Catching My Eye: Classy longshots at Churchill Downs

September 20th, 2022

When a price comes in, often we’ll dismiss the effort as a fluke and not give that horse a shot in its next races. Here are six runners from opening weekend at Churchill Downs who deserved backing but were simply overlooked by the betting public.

Saturday, Sept. 17

The $400,000 three-year-old colt Winterwood stepped up in a big way, vindicating his backers who bet him down to favoritism in four of his first six races; though, he only has the one win on his resume, a maiden claimer.

Trainer Terry Brennan took the bait and claimed this Maclean’s Music son in that race, tried him in a $50,000 starter allowance, the same level he raced on Saturday,  then backed off on him before bringing him back in July against non-winners of two. Another layoff was all that was needed for this 30-1 shot who progressed to the tune of a double-digit speed figure jump and ran much the best against a field of mostly older company.

After stalking near the lead, Winterwood came out of the turn and spurted away to stay clear by three to four lengths throughout the stretch. Not a fluke result — this colt can run.

In Race 4 on Saturday, another big price came in — 29-1 on Jag Warrior in the three-year-old maiden special weight. Who could see this coming? Well, this is a full sibling to Promises Fulfilled, the sprinter extraordinaire who won the Amsterdam and H. Allen Jerkens after failing to show well in the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

Trainer Dale Romans learned his lesson with Promises Fulfilled and kept Jag Warrior at sprint distances through seven of his first eight races, but stretched him out a bit further to the one-turn mile on Saturday. This daughter of Shackleford fought off Brad Cox’s Arrogate filly in the stretch, earning a double-digit speed figure boost for the effort. Again, a longshot that should not be ignored going forward.

The American Pharoah two-year-old Peacock Lass took to the one-turn, one-mile dirt course at Churchill Downs on Saturday and made the win look easy at 6.23-1. Trainer Rodolphe Brisset is excellent with second-time starters, and he had her ready to break sharply from the gate and quicken to the lead.

Traveling comfortably, she kept all bids at bay under a textbook stoic Joel Rosario frontrunning ride, never asking but a few shakes of the reins in the stretch. The speed figure won’t turn heads, but the pedigree, connections, and obvious fact she has more in the tank set this filly up for an exciting Churchill meet and beyond. A stakes-winner and graded-stakes entry, her sibling Doubly Blessed was a one-turn, wet track specialist who won $339,000 in six wins. 

With all the talk about Damon’s Mound and Echo Again, bettors and sharps alike forgot about the Tom Amoss-trained two-year-old Curly Jack. A head short in the Juvenile S. at Ellis Park in his last, the son of Good Magic showed a big improvement in terms of speed figures progressing through his first three races.

Entered into the Sanford (G3) this summer at Saratoga, you know Amoss had confidence in his juvenile. And when Damon’s Mound and Echo Again went eyeball-to-eyeball through the middle stages of the race, it set up nicely for some outside late run efforts, including Curly Jack, who fought off a surge from the inside and the outside to win the Iroquois (G3) and earn 10 points toward the 2023 Kentucky Derby.

Thursday, Sept. 15

Race 4 on Thursday night introduced us to Constitutional Law, the Chris Hartman-trained four-year-old Tapit colt who earned a 91 Brisnet speed figure — 22 points higher than his previous start last March.

With strong workout times spaced at a steady interval for the return, Hartman had Constitutional Law cranked for his six-furlong sprint, only the second time sprinting in seven races. If you know Hartman’s barn, you know his horses keep form and run back to similar speed figures. This colt wasn’t claimed, and don't expect him to be for sale again anytime soon.

Not a longshot but still an unlikely in Race 2 on Thursday, Chilean-bred Le Da Vida transferred her impressive stakes-winning form to Churchill at first asking. Trainer Nacho Correas struck again with a South American import.

His Argentine import, Didia, won her North American debut, and her stakes win at Colonial Downs was one of the top efforts of the meet. Thursday, it was Le Da Vida who got it done in her northern debut. Going one mile on the dirt, Vincent Cheminaud settled this five-year-old mare mid-pack and stayed wide throughout before going all out in the stretch to take command and win by three lengths.

Win No. 6 in 14 races, she has the one-mile distance down pat, making it four wins out of five tries. If her second effort is anything like stablemate Didia's, expect a monster step forward against stakes company.