Catching My Eye: Churchill Downs Saturday, May 20

May 22nd, 2023

Through the first three weeks of the spring meet, horses taking inside trips on the main track are struggling to hold on at Churchill Downs. Time and again, I am seeing horses with early speed who draw toward the outside be able to stalk the inside runners and make bold moves through the turn and down the center of the track. It still pays to be forward, whether sprinting or going two turns. Something to keep in mind as these horses who had the advantageous trip or who were stuck on the inside run back over the next six weeks of the meet.

The Grade 3 Louisville Stakes

Run as Saturday’s finale, the $225,000 Louisville (G3) attracted an interesting field of older turf runners going 1 1/2 miles, including Therapist, Limited Liability, and Tiz the Bomb. But it was Foreign Relations who got the gold, his first graded stakes win in his first attempt.

In just his seventh start, the five-year-old trained by Conor Murphy made the move up in class after he crossed the finish line first by open lengths last out in an n1x at Keeneland but was DQ’d for causing trouble in the stretch.

The pace set up nicely for his running style as Time for Trouble set glacial fractions of :25.58, :52.48 (the portable rail was down), and Foreign Relations was able to track in third, two to three lengths off the leader. Still, he was taking on his toughest foes to date and held off Limited Liability and Tiz the Bomb, who both also had decent mid-pack positions to contend for the win.

Brisnet gave Foreign Relations a 91 after earning a 99 Speed figure last out at Keeneland. The gelded son of Karakontie only broke his maiden in February of this year on the Tapeta at Turfway Park. We know he can get 12 panels and produce strong winning bids when the race flow goes his way. Now the question is can he get it done in adverse circumstances and against stiffer competition.

Make sure to keep tabs on Yamato, who rounded out the superfecta in the Louisville. Trainer Mike Maker just got his hands on this six-year-old two races back, and he does excellent work moving older turf horses forward.

Yamato trailed the field early on in the Louisville but finished with a strong kick traveling the final two furlongs in :22.53. A better pace set-up, and instead of finishing fourth he’s in the photo for the win.

Western Command somehow paid $23.26-1 winning an n2l against a field of six $30,000 claimers in Race 2 on Saturday. In the three-year-old’s fifth start, his first since gelded, we saw the type of step forward that merits a move up in class. Piloted by Edgar Morales, Western Command broke well outside of three early speedsters to get in a perfect stalking position through the first call of the six furlongs. The Greg Foley trainee then made a bold move to pass the frontrunner in the turn, propelling him nearly three lengths ahead of the field. Morales gave a strong finish, and he won by 1 1/12 lengths to earn an 83 Brisnet Speed figure.

I think there’s more to be seen from this son of West Coast owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, Terry Stephens, and Stable 71. He stays with the connections, having also been ignored at the claiming box.

Two three-year-old fillies caught my eye in Race 6 on Saturday. Let’s start with the winner, Miss Arlington. In her last two starts, she lost to first-time-starters Sweet Azteca and Scylla, who both ran huge speed figures. At Turfway Park, she drew the rail and went for the lead going six furlongs, which can be a death sentence at that track. Making her fifth start on Saturday, the field and post set up nicely for her, and she was able to strut her stuff.

Trainer Brian Williamson in no way looks to have them cranked at first asking, so it is reasonable that it took five starts for the Nancy Vanier, Brady Tauber, Steve Gordon & Mark Tauber homebred to score. She didn’t set the track on fire with her 80 Brisnet Speed figure, but more impressively was how she did it. Jockey Jareth Loveberry had his hands full throughout the first four furlongs, and she was able to put herself in position behind the leader, relax, and make her move to vie for the front without ever being asked. She pulled away in the stretch and won by 2 1/2 lengths. Blinkers were added and the distance was cut back to 5 1/2 furlongs, so, of course, the question will be can she win covering more ground. Everything I saw tells me, yes, she can.

One horse got away from the gates poorly, and no surprise that it was the first-time starter who drew the rail. Chilled Fireball, the $385,000 three-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon, was away awkwardly and then broke inward, putting her at the back of the pack right away with a ton of work to do at this short sprint distance.

Gabe Saez was on board, obviously knew he had horse, guiding her outside the eight foes, which she began to knock off one at a time before putting in an impressive stretch run to not only place second but also battle past a game foe, showing her ability to pass and her heart for the wire.

Trainer Phil Bauer does well with first time-starters (17% over the past three years), but he does even better second time out (22%). Chilled Fireball will be a likely win candidate in her next start.