Betting intelligence: Five contenders to watch for June 3

June 2nd, 2023

Following up on last week’s stakes jottings, here are several contenders who sparked thoughts for Saturday stakes from Churchill Downs to Woodbine and Belmont Park. Once again, we will find out if this proves to be actionable intelligence. 

Regret (G3) – Race 5 at Churchill Downs (2:45 p.m. ET)

A few hard-luck stories from the May 5 Edgewood (G2) get another shot here, with #3 Mission of Joy the deserving 9-5 favorite to gain compensation. #6 Sabalenka (12-1) comes in under the radar, but can get involved if she breaks better than her slow-starting Edgewood. As a grinding type, she lost whatever chance she had by winding up farther back in a race controlled by the front runner. Sabalenka won over the Churchill turf course last fall, stealing a second-level allowance. She’s twice beaten Safeen, who just captured a Horseshoe Indianapolis stakes where Regret rival #4 Mrs. Astor (4-1) was a closing fourth. Like Mission of Joy and Mrs. Astor, Sabalenka is another likely to appreciate the step up in trip to 1 1/8 miles in the Regret, but she’s liable to get overlooked. Trainer Whit Beckman strikes at 20% in the “third off the layoff” category and at 18% on turf.

Audubon S. – Race 7 at Churchill Downs (3:50 p.m. ET)

As a Gun Runner half-brother to champion Lady Eli, #6 Sharar (9-5) has been worth monitoring all through his development in Dubai. Development is the operative word, since he was physically unfurnished during the Carnival and had “one for the future” written all over him. Now the KHK Racing runner has ventured stateside to join Todd Pletcher, in a transfer reminiscent of the same connections’ Shahama last year. Shahama’s U.S. debut came in a much tougher spot, the Kentucky Oaks (G1), where she was a creditable sixth before progressing over the summer. That’s the question about Sharar as well – will he fire his best shot here or blossom later?

Cross-entered to the Pennine Ridge (G2) at Belmont, he will opt for Churchill, according to Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh. Both are 1 1/8-mile tests, but the Audubon would offer a relatively easier U.S. introduction. Sharar signed off from Meydan Feb. 24 with a career-best performance, picking up very late to overturn Godolphin’s odds-on One Nation. Although that rival isn’t exactly one of Godolphin’s headliners, Sharar’s effort can be upgraded because he appeared so physically immature compared to the others, as jockey Adrie de Vries said. The Fawzi Nass pupil was winning on raw ability, implying that he has a lot of room to improve when he fills into his frame. It will be fascinating to see how much Sharar might have changed in the past three months.

Royal North (G2) – Race 7 at Woodbine (4:16 p.m.)

#4 Millie Girl (20-1) will be tested for class in this stakes debut against several eminently qualified performers, including favored #5 Our Flash Drive; the consistent #2 Bay Storm, who just chased home Breeders’ Cup queen Caravel; and Christophe Clement’s new recruit #10 Adaay in Asia, a progressive British handicapper who will try to reach a higher level in North America. But Millie Girl is intriguing as a pedigree play who’s 3-for-3 in sprints for Catherine Day Phillips.

A Hard Spun half-sister to three stakes performers led by Tone Broke, winner of two-thirds of Canada’s Triple Crown in 2019, Millie Girl didn’t make it to the races until the summer of her four-year-old season. But she promptly won her first two starts sprinting on the Woodbine turf, and then placed in a pair of 1 1/16-mile allowances. Millie Girl reverted to seven furlongs on the local Tapeta in her May 12 reappearance and rolled from last to first, defeating Catiche, the runner-up in the 2022 Selene (G3) to the pretty useful Super Hoity Toity. With just five starts so far, Millie Girl could be capable of more for Day Phillips, who’s currently firing at 29%.

Shawnee (G3) – Race 8 at Churchill Downs (4:22 p.m. ET)

#4 Idiomatic (5-1) was no match for Pass the Champagne in the Ruffian (G2) around Belmont’s one-turn mile, but the Juddmonte blueblood will be better served by returning to two turns in the 1 1/16-mile Shawnee (G3). While Godolphin’s streaking #6 Frost Point (2-1) commands plenty of respect, Idiomatic had turned a hat trick of her own at Turfway Park. My suspicion is that we’ve yet to see the best from this Brad Cox trainee. By Hall of Famer and outstanding sire Curlin, Idiomatic is out of stakes-winning Lockdown, a multiple Grade 1-placed full sister to champion Close Hatches (herself the dam of $2.2 million-earner Tacitus). Her pedigree is all about routing on dirt, and Idiomatic gets this opportunity for the second time in her career. Her prior try at this track and trip was an inconclusive third in a May 2022 allowance, where she got off to a troubled start as the favorite.

Pennine Ridge (G2) – Race 9 at Belmont Park (5:12 p.m. ET)

I’d fully expected #4 Silver Knott (2-1) to invade for the July 8 Belmont Derby (G1), but Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby is getting a head start by shipping in for the local prep. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) near-misser returned to action in the 2000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket, but the soft-ground mile didn’t play to his strengths and he checked in 11th of 14. The well-fancied Aidan O’Brien pair of Auguste Rodin and Little Big Bear fared even worse, so I consider it a toss-out for Silver Knott as well.

His presence here is noteworthy since Silver Knott had options in Europe. In hindsight, I should have realized that the Pennine Ridge would become the chosen path given both this year’s stakes calendar and his preference for quicker going. Sunday’s Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1) could have been a suitable spot, but it’s a gamble if Chantilly were to be fast enough for him. Royal Ascot’s Hampton Court (G3) might have been another potential target, only the festival doesn’t allow as much spacing ahead of the Belmont Derby; he’d be racing June 22 and then turning around to ship for July 8.

Thus the Pennine Ridge might not be the snazziest venue, but it serves the purpose. Silver Knott’s always shaped like a colt who wanted to stretch out at three. Indeed, I’d be tempted to wonder if 1 1/8 miles at Belmont is far enough for him. Otherwise, Silver Knott appears to have an insurmountable class edge.