Friday’s Best Bets and Quick Picks: Churchill and Gulfstream maidens

May 24th, 2024

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares best bets and quick picks for Friday, May 24 at Gulfstream Park and Churchill Downs, along with analysis of the $2,278 Pick 5 carryover at Hastings Racecourse.

Today’s special offers from TwinSpires include:

  • 10x Points on Harness Racing: Receive 10x reward points on all harness racing wagers (excluding show bets) on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
  • Power Hour 15% Profit Boost: Receive a 15% bonus on all winning win, exacta, trifecta, and superfecta wagers (up to $25 for the day) on any eligible race between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. ET.
  • Rest of the World $10 Money Back: Receive refunds on win bets (up to $10) if your horse finishes second in any eligible race at the Curragh (IRE).

Best Bets and Quick Picks

Gulfstream Park: Race 1: Maiden Special Weight (five furlongs on Tapeta, 12:55 p.m. ET)

Since 2021, trainer Mark Casse has compiled a strong 7-for-19 (37%) record debuting juveniles during the first five months of the year at Gulfstream Park. That includes a 3-for-12 (25%) record in 2024.

That’s why we’re backing Casse’s #3 War Warrior (3-1) in this maiden sprint for two-year-olds. A son of Casse’s Preakness (G1) winner War of Will, who was also a Grade 1 winner on turf, War Warrior sold for $195,000 as a weanling and has put together a promising work tab in preparation for his debut. Most notably, the bay colt clocked half a mile in :47 3/5 over the Palm Meadows turf course.

Let’s bet War Warrior to win and key him over #6 Incanto (8-5) in a small exacta. Incanto was beaten only 1 1/2 lengths when debuting with a fifth-place finish in the May 11 Royal Palm Juvenile S. at Gulfstream.


  • #3 War Warrior (3-1)
  • #6 Incanto (8-5)
  • #8 Honor That Dude (8-1)


  • $20 to win on #3 War Warrior
  • $5 Exacta: 3 with 6
    Total: $25

Churchill Downs: Race 2: Maiden Special Weight (five furlongs on dirt, 1:14 p.m. ET)

Two fast-working juveniles appeal in this maiden special weight sprint. #4 Clock Tower (2-1) has been cranking out fast workouts for high-percentage trainer Wesley Ward, who has gone 9-for-14 (64%) debuting juveniles in Kentucky this year. A son of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) runner-up Not This Time (who sires a lofty 19% winners from first-time starters), Clock Tower breezed three furlongs from the starting gate in :34 4/5 on April 28 and followed up with the same distance in a bullet :35 1/5 on May 5.

But #1 Three Echoes (4-1) has likewise turned in fast exercises under the care of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. On April 27, he breezed half a mile from the Keeneland starting gate in :47 4/5, and he repeated the feat on May 12.

Let’s box Clock Tower and Three Echoes in a large exacta.


  • #1 Three Echoes (4-1)
  • #4 Clock Tower (2-1)
  • #5 Charbonnay (12-1)


  • $15 Exacta: box 1,4 ($30)

Churchill Downs: Race 5: Maiden Special Weight (five furlongs, 2:45 p.m. ET)

A couple of longshots appeal from a trainer stats standpoint. #7 Tizntshelovely (12-1) enters off fast workouts (including half a mile in :47 4/5 at Churchill Downs) for trainer Dallas Stewart, who has gone 4-for-8 (50%) debuting juveniles during the first half of the year at Churchill Downs since 2020.

#9 Troubler (8-1) has also breezed half a mile in :47 4/5 at Churchill Downs. She’s trained by Norm Casse, who has gone 4-for-10 (40%) since 2021 when debuting juveniles at Churchill Downs in April and May. It’s encouraging to note Troubler will be ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., a 39% winner teaming up with Casse over the last two months.

Since 12-1 and 8-1 are enticing prices, we’ll place win bets on both Tizntshelovely and Troubler. And, for good measure, we’ll box them in a small exacta.


  • #7 Tizntshelovely (12-1)
  • #9 Troubler (8-1)
  • #6 Citizen Judy (5-1)


  • $14 to win on #9 Troubler
  • $12 to win on #7 Tizntshelovely
  • $2 Exacta: box 7,9 ($4)
    Total: $30

Carryover Watch

Hastings Racecourse: Race 2: $2,278 Super High 5 carryover (3:39 p.m. ET)

No one assembled a winning ticket in the $1 Pick 5 at Hastings Racecourse last Saturday. As a result, there’s a carryover worth USD $2,278 (CAD $3,098) on the table for Friday’s card.

If you want to win a share of the carryover, you’ll have to assemble a winning ticket. There aren’t any consolation payoffs; if the sequence goes unsolved, 100% of the pool carries over to the next racing day.

Barring a truly unpredictable series of upsets, Pick 5 should be winnable on a modest budget. The five races have drawn only 30 horses in total (averaging six per race), which works out to 7,350 possible outcomes, a thoroughly manageable number.

Still, some of the races look surprisingly tricky to handicap. Take Race 2, a $6,250 claimer taking place over 1 1/16 miles. The five-horse field is packed with viable win contenders. #1 Buttonwood Tree (5-2) is dropping in class out of a $12,500 claimer, #2 Dynamiter (4-1) won three times over this track and distance last year, #4 Good Bye Putin (9-5) has cracked the trifecta many times in $6,250 claimers at Hastings (even winning three times), and #3 Something Elusive (7-2) and #5 Brookys Tapit (4-1) bring strong Brisnet Speed ratings to the table. Yes, you can make a case of some sort for all five entrants.

Fortunately, Race 3 looks more straightforward. It’s a 6 1/2-furlong $16,000 claimer featuring only five starters, and since 73% of 6 1/2-furlong sprints at Hastings have been won in gate-to-wire fashion this meet, speed horses #1 Finding Ways (2-1) and #2 Cerebro (9-5) are obvious win threats.

Of the pair, Finding Ways might be the most likely pacesetter after carving out the tempo in each of his last nine starts, including when wiring a $12,500 claimer sprinting six furlongs at Hastings earlier this month. But Cerebro likewise showed speed when setting the pace in a $25,000 claimer sprinting about six furlongs at Hastings last month, and he was beaten only half a length at the finish.

Whereas Finding Ways is ascending the class ladder, Cerebro is dropping in class, and these shifts could tilt the advantage in Cerebro’s favor. Bettors with plenty of capital to invest might want to use both, but bettors searching for a money-saving single should give Cerebro a long look.

Good luck!