Churchill Downs Stakes & More Derby Day Dirt Races

Class comes to the fore on the main-track undercard of the Kentucky Derby, with two Breeders’ Cup winners strutting their stuff at Churchill Downs on Saturday. The ‘people’s horse’ Cody’s Wish returns to action in the G1 Churchill Downs Stakes and the prolific Goodnight Olive goes for win number eight in the G1 Derby City Distaff – they’re both odds-on, and a much more competitive field lines up for the G2 Pat Day Mile, full of former Derby wannabes such as Echo Again, Fort Bragg, Curly Jack and General Jim.

Churchill Downs

G1, $750,000, 7f dirt, 4yo+, 4.31pm ET

There are bigger things in store on Kentucky Derby day at Churchill Downs, but there won’t be any more celebrated, more popular horse than the one who’ll go off a heavy favourite for the Churchill Downs Stakes, the marquee event on Saturday’s undercard.

The story of Cody’s Wish (4-5) is widely and well known, the five-year-old’s unearthly relationship with disabled teenager Cody Dorman the stuff of happy tears and Hollywood drama. But don’t lose sight of the fact that Cody’s Wish is a real top-notcher, seven-for-11 and never off the board, unbeaten in four at Churchill Downs, winner of the G1 Forego at Saratoga over seven furlongs and the G1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland.

He battled bravely to run down Cyberknife and win by a head at the Breeders’ Cup, and today’s shorter distance will be fine as long as there’s pace to run at, which is almost certain. He has a major class edge and may well need it to see off Endorsed (5-1), who has developed a new lease of life at the age of seven, winning his last three starts – all at Gulfstream Park – after a 23-race losing run.

He turned back the classy Charge It to win the G2 Gulfstream Park Mile in March, with Steal Sunshine (30-1) fifth, beaten six lengths, and won’t mind the cutback.

This time last year White Abarrio (6-1) was a 15-1 contender for the Kentucky Derby itself, but he never showed, finished 16th, and has still never won away from Gulfstream, which is a habit that’s hard to overlook. He bagged his fifth win there when hosing his rivals by four and a half lengths in a seven-furlong allowance in March, his first success for almost a year, but can he do it anywhere else?

Tejano Twist (6-1) has won four of his last six starts, including the G3 Whitmore at Oaklawn Park over six furlongs, but was comfortably beaten when third in the G3 Count Fleet Sprint over the same course and distance and could find today’s seventh furlong beyond his reach, especially with proven stayers in the mix.

The trifecta from the seven-furlong G3 Commonwealth at Keeneland last month renews acquaintance, after Here Mi Song (30-1) produced a performance out of nowhere to beat Hoist The Gold (30-1) by a neck, with two and three-quarter lengths back to Get Her Number (12-1). That was Here Mi Song’s stakes breakthrough and a huge step up on his previous body of work, while Hoist The Gold is two-for-18 lifetime and winless in 11 starts, so it would be unwise to put too much faith in the form.

Get Her Number’s barnmate CZ Rocket (10-1) has twice been runner-up in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, but seven furlongs is a step too far at this level of competition and a tough ask at the age of nine.

Churchill Downs Stakes Odds & Betting Pick

It’s not often the heart and the head are in sync, but the immensely popular CODY’S WISH has a big class edge and can extend his unbeaten record at this track to five.

HorseJockeyOdds by Jazzsports
White AbarrioPaco Lopez+600
C Z RocketFlavien Prat+1000
Here Mi SongAlex Achard+3000
Hoist the GoldLuis Saez+3000
Get Her NumberJoel Rosario+1200
Tejano TwistChris Landeros+600
Cody’s WishJunior Alvarado-125
Fortin HillGerardo Corrales+2000
Sir Alfred JamesRafael Bejarano+5000
EndorsedTyler Gaffalione+500
Steal SunshineIrad Ortiz, Jr.+3000

Derby City Distaff

G1, $750,000, 7f dirt, 4yo+ females, 12.04pm ET

The Derby City Distaff has drawn the shortest field of the whole afternoon, but it’s full of quality and – like the Churchill Downs Stakes – is the stage for an odds-on favourite who won at last year’s Breeders’ Cup.

On this occasion it’s the incredible Goodnight Olive (4-5), who is unbeaten in seven starts since finishing runner-up on debut, including a dominant score in the G1 Ballerina over seven furlongs at Saratoga – with Travel Column (15-1) eight lengths back in fourth – and the G1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint over seven at Keeneland, making it look easy when cruising home by two and a half lengths, with Wicked Halo (3-1) another length back in third.

Goodnight Olive was set a straightforward task for her first run of 2023 and accomplished it in comfort, beating four rivals in the seven-furlong G1 Madison back at Keeneland. That will have put an edge on her and she’s head and shoulders above the rest of the division at the moment.

