Alysheba Odds & More Churchill Downs Graded Races

The Kentucky Oaks dominates the landscape at Churchill Downs on Friday, but there are plenty of big names drawn by the substantial purses on the stakes-heavy undercard. G1 winners Max Player and Happy Saver take on some improving types in the G2 Alysheba, while the G2 Eight Belles is the stage for a rematch between the in-form pair Matareya and Marissa’s Lady.

The turf contests are, predictably, dominated by trainer Chad Brown, who has the top two in the betting market for both the G2 Edgewood – Dolce Zel and Spicer – and the G3 Modesty with the unbeaten Bleecker Street and Fluffy Socks.

Alysheba Stakes

Grade 2, $500,000, 1m 1/2f, 4yo+

There is a distinct separation in the Alysheba between older horses who have probably peaked and four-year-olds who are rising rapidly through the ranks, and their clash makes for an intriguing contest.

The elder statesmen are led by Max Player and Happy Save, old rivals who are locking horns for the third time, with the score 2-0 in favor of Max Player. The races in question were the G2 Suburban at Belmont Park, won by Max Player with Happy Saver two and three-quarter lengths back in third, and the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Saratoga, in which they filled out the exacta with Max Player four lengths clear at the wire.

That suggests Max Player is simply the better of the two, although he is coming off an absolute shocker when finishing last of eight in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, barely raising a gallop all the way around. Happy Saver, on the other hand, signed off last year when beaten a half-length in the G1 Clark here over a mile-eighth – boxcar longshot Militarist fourth, beaten a further four and a quarter lengths – and is probably better suited by today’s distance, whereas Max Player has been campaigned over further.

The odds imply that the best of the younger brigade is Olympiad , who has improved in leaps and bounds since the turn of the year and completed a three-timer with a thoroughly dominant performance in the G2 New Orleans Classic over a mile-eighth at the Fair Grounds, pressing the pace before cruising in by two lengths.

He remains on the upgrade, as does the improving four-year-old Fulsome, winner of the G3 Matt Winn over course and distance almost a year ago. Fulsome’s rate of progress has been less dramatic, but on the evidence of his recent score in the G3 Oaklawn Mile, when he rallied strongly to pinch it by a neck, there is still plenty to come. That effort came off a six-month layoff and will have sharpened him up nicely.

Another last-time-out winner is Weyburn, who won a Gulfstream Park stakes over seven furlongs in some style, although the value of the form is debatable. He and Fulsome had their previous starts in the G1 Pennsylvania Derby, running fourth and eighth, and Weyburn should also move up from his first start after a six-month absence.

West-coast shipper Soy Tapatio has yet to prove he belongs in stakes company – last of seven in the G1 Santa Anita Handicap on his only start above allowance level – and old-timer Title Ready may be losing his zip. He was fifth in this race in 2020 and there’s no reason why he should do any better two years further down the line.

HorseJockeyHorse Racing Odds courtesy of JazzSports
Max PlayerRicardo Santana, Jr.+250
WeyburnTyler Gaffalione+500
MilitaristJose L. Ortiz+2000
Soy TapatioFlavien Prat+1500
OlympiadJunior Alvarado+180
FulsomeFlorent Geroux+800
Happy SaverIrad Ortiz, Jr.+350
Title ReadyJohn R. Velazquez+2000

Alysheba Betting Prediction 

The two leading older horses look vulnerable against a trio of improving four-year-olds, and FULSOME is the choice to continue his progress after winning a G3 on his first start for six months.

Eight Belles Stakes

Grade 2, $500,000, 7f, 3yo fillies

Several of the contenders for the Eight Belles once had pretensions of making the gate for the Kentucky Oaks, but either lack of stamina or lack of class mean they return to sprinting at a slightly lower level.

They include Ain’t Easy and Awake At Midnyte , who prowled the west-coast beat until their shortcomings became obvious. Ain’t Easy ran third in the G3 Santa Ysabel and the G2 Santa Anita Oaks at the Los Angeles track, both at a mile-sixteenth, and should be suited by cutting back on the evidence of those two performances. Awake At Midnyte was narrowly beaten in the G2 Santa Ynez over today’s distance at Santa Anita in January, but was then blown away by Nest in the G1 Ashland at Keeneland and will also be happier coming back below a mile.

