The Jury: Bets and fades for April 29

April 28th, 2023

Opening day of the Churchill Downs spring meet highlights this pre-Derby weekend of racing. James Scully, Vance Hanson, and Ashley Anderson provide their best opinions in this week's deliberations.

What is your best bet?

James Scully: #2 Medaglia Forever (8-1) catches a maiden field lacking speed at a 1 1/4-mile distance. Bet down to favoritism in her second career start at Gulfstream Park, her first two-turn attempt, Medaglia Forever was prominent from the start and missed by a neck in second. Rusty Arnold tried her against stakes rivals on Tapeta next out, a race that featured Kentucky Oaks (G1) contender Botanical, and Medaglia Forever never fired. She gets reunited with hot jockey Luis Saez, the leading rider during the Churchill Downs fall meet, and the sophomore filly projects to be the controlling speed from her inside post.

Vance Hanson: The $100,000 Memories of Silver S. at Aqueduct serves as an entry-level allowance for the fillies likely to attract the most play, and of those I prefer #5 Queen Picasso (3-1) for Christophe Clement. The Kingman half-sister to Group 1 winner Acclaim won on debut March 5 at Gulfstream Park, and got a good test down the stretch to get up by a half-length. It appears she'll have some pace to chase in this one-mile grass test and should be competitive while stepping up in class.

Ashley Anderson: Surprise Sanford (G3) winner #3 Mo Strike (2-1) will make his three-year-old season debut in the Bachelor Stakes at Oaklawn on Saturday and faces a competitive field of eight in the non-graded stakes event. The Uncle Mo colt was last seen finishing far back in fourth to probable Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite Forte in the seven-furlong Hopeful (G1) last September and will cut back to six furlongs, a distance from which he scored a 3 1/2-length victory in the Sanford. Mo Strike will race on Lasix the first time in his first start in more than seven months, and the Brad Cox pupil will get a new rider in Cristian Torres, a 20% winner at Oaklawn this meet. The sophomore has also put in a number of sharp workouts at Keeneland, and appears poised for a commanding victory in his fourth career start.

Who is the horse to fade?

JS: In the second race at Churchill Downs, #8 Cove Blue (2-1) has run well over the track previously, but the eight-year-old did not appear in sharp form when returning from a 10-month layoff recently, faltering early on the front end. I favor others in the seven-furlong allowance, with #6 Gormleys Got Game the top pick at 10-1 on the morning line.

VH: #7 Magic Bubbles (8-5), in the first at Oaklawn Park, is a filly who comes in off a photo-finish loss earlier this month. However, she's shown a tendency to start slow, which might explain the reappearance of blinkers, though they certainly didn't help much in her debut back in February. This obviously isn't a deep field, but a few others in here perhaps have a right to take a more significant step forward than the three-start morning line favorite.  

AA: #8 Chase the Chaos (5-2) was named the slight morning line favorite in the 1 1/16-mile California Derby at Golden Gate, and will return off a layoff of nearly two months after finishing seventh of nine in the San Felipe (G2) on Santa Anita's main track. The Astern three-year-old will return to all-weather here for trainer Ed Moger, who's just a 4% winner in non-graded stakes and an 8% winner with horses coming off a layoff of 46-90 days. Chase the Chaos won two back at today's track in the El Camino Real Derby Feb. 11 when he showed good late kick to edge away in deep stretch when racing 1 1/8 miles, but I think he's vulnerable with the cutback in distance coming off a layoff, so I'll look elsewhere. #6 Jam Session (6-1) has looked good in workouts leading up to his first start at a route distance, and he won two back in his lone try on all-weather when wiring a 5 1/2-furlong sprint at Golden Gate. Mike McCarthy has been red hot this meet (33% winner) and Assael Espinoza (24% winner with routes) will regain the mount. #9 Prince Abu Dhabi (4-1) also has a chance breaking from the outside. The Palace Malice three-year-old is unbeaten in three career starts and got up to win by a nose last out when stretching out to a mile the first time.

What else is worth noting?

JS: I’m against the morning line choices in the seventh race at Oaklawn Park Saturday, tabbing #2 Jamminjl (6-1) in the first start off the claim. The mare ran well for third experiencing a wide trip throughout her first Oaklawn start two weeks ago, and while Jerry Hollendorfer’s overall win rate has dropped over the last 15 months (14%), the Hall of Fame trainer is scoring at a 26% rate first start off the claim from a nearly 70-race sample. Leading rider Cristian Torres sticks with Jamminjl, and she’s eligible to show more Saturday.

VH: The seventh race at Churchill Downs is a maiden special weight that attracted a field of seven three-year-old fillies, but what makes it interesting is that it will be held over the famous 1 1/4-mile Derby course. Heck, even the best of the division will only run nine panels next Friday in the Kentucky Oaks (G1). Some notable broodmares will be represented in the race, including champion Forever Unbridled (#2 Medaglia Forever) and Grade 1 winner Island Sand (#5 Raggity Sand), who won the 1 1/4-mile Delaware H. (G2) back in 2005. 

AA: In addition to the California Derby, Golden Gate Fields will offer five other stakes races on Saturday, including the San Francisco Mile, a Grade 3 turf event for three-year-olds and up. Bryan Station (G3) winner Balnikhov is the 9-5 morning line favorite among the field of nine and will look to bounce back from a seventh-place finish in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) on March 4 at Santa Anita. The four-year-old can rebound off a two-month layoff for Phil D'Amato, an 18% winner in graded stakes, and has looked sharped in morning works at Santa Anita. But the closer may have trouble in his first start at Golden Gate, where the track has favored early speed in one-mile turf races. That makes #6 Lamplighter Jack (8-1) an intriguing upset pick after he romped to a three-length gate-to-wire win in a one-mile allowance last out in his first start with trainer Librado Barocio. The Fed Biz gelding is eligible to improve in his second start off a layoff, and his 94 Brisnet Speed figure is the highest last race speed figure among the field. He's worth a shot in his seventh career turf start, having previously won three of six races on the grass.