Wicked Halo, whose defeat at the hands of Goodnight Olive is the only reverse in her last six starts, including the six-furlong G2 Prioress at Saratoga and the G2 Raven Run at Keeneland over seven furlongs, tuned up for this in a virtual match with Matareya (7-2) for a six-furlong stakes at Oaklawn Park in March, when she beat that filly by three-quarters of a length with the rest nowhere.

She’ll appreciate stretching out again, as will Matareya, who won the G1 Eight Belles over course and distance on this weekend last year – Wicked Halo third – and followed up in a poor race for the G1 Acorn at Belmont Park over a mile. This pair are closely matched but need to move up to threaten the favourite.

It’s already been a good year for Hot And Sultry (6-1), who made her stakes breakthrough over six furlongs at Oaklawn in January and didn’t look out of place in the G1 Apple Blossom over a mile-sixteenth at the same circuit last time, when she cut out the fractions but had no response to the high-class Clairiere and Secret Oath when things got busy.

It’s debatable whether she wants to cut back again, while Delta Downs stakes-winner My Destiny (20-1) is hard to fancy given this colossal class hike.

Derby City Distaff Odds & Betting Prediction

Seven from eight and three G1 wins tells its own story, and the magnificent GOODNIGHT OLIVE should have no problem extending her winning streak to eight.

HorseJockeyOdds by Jazzsports
Hot and SultryJoel Rosario+600
Goodnight OliveIrad Ortiz, Jr.-125
Wicked HaloTyler Gaffalione+300
Travel ColumnGerardo Corrales+1500
MatareyaFlavien Prat+350
My DestinyReylu Gutierrez+2000

Pat Day Mile

G2, $500,000, 1m dirt, 3yo, 2.46pm ET

If the dice had rolled a different way, half the field in the Pat Day Mile could have been running four races later in the Kentucky Derby, but this is not a bad consolation and a full field gives bettors plenty to puzzle over.

Steve Asmussen, who won this with crack speedster Jackie’s Warrior in 2021, has two strong contenders with Echo Again (7-2) preferred by the odds-setters. This colt’s formline is all over the place, with an impressive debut win followed by three very disappointing showings in stakes grade, but he pulled himself together to win an allowance over a mile at Oaklawn Park last time – not a strong race, admittedly – and his position in the market appears dictated by his reputation.

His barnmate Gun Pilot (5-1) made no show when seventh in the G2 Rebel at Oaklawn, with Frosted Departure (20-1) one place and three and three-quarter lengths behind, but did well enough when runner-up in a mile stakes at the same venue to suggest he’s worth another try at this level, as long as he can find a little more.

This represents major class relief for Fort Bragg (9-2), who has finished behind big Derby players Practical Move and Forte on his last three starts, culminating in fifth place behind Derby favourite Forte in the G1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, when he towed them along before weakening.

The cutback will play to his strengths and it’s his best chance for months. His barnmate Kangaroo Court (8-1) made his stakes breakthrough in a state-bred sprint at Santa Anita and those credentials don’t really play in this company.

This is the place for Curly Jack (12-1), who is two-for-three under the twin spires including the G3 Iroquois in September, when favourite and second-choice Damon’s Mound (20-1) and Echo Again were out with the washing in sixth and seventh. He has shown absolutely nothing in two starts on the Derby trail at the Fair Grounds, but he is worth another chance given his liking for this track.

Another with a G3 win in the book is General Jim (4-1), who took down the seven-furlong Swale Stakes at Gulfstream, beating the only other talent in the race by a length with a wide 11 lengths back to the third. He has won over a mile-sixteenth and, unlike several here, is coming in off a career-best.

Bourbon Bash (12-1) has lost eight straight since winning his maiden, which tells its own story, while Lugan Knight (20-1) has missed the board in two stakes since winning the Jerome at Aqueduct over a mile, when he enjoyed himself on the lead. He’s unlikely to get the same privilege this afternoon.

More was expected of Gilmore (12-1) after his impressive maiden win over a mile at Los Alamitos, but he was a beaten favourite on his next two starts, and even though he did much better when runner-up in the seven-furlong G3 Bay Shore at Aqueduct last time, he still looks behind the eightball in relation to several of these.

Pat Day Mile Odds & Betting Tip

There are some disappointing individuals here, but FORT BRAGG has had very difficult tasks on his last three starts and is worth another chance back down in distance.

HorseJockeyOdds by Jazzsports
Kangaroo CourtJohn R. Velazquez+800
Tall BoyReylu Gutierrez+2000
Lugan KnightManuel Franco+2000
Echo AgainFlorent Geroux+350
Frosted DepartureBrian Joseph Hernandez, Jr.+2000
Fort BraggJoel Rosario+450
Bourbon BashFlavien Prat+1200
General JimLuis Saez+400
Curly JackEdgar Morales+1200
GilmoreIrad Ortiz, Jr.+1200
Gun PilotTyler Gaffalione+500
Damon’s MoundGabriel Saez+2000
Freezing PointCorey J. Lanerie+5000

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