The Jury: Bets and fades for Sept. 16

September 15th, 2023

The Jury reconvenes this week to deliberate the action at Churchill Downs, with a little international observation about Canada and England sprinkled in.

What is your best bet?

James Scully: #1 Empire Island (5-1) in the seventh race at Churchill Downs Saturday. After recording several eye-catching works, the two-year-old filly overcame a slow start to capture her career debut at Saratoga on Aug. 6. The Norm Casse-trained daughter of Classic Empire split horses in the stretch to win going away by nearly a length, and the race came back fast. Empire Island came back to record a half-mile bullet work at Churchill in preparation, and I expect to see her keep progressing with a strong showing.

Vance Hanson: The final classic of the British season, the St Leger (G1) at Doncaster, has (at least) two fascinating storylines. It wall mark the final British classic ride for the retiring Frankie Dettori, who rides Arrest, and King Charles III will be represented by Desert Hero, who has a strong chance to give the monarch his first classic since ascending to the throne a year ago. I hope those two take a disproportionate amount of action, because #4 Continuous (4-1) is my selection. The Coolmore-owned colt has shown rapid improvement throughout the season, and took his game to a new level last time with an authoritative win in the Great Voltigeur (G2) at York. A similar trip over this slightly longer distance would make him very dangerous.

Ashley Anderson: #3 Mischievousness (8-1) in Saturday's third race at Churchill, a maiden special weight for two-year-old fillies. The Michelle Lovell pupil is by current leading first-crop sire Maximus Mischief, whose first-time starters are winning at a 28% rate, and she's out of a dam who has produced three winners from four starters, including a stakes winner. Lovell is also a 20% winner with horses debuting at the maiden special weight level, and Mischievousness posted a number of solid workouts ahead of her debut. I'll take a shot with the price but include #2 Plagne Champagne (6-1) and #10 Life Advice (4-1), plus also-eligibles #13 Pin Up Betty (4-1) and #14 Almostgone Rocket (7-2) if they draw in, in my horizontal wagers.

Who is the horse to fade?

JS: #4 Search Results (3-1) in the Locust Grove (G3) at Churchill Downs. The five-year-old mare won four of her first five career starts in 2021, and Search Results recorded two wins early last season, but she hasn’t looked like the same performer since. The losing streak reached five with a disappointing third in the July 22 Molly Pitcher (G3) at odds-on, and Search Results has shown the willingness to race evenly in second or third throughout her recent outings.

VH: Godolphin and trainer Charlie Appleby have dominated Grade 1 turf events at Woodbine in recent years, but I'm not sold on #1 Dazzling Star (3-1) as their entry in the Natalma (G1). While she would be helped if some of her serious domestic opposition start in the Summer (G1), for which some were cross-entered, Dazzling Star didn't turn heads when fourth as a mild favorite in the Princess Margaret (G3) at Ascot in late July. The trio that finished ahead of her are a collective 0-for-4 since, and so far it's been a good thing to take a stand against a stable that's generally had a down season on both sides of the Atlantic.

AA: #9 Hot Beach (7-2) in the Pocahontas (G3). The Omaha Beach filly beat today's race rival and third-place finisher #7 Youalmosthadme (2-1) and second-place runner #3 Riperton (12-1) in the seven-furlong Debutante S. at Ellis Park as the 2-1 second choice. The Brian Lynch trainee will stretch out to a mile for the first time but may have trouble breaking from the outside post, and Lynch is just a 9% winner with horses racing at a route for the first time. Youalmosthadme has a chance to rebound from her lone loss in three starts after she stumbled at the start, but like James, I see debut winner #1 Empire Island (5-1) as an intriguing filly for Norm Casse in her first try at a route, and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. is 7-for-9 paired with Casse over the last 60 days. 

What else is worth noting?

JS: Steve Asmussen has a contingent of classy female sprinters angling toward the Breeders’ Cup, and he’s managed to keep Echo Zulu, Society, and Wicked Halo separate all year. As a result, Wicked Halo has been out of the mainstream since recording a pair of respectable seconds in the Derby City Distaff (G1) and Bed o’ Roses (G2) in May and June, dropping down in class to win the Twin Bridges S. at Ellis Park on July 23. And the four-year-old filly will prep in another listed stakes on Saturday, the Open Mind S. at Churchill Downs. I bring up Wicked Halo because she got good last fall, reeling off four consecutive stakes wins before a third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1), and the four-year-old filly may have more to offer this fall.

VH: #9 Patriot Spirit (7-2) is an intriguing entry in the Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs, which kicks off the road to the 2024 Kentucky Derby (G1). The son of Constitution and graded stakes winner Mistical Plan won with ease on debut at Colonial Downs, scoring by six lengths going seven furlongs. The step up to a mile in the Iroquois surely isn't going to hurt, and he's turned in a dazzling five-furlong breeze (:58) in the interim.

AA: #4 Bango (1-1) will go for a record-tying 11th victory at Churchill Downs in the six-furlong Louisville Thoroughbred Society S. on Saturday. The Congrats six-year-old is the second choice on the morning line but will have an excellent shot of making history while racing at a distance from which he owns a 15-8-2-1 record. Last out, Bango beat next-out winner Marsalis by half a length in the 6 1/2-furlong Kelly’s Landing S., a race originally scheduled for Churchill before the second half of the spring meet was moved to Ellis Park. Trainer Greg Foley is a 25% winner in non-graded stakes, and Tyler Gaffalione, the second-leading rider last meet, will retain the mount. Gaffalione guided Bango to a five-length romp three back in the St. Matthews Overnight S. at Churchill on May 4, and Gaffalione has reached the winner's circle in his last four aboard Bango.