The Jury: Bets and fades for May 27

May 26th, 2023

James Scully, Vance Hanson, and Ashley Anderson are back with opinions and insight on the first half of the Memorial Day weekend.

What is your best bet?

James Scully: Cusp (8-1) in the 11th race at Churchill Downs on Saturday. The $725,000 two-year-old purchase appears to be training forwardly for his debut, recording six workouts, including the last five at five furlongs, over the last 42 days. Out of a stakes winner, the three-year-old colt counts multiple Grade 2 winner Travel Column, who won her career debut sprinting at Churchill Downs by 4 1/4 lengths, as a half-sister, and sire City of Light has produced three stakes winners this year in his second season at stud. Paulo Lobo is off to a good start at Churchill Downs this meet, heโ€™s combined with Gerardo Corrales to win six of their last 22 starts, and I'll tab Cusp in his career debut.

Vance Hanson: #2 Alva Starr (4-1) appears in a good spot to pass her N1X allowance condition in the ninth race at Churchill Downs. A half-sister to the graded-quality types Cilla and Club Car, Alva Starr won at first asking last September at Delaware Park and then was an effective and clear second facing similar at Oaklawn Park on May 5, her first start in eight months. With a modest step forward second off the bench, she'll be tough to beat.

Ashley Anderson: In the sixth race on Santa Anita's Saturday card, #5 Flying Drummer (4-1) will make his first start in more than a year for Bob Baffert, a 28% winner with horses coming off a layoff of 90 days or more. The Gun Runner son graduated in his fourth career start when dominating by 5 1/2 lengths at todayโ€™s distance back on Dec. 31 in a maiden special weight, after he finished far back in fifth in the American Pharoah (G1) on Oct. 1. For his seasonal bow, the gray colt will race on Lasix the first time, a winning move for Baffert 38% of the time. Juan Hernandez will stay in the saddle and wins at a 33% rate with routes. Flying Drummer also posted a bullet 45-second four-furlong workout on May 20, indicating he's sharp and ready for his four-year-old debut.

Who is the horse to fade?

JS: #4 Inflation Adjusted (2-1) in the ninth race at Belmont Park on Saturday. The four-year-old has recorded three non-threatening placings from his last four starts, a pair of seconds and a third, and the last two wins came at 1 1/16 miles. He figures to be overbet again and appears vulnerable on the stretch out to 1 3/8 miles at this level.

VH: The seventh race at Churchill Downs might finally be the spot #6 Forever After All (7-5) can belatedly graduate in, but I'm not going to bet on it. The four-year-old has already had seven opportunities to break her maiden, and has settled for second in five of them. Again, this is not a deeply contentious group she's facing, but the odds will be miserly on a filly with a severe case of seconditis and whose connections have started the meet cool.

AA: #10 Sparkle Blue (7-2) was named the lukewarm morning line favorite in the 1 1/2-mile Keertana S. at Churchill. The Hard Spun filly will drop in class after finishing sixth in the Modesty (G3) last out at the same track on May 5, but I think she's vulnerable among a talented field of 12 here. Trainer Graham Motion is just 1-for-10 to start the meet, and the four-year-old will race under a new jockey in Vincent Cheminaud. Sparkle Blue is 3-for-8 on turf but has never stretched out to 12 furlongs. I'll stand against the favorite and back #4 Sinfiltre (9-2), who wired a 1 1/2-mile allowance at Keeneland last out for Todd Pletcher. The Uncle Mo filly will also get hot jockey Luis Saez in the saddle. #7 Lovely Princess (5-1) is intriguing as well in her second start off the layoff for Kenny McPeek, a 14% winner this meet. Regular rider Brian Hernandez will retain the mount, and the Twirling Candy filly is 3-for-6 on turf.

What else is worth noting?

JS: I respect Ashley, but will take a stand against with #10 Sparkle Blue (7-2) in the Keertana S. The four-year-old filly will make her second start of the year following an even effort in the Modesty, one in which she didn't settle early before coming up empty, and that was a solid field on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. Sparkle Blue will show more Saturday. She concluded 2022 in encouraging fashion, recording a convincing win in the Valley View (G3) at Keeneland and a close third in the 1 1/4-mile American Oaks (G1) at Santa Anita, and I like the stretch out to 1 1/2 miles.

VH: Looking ahead to Sunday, the star power will be out in a pair of Group 1 features at the Curragh in Ireland. In the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1), odds-on favorite Tahiyra will look to bounce back from an upset loss in the English equivalent at Newmarket in her season debut earlier this month. Her competition includes Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) winner Meditate, but Tahiyra should take care of business and it will be exciting to see her possibly tackle males later this season.

The Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) has attracted a stellar group of older horses. Irish Champion (G1) winner Luxembourg faces for a second time Vadeni, who captured the French Derby (G1) and Eclipse (G1) last summer before running third in the Irish Champion and a close second in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1). The third strong wheel is Bay Bridge, winner of last fall's Champion (G1) at Ascot.

AA: The seven-furlong Soaring Softly (G3) drew a small but mighty field for Saturday's seventh race at Belmont. #2 Love Appeals (6-5) was named a heavy morning line favorite, after romping to a 4 3/4-length win in an allowance optional claimer at Aqueduct, but she will face some steep competition from a pair of Chad Brown runners, along with stablemate #4 Queen Picasso (5-1), who makes her stakes debut following a win in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on turf. Brown pupil #1 Lady Beth (7-2) has never raced on the grass, as her debut in a maiden special weight at Gulfstream was taken off the turf. The Hard Spun filly won that mile-and-70-yard event by four lengths and will get a rider switch to Flavien Prat, a 25% winner this meet and 15% winner on turf, while breaking from the rail post, just inside of Love Appeals.

However, I will look to beat the morning line favorite with the other Brown runner in the field, #6 Senior Prank (6-1). The Into Mischief three-year-old finished fourth to Love Appeals last out but may show more in her second turf start. She'll also get a new rider in Irad Ortiz Jr., a 30% winner at Belmont and 27% winner on turf, in her second start off a layoff. Senior Prank will break from the outside and will look to get out front early and lead all the way to the wire.