By Richard Rosenblatt
Sure, it’s a huge closing day at Churchill Downs, with four graded-stakes races Saturday featuring 4-5 favorites Maxfield in the $600,000 Stephen Foster (G2) and Letruska in the $300,000 Fleur de Lis (G2).
We will not, however, overlook the $500,000 Ohio Derby (G3) at Thistledown with a slew of not-ready-for-primetime 3-year-olds from the Triple Crown trail.
For a short time, Promise Keeper was Belmont Stakes (G1) possible for trainer Todd Pletcher after a win in the Peter Pan Stakes (G3) on May 8. A change of plans now has him as the 7-2 morning-line favorite in a field of 11 for the 1 1/8-mile 78th running of the Ohio Derby.
Included in the field are King Fury (9-2), a late scratch from the Kentucky Derby (G1) due to a fever; Keepmeinmind (4-1), seventh in the Derby and fourth in the Preakness (G1); Proxy (5-1), who had enough points to run in the Derby but didn’t; and former Bob Baffert trainee Hozier, briefly a Derby contender running for the first time for new trainer Rodolphe Brisset.
Fox Sports’ FS2 will have live racing coverage over the weekend from Churchill Downs and Belmont Park, and other tracks, with Saturday’s timeframe at 12:30-6:30 p.m. ET. TVG also has live racing coverage all weekend.
Post time for the Ohio Derby is set for 5:04 p.m. ET. The weather report is calling for temperatures in the mid-80s with a 40% chance of rain showers.
At Belmont, it’s the $250,000 Mother Goose (G2) for 3-year-old fillies, while the lineup for Churchill calls for the Stephen Foster, the Fleur de Lis, the Wise Dan (G2), the Bashford Manor (G3); a pair of races for 2-year-olds, the War Chant and the Debutante for fillies; and the Tepin.
The Stephen Foster and Fleur de Lis are “Win and You’re In’’ Breeders’ Cup challenge races with the winners earning expenses-paid berths in the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar in November.
A look at Saturday races (all times ET):
Post time: 2:45 p.m. (race 5)
Letruska, considered the nation’s top filly/mare, is the one to beat in a field of five.
Trained by Fausto Gutierrez, the 5-year-old posted a front-running win in the Ogden Phipps (G1) three weeks ago at Belmont. She has won 14 of 18 career starts, including a victory of champion Monomoy Girl in the Apple Blossom (G1) at Oaklawn in April.
“She’s in a good condition to run,” Gutierrez said. “This is a very important race. We’re going step by step for now and this is the next race we had in mind.”
Envoutante, trained by Ken McPeek, is the likely top challenger coming off a 4 ¼-length victory in Shawnee Stakes, a local prep for the Fleur de Lis, on May 29.
Post time: 3:50 p.m. (race 7)
Royal Prince, trained by Brad Cox is the 3-1 morning-line choice in a field of eight. Helium, the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner who ran eighth in the Kentucky Derby is 7-2.
Post time: 4:22 p.m. (race 8)
Ontheonesandtwos, trained by Norm Casse, is the 5-2 morning line favorite with jockey Florent Geroux in the irons. The filly won by 1 3/4 lengths in her debut victory at Churchill on May 13. A field of 10 is entered.
Post time: 4:55 p.m. (race 9)
Norm Casse saddles 3-1 morning line favorite Glacial in a field of 11. Glacial won his first career start under jockey Joe Talamo, who get the call again.
Post time: 5:26 p.m. (race 10)
Set Piece, trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Florent Geroux, is the 3-1 top choice in a field of 10. The 5-year-old gelding coms into the race off two wins in local stakes.
Somelikeithotbrown, trained by Michael Maker, is the second choice at 2-1. The 5-year-old horse won the Dinner Party (G2) at Pimlico on May 15 in his previous start.
Post time: 5:59 p.m. (race 11)
The 4-year-old Maxfield comes into this one off a victory in the Alysheba (G2) two months ago at Churchill Downs. Trained by Brendan Walsh, the multiple graded-stakes winner’s only defeat in seven career starts came in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) on March 6.
“He’s a fit and happy horse,’’ said Walsh. “We’re ready to go and excited to get this race underway.”
The 7-year-old Silver Dust, a five-time graded stakes winner for trainer Bret Calhoun, is one of three co-second choices at 6-1. The others are Warrior’s Charge and Visitant.
Post time: 6:27 p.m. (race 12)
Tobys Heart, trained by Brian Lynch, is the slight favorite over Invincible Gal in a field of 13.
Post time: 4:40 p.m. (race 8)
Unbeaten Always Carina (2-for-2), trained by Chad Brown, makes her stakes debut in a field of five, and is the even-money favorite. Graded stakes winner Clairiere is 9-5 for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Post time 5:04 p.m. (race 11)
Peter Pan winner Promise Keeper tops a field of 11 vying for the winner’s share of $300,000.
Among other 3-year-olds in the field are Keepmeinmind, King Fury, Proxy, and Hozier, who ran second in the Sir Barton Stakes on Preakness Day (May 15) – his last race before being moved from Bob Baffert’s barn to a new trainer.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.