Thursday’s Best Bets and Quick Picks: Ward firster looks live

May 16th, 2024

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares best bets and quick picks for Thursday, May 16 at Churchill Downs, Horseshoe Indianapolis, and Finger Lakes, including a first-time starter from the hot Wesley Ward barn.

Today’s special offers from TwinSpires include:

  • Churchill Downs $2,500 Thursday Leaderboard: Place $10+ win wagers at Churchill Downs on Thursday to accumulate points and compete for your share of $2,500 in prizes.
  • 10x Points on Harness Racing: Receive 10x reward points on all harness racing wagers (excluding show bets) on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
  • Hoosier Park $1,000 Late Pick 4 Hit It & Split It: Hit the Late Pick 4 at Hoosier Park on any Thursday in May to win your share of a $1,000 daily prize pool.

Best Bets and Quick Picks

Horseshoe Indianapolis: Race 5: Maiden Special Weight (one mile on turf, 4:15 p.m. ET)

This race was slated to take place over one mile on turf, but due to rain it’s been transferred to one mile and 70 yards on dirt. That should suit morning line favorite #4 Lilmorecraken (4-5) just fine. Last fall, she ran second in the Miss Indiana S. racing one mile and 70 yards over the Horseshoe Indianapolis dirt.

Let’s bet Lilmorecraken on top of a cold exacta using #6 Galoshes (12-1) for second place. Galoshes has shown speed in a pair of Indiana-bred maiden special weights sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs on dirt, finishing fifth and fourth. If she encounters a slower pace while stretching out in distance, she may carry her speed a long way and finish in the top two.


  • #4 Lilmorecraken (4-5)
  • #6 Galoshes (12-1)
  • #3 Kam’s Rockin Gold (8-1)


  • $15 Exacta: 4 with 6

Churchill Downs: Race 2: Maiden Special Weight (five furlongs, 5:29 p.m. ET)

Trainer Wesley Ward has been absolutely on fire debuting juveniles in Kentucky this year, going 9-for-13 (70%). That includes a 2-for-2 record at Churchill Downs.

We’ll bank on Ward to keep his momentum rolling with #2 Empress Julia (2-1), a beautifully bred daughter of champion two-year-old male Uncle Mo out of the stakes-winning juvenile Princesinha Julia. Empress Julia has put together a strong work tab including several bullet three-furlong exercises, and it’s encouraging to note she’ll be ridden by jockey Walter Rodriguez, a 57% winner teaming up with Ward over the last two months.

A win bet is in order.


  • #2 Empress Julia (2-1)
  • #6 Lebowski (7-2)
  • #4 Bob’s Carrot (3-1)


  • $30 to win on #2 Empress Julia

Charles Town: Race 7: $5,000 Claiming (4 1/2 furlongs, 9:49 p.m. ET)

#3 Drinkwiththestars (8-5) is a specialist sprinting 4 1/2 furlongs at Charles Town. He boasts an 18-7-5-2 record over this configuration, which includes three wins from his last five starts in various types of $5,000 claimers.

Drinkwiththestars has lots of early speed (a big benefit since 61% of 4 1/2-furlong sprints at Charles Town are won in gate-to-wire fashion), and his Brisnet Speed ratings are sharp as well. Let’s bet him to win and play him over longshot #4 Missionary (10-1)—who had a troubled trip last time out—in a cold exacta.


  • #3 Drinkwiththestars (8-5)
  • #4 Missionary (10-1)
  • #7 Grand Fiber (10-1)


  • $25 to win on #3 Drinkwiththestars
  • $5 Exacta: 3 with 4
    Total: $30

Good luck!