the other top challengers in the field. The so-called class horses in the field, Mom’s On Strike and Phantom Opening, look vulnerable and could be potential underlays on the tote board. Instead, focus your underneath betting on horses in good form with up-and-coming patterns heading into this race such as She’s Pretty Lucky and Promise of Spring. The Vagabond Princess is also too solid to be overlooked and shouldn’t be excluded.
Box 7 in the exactas with 4, 5, 9
Trifecta key 7 over 4, 5, 9 / 4, 5, 9
PHOTO: Limari wins an allowance at Keeneland on April 19, 2019 (c) Coady Photography/Keeneland