Catching My Eye: Three maidens and an old salt at Churchill Downs

November 6th, 2023

Racing analyst Kevin Kilroy discusses a trio of maidens who caught his eye at Churchill Downs along with a five-year-old allowance winner.

Knightsbridge (Two-Year-Old)

The debuting Godolphin colt, Knightsbridge, overcame trouble but still won for fun on Saturday in Race 7 against fellow maiden two-year-olds. With James Graham aboard, the son of Nyquist broke well with his ears pinned back and set to chasing the three leaders. A touch more keen than the jock might have expected, Knightsbridge put himself into a tight spot, and Graham had to wrangle him back, losing a couple of lengths. But when an outside lane opened up through the turn, the Boll Mott trainee seized the clearing and never stopped extending his lead, which amounted to over 10 lengths at the wire.

Debuting at the tricky seven-furlong distance, this half-sibling to Speaker’s Corner showed in his gallop-out that longer will not be an issue. Also trained by Mott, Speaker’s Corner won a Grade 1 at seven furlongs and two other graded stakes at one mile.

Earning a 92 Brisnet Speed figure on debut is sensational. As with any two-year-old who debuts with a huge number, we want to be careful about backing him at a short price next out, but assuming he stretches out, added distance should move him up.

Mullion (Three-Year-Old)

Donning Juddmonte’s signature green and pink, Florent Geroux was a silent passenger aboard a jaw-dropping three-year-old maiden from the Brad Cox barn on Sunday. Mullion is his name. The full brother of Mandaloun.

Entered in the one-turn mile at Churchill, over a year had passed since his two-year-old debut, when he finished a nose shy in second going six furlongs. Mullion would have to run faster than the 82 Brisnet figure he had on his resume to beat the likes of Spielman, Nyquick, and Wicked Again. After withstanding bumps out of the gate, he set to work and soon after the first call made the lead. Well within himself, he simply wowed, pulling off to win by 10.

The day before, Idiomatic took the Breeders’ Cup Distaff for the same connections. This past summer it was Set Piece in the Arlington Million. We all know Mandaloun’s story in the Kentucky Derby (G1), and his full-brother showed graded stakes talent on Sunday, running a 102 Brisnet Speed figure, accelerating as he went along through pace figures of 91, 96, and 104. Put his name in your TwinSpires Stable—you’ll want to watch Mullion’s career.

Shefflin (Three-Year-Old)

With both a 4-5 favorite and a Wesley Ward homebred drawn inside, it would take a big effort for the first-time starter Shefflin to get the debut win on Saturday in Race 5. Trained by Bill Morey and Julio Felix getting the call, the gelded son of Kantharos out of the Quality Road mare Roaming initially got on the worktab as a two-year-old. After stopping on him twice, Morey saw the time was now after Shefflin put five solid works in since the end of September, including two bullets. And he was correct.

Breaking cleanly but in company for the five-furlong turf sprint across a course rated good, Ward’s Tasterfor the King had gotten the early jump and stubbornly would not stop no matter how many times it looked like Shefflin was about to pass. Dueling outside a stubborn foe throughout, the rookie proved best with a surge in the final stages. Moving comfortably throughout, Shefflin’ strong chest and caboose show me this isn’t just a one-and-done. He earned an 83 Brisnet Speed figure, a nice beginning for a runner whose pedigree suggests we’ll see him this winter across the synthetic of Turfway Park.

Like a Saltshaker (Five-Year-Old)

After a slow start to the year losing his first two, Like a Saltshaker has turned into a win machine. Dropped in for $10,000 and winning by five lengths last May, the five-year-old was claimed by Brittany Vanden Berg and has won four of his last five, including last Saturday, for the new outfit.

Facing familiar starter allowance company, Like a Saltshaker had work to do. Pressured through the first half by the longshot Sand Mountain, the gelding’s work was not done, as the bettor’s second choice Junior Bug ranged up on him and the two dueled through the wire. Like a Saltshaker had his hands full but got the win and another 90+ Brisnet Speed figure. The veteran now has 12 wins in 27 starts to go along with seven seconds.