Catching My Eye: Churchill Downs, May 11-14
Thursday, May 11
Giant Game and Tiwanaku threw down in Thursday's feature dirt race, where nine older males lined up in the gates to see who could get the 1 3/16 miles. The early advantage went to Giant Game, who broke well and got the inside lead. Tiwanaku pressured the leader while fending off outside foe The Prince’s Spur. With a keen Principe d’Oro nipping at their heels throughout, Giant Game and Tiwanaku never got a breather as they cruised, Giant Game a half-length in front. When they turned for home, the other six runners ranged up outside of them — four directly behind, one coming wide, and one up the rail — and it appeared both would be swallowed up after this hard-fought duel. Instead, the two pulled away and battled to the wire.
As Tiwanaku boldly began to bid past, Giant Game’s rider Martin Garcia began to work his hands from reins to whip, right hand to left, as rapidly as a teenaged cup-stacking champion. He surged back to the lead and held it to the wire over Tiwanaku.
Although this race caught my eye at the time — it really was a thriller — I do have a few pauses in terms of how I want to view this race going forward. First, the distance. Maybe the farther the better for Giant Game and Tiwanaku, while the rest of the field wants shorter. They were poised to knock these front-runners down but failed to muster the late kick. Second, speed held well at all distances on Thursday, and this n1x allowance maintained its carousel shape throughout. Last, Tiwanaku now has five second-place finishes and just two wins, along with two shows. It’s hard to give Giant Game too much credit for keeping a seconditis horse at bay.
It’s all about who they line up against in the gates next out, but if either of these two takes a lot of money, it could be advantageous to get on the other side of the coin.
Friday, May 12
I loved what I saw from Loved. Facing winners for the first time and stretching out to 1 3/16 miles at Churchill on Friday, she took the lead early, took pressure through the first three calls, and then put the field to bed coming out of the second turn to pull away by more than five lengths. Soon after, Gaffalione geared down this impressive filly and she coasted across the wire to win by 4 1/2 lengths.
She’s a half-sister to Maxfield and she’s been getting bet like such. Running just once as a 3-year-old and finishing fourth, Walsh waited a year for Loved’s second start, when the 4-year-old won by over 11 lengths at Keeneland this April.
Earning a 94 Brisnet Speed figure when breaking her maiden, she scored a 91 for Friday's performance. Don’t let the three-point regression fool you — there’s a lot more left in the tanks and it seems the further the better for this front-runner.
Exiting two graded stakes attempts at Gulfstream Park, Fire On Time dropped back into available conditions to make easy work of a stout field of older fillies. In her four previous races, the pace scenario worked against her running style, but in Race 7 on Friday, Dale Romans’ filly was able to stalk three-wide, swing wide out of the turn, and continue to put distance between her and the field.
Running a career-best 93 Brisnet Speed figure, I imagine she’ll step back up to stakes company next out.
The second- and third-place finishers Stella Noir and Boudoir Burlesque both stumbled out of the gate but were able to offer solid efforts at long odds. Both also produced strong gallop-outs past the leader.
Friday's Race 1 was a freshmen maiden special weight for fillies that sold or RNA'd for $50,000 or less in their most recent auction. Prognosticate took it to them early and held on late through the five furlongs. While the speed figure coming out of this wasn’t eye-popping (66 on Brisnet), Prognosticate’s gate speed is what caught my eye. With Jareth Loveberry up, the daughter of Fast Anna broke from the outside spot, and within a handful of strides, the race was over.
After a slow start on debut, further troubled by having to check and being shuffled back, trainer Robert McCutchen, a veteran 2-year-old specialist, put the blinkers on for Prognosticate’s second start. She is a half-sister to the still active mare Makescentstous, a multiple allowance winner who has only finished out of the money once in 14 races.