Class was the issue for G3 Schuylerville winner Pretty Birdie , who sank without trace in the G1 Spinaway before bouncing back to winning form at Oaklawn Park in March, going gate to wire in a six-furlong stakes in which G2 Adirondack winner Wicked Halo was third, beaten three lengths. Today’s extra yardage isn’t guaranteed to suit.

Four-time stakes-winner Marissa’s Lady has won three of those stakes on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park and beat very little on her most recent appearance. More importantly, though, last November she won a stakes here over six and a half on the main track, beating Matareya by a length with Sweet Dani Girl two and a half lengths back in third.

Both placed horses have since advertised the value of that form, Matareya when hosing her rivals by eight and a half lengths in the G3 Beaumont over seven furlongs at Keeneland last month, and Sweet Dani Girl – to a lesser extent – when fourth behind leading Oaks hope Kathleen O. in the G2 Davona Dale over a mile at Gulfstream Park. Matareya has obviously improved since November but Marissa’s Lady certainly hasn’t stood still, and this in-between distance – her only defeat came at a mile – could prove ideal.

This could be too tough a task for both Keeneland allowance winner Sweet As Pie, who has missed the board on both tries in stakes company, and Oaklawn maiden winner Lac Vieux Desert, but Gerrymander was a clear second-best behind Echo Zulu in the G1 Frizette at Belmont Park, before leading at every call to take a stakes over a mile at the same track – Oaks favourite Nest back in third – and is likely to make her presence felt despite a six-month absence from the racecourse.

HorseJockeyHorse Racing Odds courtesy of JazzSports
Sweet as PieLuis Saez+1200
Pretty BirdieFlorent Geroux+400
Marissa’s LadyRafael Bejarano+350
Ain’t EasyTyler Gaffalione+1200
Wicked HaloIrad Ortiz, Jr.+1000
GerrymanderJoel Rosario+800
Lac Vieux DesertDavid Cohen+3000
MatareyaFlavien Prat+250
Awake At MidnyteMario Gutierrez+1500
Sweet Dani GirlJose L. Ortiz+600

Eight Belles Top Choice

The improvement shown by Matareya gives her every chance but is also a pointer to MARISSA’S LADY, who beat her in a stakes here in November and has been in hot form ever since.

Edgewood Stakes

Grade 2, $500,000, 1m 1/2f turf, 3yo fillies

Chad Brown is often the place to start in this type of race, but he sets bettors a puzzle in the Edgewood by putting three in the gate, comprising the first three on the morning-line. If Brown has the one, which one?

Two of his contenders have met before, in the mile-sixteenth G3 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs in March in which Dolce Zel and Spicer filled out the exacta, separated by a head when Spicer appeared to have the race won until Dolce Zel rallied past her to grab the dollars on the line.

Spicer was slight favourite that day as Dolce Zel was making her first start in the US and her first for five months, issues she easily overcame. Spicer has not run since but Dolce Zel took a hike in class for the G2 Appalachian at Keeneland last month, in which she showed improvement despite coming up a length and three-quarters short of the winner Spendarella. Behind her were stakes winner Kneesnhips, fourth beaten a further three lengths, and An Agent Mistake, three-quarters of a length and one place back.

The third member of Brown’s battalion is McKulick a Saratoga maiden winner who hasn’t been seen since running third in the G2 Miss Grillo over a mile-sixteenth at Belmont Park seven months ago. It wasn’t the hottest of races and she has a long layoff to overcome, although that is often not a concern for Brown runners.

Former Kentucky Oaks possible Dream Lith swerves the spring classic for an easier spot after appearing a cut below in the G2 Rachel Alexandra at the Fair Grounds and the G3 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park. Her victory over course and distance in the G2 Golden Rod in November reads well, but there’s a fair chance she simply hasn’t progressed from two to three and there’s a question mark about this first attempt on turf.

