The Jury: Bets and fades for Sept. 30
The Jury has searched far and wide, from Iowa to France and other places in between, to collect their best opinions for an exciting weekend of racing that includes numerous Breeders' Cup preps.
What is your best bet?
James Scully: #5 Trademark (12-1) on the front end in the Lukas Classic (G2) at Churchill Downs. Trademark enters on the upswing for Vicki Oliver, dueling and putting away favored Zozos in the Iselin (G3) before grudgingly giving way to be a close second, and he returns to his favorite oval (3-for-4 at Churchill) Saturday. Trademark ran his best races last fall, recording a fast allowance win at Keeneland and a convincing stakes win under the Twin Spires, and I will look for him to carry his form forward in the Lukas Classic.
Vance Hanson: #9 Air Recruit (5-1) ran into the best juvenile turf sprinter in the country, No Nay Mets, at Colonial Downs last out. He couldn't fare better than a distant third in that 5 1/2-furlong dash, but might be more in his element stretching out to 1 1/16 miles in Saturday's Laurel Futurity. From the high-percentage Arnaud Delacour barn, Air Recruit was precocious enough to win at first asking over a pair of next-out graduates and seemingly wouldn't need to improve a whole lot to make his presence felt here.
Ashley Anderson: #2 Just Like Trista (3-1) in the Donna Reed S., the 13th race at Prairie Meadows on Saturday. The Include four-year-old comes off a 12-length gate-to-wire romp in a one-mile and 70-yard handicap at Prairie Meadows, where she recorded a 92 Brisnet Speed figure, the fastest speed figure at today's distance among the field. Just Like Trista beat a handful of today's rivals last out, and she posted a bullet four-furlong workout ahead of the Donna Reed. Trainer Doug Anderson is winning at a 27% clip, and regular rider Walter De La Cruz will retain the mount. I'll back the second choice on the morning line, who's 3-for-6 at a mile and 70 yards and has five victories at Prairie Meadows.
Who is the horse to fade?
JS: #5 Rebel’s Romance (9-5) in Sunday's Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) at Aqueduct. Loved his progression last season, as the gelding reeled off wins in a handicap at Newmarket, a Group 3 at Goodwood, and a pair of Group 1 German races before rolling to a 2 1/4-length win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), but nothing has come smoothly this year. Rebel’s Romance never got involved when opening the year in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), and he came under an early ride from off the pace in the Bowling Green (G2) last time, eventually clipping heels and losing the rider on the far turn. He does not appear to be in the same form from last year.
VH: #7 More Than Looks (5-2) has done little wrong on turf in recent months, but looks potentially vulnerable in the Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs. Although adaptable to almost any pace scenario, the colt faces some rivals with increasing upside in this one-mile test, while the Cherie DeVaux barn has been a little slow into stride during this short September meet. I'll take a chance on him falling short of victory.
AA: #9 Interstatedaydream (4-5) in the Twixt S. at Laurel. The Brad Cox runner failed as the favorite last out when third in the one-mile Groupie Doll and will stretch back out to 8 1/2 furlongs, a distance from which she's 2-for-6 and has not won at 1 1/16 miles since July 2022. Interstatedaydream will also pick up a new rider in Sheldon Russell and drew the outside post, which may cause her issues as well. I think the morning line favorite is vulnerable against a competitive field of eight rivals and like the chances of Brittany Russell pupil #5 Hybrid Eclipse (7-2), who won a non-graded stakes at Laurel last out, and #1 Malibu Beauty (10-1), an early pacesetter who can benefit from the stretch-out in distance and has looked sharp in workouts ahead of this event.
What else is worth noting?
JS: #2 Law Professor (12-1) will receive the wet conditions he favors when returning from a four-month freshening in Sunday's Woodward (G2). The five-year-old gelding runs his fastest races over wet tracks at Aqueduct, recording a pair of convincing stakes wins and a commendable second to Life Is Good in last year’s Woodward (G1), and he won off a similar layoff last fall. I give Law Professor the edge.
VH: Looking ahead to Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) at Longchamp, Europe's most important weight-for-age test, I like #7 Hukum (5-1) to extend his season win streak to three races following exciting rallies in the Brigadier Gerard (G3) and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (G1). Although contested on soft ground some of his rivals didn't care much for, the King George had an Arc-quality field this year, and Hukum proved narrowly best over returning rival Westover. The expected faster ground in Paris shouldn't pose any challenges, and Hukum has a chance to become a third-generation winner of this event. His sire, Sea the Stars, won in 2009, while the latter's dam, Urban Sea, won 30 years ago this fall.
AA: Churchill Downs' ninth race on Saturday, the Ack Ack (G3), is a Breeders' Cup Win and You're In event that will award a berth to the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1). 2022 Kentucky Derby (G1) also-ran #5 Zozos (6-5) opened as the morning line favorite and is 2-for-2 from a mile, but I'm intrigued by the price on #6 Skyro (10-1), who will switch back to dirt for the first time in four starts. The Brian Lynch trainee will return off an eight-month layoff and has turned in a number of solid works at Churchill this month. The Verrazano gelding won in his lone try at a mile when racing in an allowance optional claimer at Churchill last summer and is 2-for-3 at the track. James Graham will regain the mount and won with Skyro at Churchill in July. I like the price on the five-year-old and will take a shot with the late presser type among this field of seven.