Catching My Eye: Opening Week at Churchill Downs

September 19th, 2023

On Thursday the three-week Fall meet at Churchill Downs kicked off, and by Saturday, a track record for most wins at Churchill Downs was secured. Thirteen races were run for juveniles, and although opening weekend saw strong efforts from older stakes horses, all eyes were on the two-year-olds as it's never too early to start thinking about the first weekend in May. 

Saturday: Mr. Churchill

It’s official. With his win in the $300,000 Louisville Thoroughbred Society Stakes on Saturday, Bango has now tied the record for most wins at Churchill Downs with 11. Pressuring Strobe, who tore off an opening quarter mile in :21.55, every step of the way, Bango looked to have his hands full early on. But true to every unrelenting fiber in his being, he put that foe away at the top of the stretch and dug in deep to keep finding more as Gulfstream Way came after him late.

Big congratulations to Greg Foley, Team Foley, and Tamaroak Partners. 

Turf 1 1/8 Miles Md Sp Wt 120k Three-year-olds & Up

Race 2 on Saturday was a maiden special weight for three-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles on the turf. The winner Clyde’s Got a Gun is still a work in progress, but the potential is there. After debuting the Gun Runner three-year-old going 1 1/16 miles, Helen Pitts correctly spotted him going longer as we got to see his big loping stride in the final furlong. I am confident his 80 Brisnet Speed figure is a stepping stone towards faster efforts in his near future. 


Although West Saratoga got the win, it was Liberal Arts who caught my eye. I’ll be taking him out of the $300,000 Iroquois (G3). Encountering trouble twice in the stretch, when he did finally find room to run, the large Arrogate colt trained by Robert Medina flashed his acceleration and almost caught the favorite Risk It. He had to settle for third in this one-mile contest, but seeing the gallop out, I know the more distance the better for Liberal Arts.

Dirt 6 Furlongs Md Sp Wt 120k Two-year-old fillies

The finale on Saturday went to the Gary and Mary West homebred, West Sunset. Drawn widest of 11 juveniles, the West Coast filly was caught wide throughout, traveling more ground than her foes. Still, she was able to come from tenth to run down several other first-time starters who put their promise on display. Flavien Prat was up on this Brad Cox trainee, who earned an 87 Brisnet Speed figure, and my guess is Prat will be booking a ticket to ride him wherever and whenever she runs this fall.

Friday: Turf 5 1/2 Furlongs Md Sp Wt 120k Three-year-olds & Up

Navarrete’s first-time starter Get Twisted found a ton of late kick to win Friday's turf sprint. The Get Stormy three-year-old filly was sensational in the final stages, flying from 6th to win by 1 3/4 lengths in the final half furlong. In no way was the race falling apart as the second through fourth place finishers were all in the mix from the word go. Under Jareth Loveberry, the bettors let Get Twisted go at 91-1. She earned an 85 Brisnet Speed figure and with it a much shorter price in her encore.

Sunday: Dirt 6 Furlongs Md Sp Wt 120k Two-year-olds

How about Stretch Ride’s debut stunner in Sunday’s seventh? Wow--talk about a horse who got everything you could hope for out of a debut. Breaking sharply and sticking his nose out in front but for a brief handful of strides, Stretch Ride settled into a stalking trip under Martin Chuan. In the homestretch, he lost contact with the forward horses but the lightbulb clicked and he dazzled at full speed knocking off the targets and getting up for first. The Street Sense colt earned an 84 Brisnet Speed figure, giving trainer Dale Romans a new reason to get out of bed every morning at 4:30 a.m.