By Noel Michaels
Saturday’s loaded 11-race card at Churchill Downs is headlined by a $500,000 guaranteed-pool Pick 5, which starts in Race 7 and is bookended by the two stakes races on the card, the Winning Colors (G3) and Race 11, the Mint Julep (G3). Here is a closer look at handicapping Churchill’s late Pick 5 on Saturday.
The Pick 5 sequence starts out with the co-featured Winning Colors Stakes, and there appear to be three standouts, #2 Break Even (9-5), #7 Spiced Perfection (7-2), and #8 Mia Mischief. It’s hard to go against Break Even, who has won seven of nine career starts and is 4-for-5 at this distance, with the lone loss being last summer’s Prioress (G1) at Saratoga. She’s loaded with speed and will be tough to catch. Spiced Perfection has won graded stakes in two of her last four outings, including last fall’s TCA (G3) at Keeneland at this 6-furlong distance, which came off a similar layoff. The actual morning-line favorite in the race is Mia Mischief, who has won big in three races in a row dating back to last fall and also beat Covfefe on this track last summer at 6 furlongs. The Grade 1 winner is in perhaps her career-best form. Tough to see someone other than one of this trio winning.
This is a maiden race at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. Todd Pletcher’s morning-line favorite #9 Ashiham (8-5) comes off a second-place finish at Gulfstream and looks good, but he’s far from a lock in this race where he stretches out for the first time from 7 furlongs to a route distance. So we should use some more horses here, and perhaps the other most likely winner is #7 Bear Alley (7-2), who ran back-to-back route seconds at Gulfstream in his last two outings, including one on turf and one on the main track. There are tons of plodders, and Bear Alley’s speed will be a valuable asset. From a pace standpoint, the same should be true of #8 Oceanic (15-1), who will add a ton of value on multi-race tickets at good odds if he can beat these. His lone outing so far was a second-place finish in his 6-furlong career debut at Tampa, but he should benefit from this stretch out and will be forwardly placed on or near the lead.
The 5 ½-furlong turf sprint is another race that looks wide open and could be ripe for an upset, and that upsetter could be #5 I’llhandalthecash (10-1), trained by underrated high-ROI trainer Raymond Handal. She won a tough Saratoga turf sprint at this distance last summer and was not embarrassed most recently when charging late and beaten just 2 ½ lengths in a turf sprint stakes at 5 furlongs. Owns good turf sprint figs, can stalk or rally, and offers great value on the morning line. The other most interesting horse in the field is #11 Dixieincandyland (9-2), who goes out for excellent turf sprint trainer Eddie Kenneally with Joel Rosario aboard, who won on the horse last time with a strong stalking move to top allowance horses at 5 furlongs. This horse seems to improve in every race and drilled a bullet at Churchill last week to indicate continued fitness. Go ahead and also use the entry, #1 Queen of Spades and #1a Originator. They’re a solid two-for-one offer and each of them has a shot based on their best efforts.
This is a wide-open allowance optional claiming route with several contenders, but instead of letting this leg swell the cost of the Pick 5 ticket, it may be wise to take a stand with perhaps the two most likely winners, #10 Gun It (3-1) and #7 Fearless (2-1). Gun It would be easier to take a stand with if he had drawn a better post, but even from the outside he’ll have a big chance to beat these based on his stakes efforts this winter at Fair Grounds, including a third in the Louisiana Stakes (G3) and a second in the Mineshaft (G3). He never got comfortable when rated into submission last out in the New Orleans (G2), but perhaps the switch today to Rosario will prove to be enough to do the trick. If not, the morning-line favorite, Fearless, certainly looks tough to poke holes in. Fearless earned a strong speed figure when second last time out at Oaklawn, and wasn’t embarrassed when sixth in the New Orleans (G2) behind By My Standards.
It will be difficult to feel comfortable heading into the last leg of the Pick 5 sequence with fewer than all four of the prime contenders in the race, but it is possible to go the budget route here and just use the favorite. From the rail, #1 Juliet Foxtrot (5-2) makes her 2020 debut off a six-month layoff, but had been knocking on the door versus the likes of Got Stormy and Uni when hitting the board against Grade 1 competition in Keeneland’s First Lady and Del Mar’s Matriarch when last seen at the races last fall. Has won on this course, has won off a layoff, and never runs a bad race.
If you want to spend some more money and try to knock-off the favorite and bump-up the value of your tickets, a great option is #14 Mitchell Road (10-1), who is so high on the morning line only because of her post position out in the parking lot. The post is no good, but in this case the damage should be minimal because she has speed and all the horses directly to her inside do not, which should allow her to get over in time and save some ground into the first turn. In that scarier, she’s in good form for trainer Bill Mott and can’t be overlooked. The #6 Nay Lady Nay (4-1) won back-to-back stakes for Chad Brown last fall and even though she’s been sidelined for six months, Brown gets ‘em ready to go with regularity off those kinds of layoffs. Finally, #2 Beau Recall has been no worse than second in seven races in a row including Grade 1 seconds in the Just a Game at Saratoga and the Rodeo Drive at Santa Anita. She’s been off since September and is questionable based only on that, not based on her form or ability which is definitely good enough to beat these.
Let’s take a solid swing at this Pick 5 by going 3 x 3 x 3 x 2 x 4 for a .50 denomination, which will result in a ticket costing $108. Use #2 Break Even, #7 Spiced Perfection, and #8 Mia Mischief in Race 7, and then #7 Bear Alley, #8 Oceanic, and #9 Ashiham in the second leg, with the #1 entry plus #5 I’llhandalthecash and #11 Dixieincandyland in the third leg. Go two deep in the fourth leg with #7 Fearless and #10 Gun It, and then round-out the Pick 5 in the final leg with #1 Juliet Foxtrot, #2 Beau Recall, #6 Nay Lady Nay, and #14 Mitchell Road.
Here are the numbers:
2, 7, 8 / 7, 8, 9 / 1, 5, 11 / 7, 10 / 1, 2, 6, 14 x 50-cents = $108
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.