Brendan Walsh sends two longshots, the most promising being My Philly Twirl, who is riding a three-race winning streak after making her stakes breakthrough at Gulfstream Park over a mile-sixteenth last month, scrambling home by a head with Beechnut Trophy a nose back in third on her own stakes debut. Walsh’s other runner New Year’s Eve was third behind Kneesnhips, beaten a length and a quarter, on her stakes debut at the Fair Grounds in March.

The field is completed by Tap Dancing Lady, runner-up to Oaks longshot Candy Raid in the Bourbonette Oaks on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park last month. She is also making her debut on the weeds.

HorseJockeyHorse Racing Odds courtesy of JazzSports
Tap Dancing LadyAlbin Jimenez+2000
My Philly TwirlJulien R. Leparoux+1000
McKulick (GB)Flavien Prat+350
KneesnhipsJames Graham+1200
Dolce Zel (FR)Irad Ortiz, Jr.+250
An Agent MistakeMario Gutierrez+1500
Beechnut TrophyTyler Gaffalione+1000
SpicerJose L. Ortiz+300
New Year’s EveLuis Saez+1200
Dream LithRamon A. Vazquez+800

Edgewood Stakes Betting Prediction

It’s probably wise to stick with the Chad Brown trio, and although there may not be much between DOLCE ZEL and Spicer, the former can confirm the placings from their recent encounter.

Modesty Stakes

Grade 3, $250,000, 1m 1f turf, 4yo+ fillies/mares

See above for the skinny on the Chad Brown factor, and he brings the two morning-line favourites to the Modesty, a race formerly run at now-defunct Arlington Park and now with a new home under the twin spires.

Brown’s leading hope is the unbeaten Bleecker Street, who is five-for-five and getting better all the time. On her most recent start she went back-to-front in the G2 Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs, passing six horses from the turn and clearing away to win by an authoritative three and three-quarter lengths. Being so lightly raced, there’s huge scope for improvement, and she gets her chance on the big stage today after gaining an education at smaller tracks.

Her barnmate Fluffy Socks has been around the block more often and has already made a mark at the highest level, finishing third in the G1 Del Mar Oaks and in the G1 American Oaks at Santa Anita. In between times she won the G2 Sands Point at Belmont Park in October and will move up for her first start of 2022, when runner-up to Curly Ruth in an allowance at Keeneland, beaten three-quarters of a length but a half-length ahead of Pass The Plate in third.

That may have been a career best for Curly Ruth, who is zero-for-two in stakes, but – along with recent Fair Grounds stakes-winner Pass The Plate – she could find this company too hot.

She Can’t Sing has come into her own at the Fair Grounds this winter, making her stakes breakthrough in February and then doubling up in another stakes the following month, when she dug deep over a mile-sixteenth to take the spoils by a length and a quarter, with Lake Lucerne beaten three and a quarter lengths into fourth and Hendy Woods another length back in sixth. She’s zero-for-three at Graded level but in her current form deserves another chance.

So does Hendy Woods, who was nicely progressive last year although didn’t seem ready to take on G1 fillies in the First Lady at Keeneland in October, finishing a never-in-it tenth. If that flat effort behind She Can’t Sing can be forgiven, she will be of interest to exotics players.

Keeneland allowance winner Stand Tall is cutting right back from a mile and a half and has been comfortably beaten on both her starts in stakes, both at Kentucky Downs. She has a mountain to climb in respect of class and speed, while Mona Stella was easily outrun by the classy Shifty She in a stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in March, and won’t find today’s job any easier.

HorseJockeyHorse Racing Odds courtesy of JazzSports
Fluffy SocksIrad Ortiz, Jr.+300
Stand TallFlorent Geroux+1200
Mona StellaTyler Gaffalione+3000
She Can’t SingJavier Castellano+800
Lake LucerneMickael Barzalona+1500
Hendy WoodsJose L. Ortiz+500
Curly RuthLuis Saez+600
Bleecker StreetFlavien Prat+180
Pass the PlateBrian Joseph Hernandez, Jr.+800

Modesty Stakes Top Pick

This is a straightforward opportunity for BLEECKER STREET to stretch her unbeaten run to six, as she already has a class edge over most of her rivals and there is further improvement to come.

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