The Jury: Expert Picks, Bets and Fades for June 29 [Video]

June 27th, 2024

Racing analysts James Scully, Ashley Anderson, and Darin Zoccali give out their best bets and fades for Churchill Downs' closing weekend. Ashley and James offer their thoughts in the written portion below. Be sure to check out Darin's opinions in our on-camera portion as well!

Best Bet for Weekend Racing

James Scully:

#9 Skippylongstocking (5-2) in the Stephen Foster (G1). The early/presser started to come on last fall, recording a five-length win in the 1 1/8-mile Charles Town Classic (G2) and a commendable third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), and the five-year-old horse continued to elevate his game this spring when dominating the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn H. (G2) last out. The two-length margin for the latter is deceiving – Skippylongstocking looked the winner when launching his move to a clear lead on the far turn – and he was flattered when runner-up Highland Falls came back to record a fine win in the Blame (G3) at Churchill Downs. Most dangerous when he can race on or very close to the early lead, Skippylongstocking projects to receive a favorable pace scenario and his tactical ability provides an edge over his main rival, First Mission, who has run his biggest races at shorter distances. Skippylongstocking will burnish his Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) credentials with a frontrunning win.

Ashley Anderson:

#6 Closethegame Sugar (7-2) in the Kelly's Landing S., the 10th race on Churchill's Saturday card. The Girvin four-year-old was last seen winning the six-furlong Aristides S. at Churchill on June 1 and will stretch back out to 6 1/2 furlongs, a distance from which he finished second two back to today's race rival Angkor with a somewhat troubled trip. He'll keep rider Irad Ortiz Jr., who's 2-for-3 with the gelding since picking up the mount, and trainer Adam Rice has been red hot this meet, with a 7-3-2-1 record. Rice is also a 38% winner third start off the layoff and a 24% winner with horses coming off a win. Closethegame Sugar recorded a 104 Brisnet Speed figure last out — the highest last race speed figure among the field — and put in a bullet four-furlong workout on June 19 at Keeneland. I'll back the second choice on the morning line but will note another runner to watch — #8 Bango (6-1), who won this race last year when it was held at Ellis. 

The seven-year-old Greg Foley trainee has 11 victories at Churchill and would become the winningest horse at the track should he get a 12th trip to the winner's circle at Churchill on Saturday. He's 4-for-8 from the distance of 6 1/2 furlongs, but his recent form is a concern. He most recently finished a seven-length fourth in the St. Matthews Overnight S. at the track on May 2.

Top Fade for Weekend Racing


#10 Lemon Muffin (3-1) in the fifth race at Churchill Downs Saturday. Since displaying positional speed in a pair of Oaklawn starts earlier this year, recording a close second in a maiden special weight and an upset win in the Honeybee (G3), the gray filly has lost any tactical ability, racing evenly at the rear of the field in her last three outings. She’ll get bet on the class drop, but Lemon Muffin isn’t the fastest member of the entry-level allowance field, earning Brisnet Speed ratings inferior to several of these foes. Combined with her poor recent form, Lemon Muffin rates as vulnerable.


#8 Pipsy (7-2) in the Tepin S., the finale on Saturday's 12-race card. The Kodiac filly is 3-for-4 lifetime and won last out in the six-furlong Soaring Softly (G3), but she will stretch out to a mile today and has yet to try a route distance. Trainer Will Walden is a 13% winner first time at a route from a sample size of 13 starters, and he's 1-for-7 at Churchill this meet. Pipsy recorded an 87 BRIS figure last out in her first U.S. start, at Belmont at the Big A, and there are a few rivals in the field who posted higher speed figures while also facing slightly tougher competition. Considering Pipsy is racing at a route for the first time off a nearly two-month layoff and has a deep field to contend with, I'll look to beat her in the final race on Saturday.

What Else Is Worth Noting


I view Saturday’s Fleur de Lis (G2) as a big race for #4 Scylla (6-5). If she keeps progressing as expected, the four-year-old filly will look to make a major impact in her division during the second half of the season. Scylla’s first two starts this year were nothing special, a runner-up effort in a Gulfstream allowance and a third in the Doubledogdare (G3) at Keeneland, and it would be an understatement to say she’s improved since then. A brilliant seven-length winner over a solid field of conditioned allowance rivals on the Kentucky Derby (G1) undercard, the Bill Mott trainee followed with a superb 3 1/4-length score in the Shawnee (G3) on June 1.

Idiomatic and Randomized are the top-ranked dirt distaffers outside of California, but they each earned a 96 Brisnet Speed rating when separated by a nose in the Ogden Phipps (G1) last out and neither has been able to register triple-digit figures on a regular basis. Scylla has the potential to run faster races in the future, and I will look for a strong showing in the Fleur de Lis.


On Saturday, Woodbine will host its Canada Day Racing Festival, which features five graded stakes, including the Nassau (G2) and Highlander (G2) on the turf. Mark Casse has a pair of fierce contenders in both races — reigning Canadian Horse of the Year, Fev Rover, won the Nassau last year and will look to defend her title, and Filo di Arianna will attempt to add another graded stakes score in the Highlander. 

Both are morning line favorites in their respective races, but the Highlander came up a bit more competitive. #6 Filo di Arianna (2-1) is 3-for-3 from Woodbine, but he's searching for his first win since the one-mile King Edward (G2) seven starts back. Two back, he was a good second as a 30-1 longshot in the Turf Sprint (G2) on the Kentucky Derby undercard, then he finished seventh in the Jaipur (G1) at Saratoga on June 8. The eight-year-old gelding will go up against two solid closers in #3 Oceanic (4-1) and #9 Witty (6-1). The former most recently won a contentious allowance at Keeneland, where he got up late to beat nine rivals in the 5 1/2-furlong sprint, and breaking from the far outside, Witty will look to get his third win in four starts for Elizabeth Merryman. The five-year-old gelding rallied late to finish a 1 1/2-length second to a next-out winner in the Turf Sprint S. at Pimlico last out, and the slightly longer distance could help him here.