I for one am excited to be returning to Churchill Downs this coming weekend for the Kentucky Derby. While I know that I am, it has been interesting to read about a few contenders that may also be happy about their return to Louisville. It is always a standard handicapping duty to identify any horse in the field that has already raced over the track and analyze where they finished. The Spring Racing Meet just got underway at Churchill so if you didn’t get the chance to make it to the Downs during their Fall Racing Meet then Derby Day will be your first. Most all of the horses within the field will have at least trained over the Churchill Downs dirt prior to approaching the starting gate on Saturday but training and racing are different animals. Althougth there is that limited window of opportunity to race at Churchill prior to the Derby, there are some 2011 contenders that raced here once in thier 2 yr old campaingns.
The most notable horse making a return to Churchill is Uncle Mo, the favorite at the beginning of the 3 yr old prep season. He didn’t just race at Churchill Downs, he won the Breeders Cup Juvenille. Sitting off the rail in 2nd for the majority of the race, he took command at the top of lane before driving home in dominating fashion. Uncle Mo is looking to follow Street Sense who also returned to Churchill Downs after winning his Breeders Cup Juvenille in front of the Twin Spires. However, many questions surrounding his GI Tract Infection, if he can race at a 1 1/4 or if he can match his form at 2 have come up since his 3rd place finish in the Wood Memorial. While some may be legitimate questions, I can’t ignore that when this horse is ON, he is without a doubt the best horse in the field. With the field closing fast and a peak performance looming from the challengers, I’m not 100% committed to calling his number at the betting window but will be considering him.
Another horse that had a successful trip at Churchill Downs worth noting is Santiva. This colt looks to follow Super Saver’s trail to Kentucky Derby victory as both won the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club. Santiva reunited with jockey Shaun Bridgmohan on Monday for a half-mile workout at Churchill. Finishing in :50.20 after fractions of :13.60, :26.20 and :38.20 it must have felt good for Shaun to get back in the irons. It will be his first mount on Santiva since they took home the win in November. After a disappointing trip in the Bluegrass Stakes this colt needs to show that traffic was not the reason for his ninth place finish. His connections noted that he was having trouble finding room to run which will be an issue with a 20 horse field. If he can settle in and find room, this colt has as good a chance as any to return to winning form.
Among the others returning are Dialed In, Archarcharch, Stay Thirsty, Soldat, and Master of Hounds. Dialed In makes his way back to the track where he broke his maiden at 2. His win over 6 1/2 Furlongs in November turned out to be his only race at age 2. On 11/27 Archarcharch and Shakleford both raced seperate maiden sprint races at Churchill. Shackleford came away a winner before moving south for the winter, while Archarcharch waited until the Sugar Bowl at the Fairgrounds to notch his first win.
Stay Thirsty looks to improve at Churchill after finishing 5th in the Breeders Cup Juvenille. Although they’ve raced at the downs before both Master of Hounds and Soldat will race over the dirt for the first time. Both horses ran in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf, Soldat finishing 2nd and Master of Hounds 6th.
From a handicappers perspective here is what is worth looking at the most. Of the last seven Kentucky Derby winners that I looked at, only 2 ran at Churchill Downs before the Kentucky Derby. Those two being, Street Sense and Super Saver. What’s eye catching about that is that they both won their previous race at the downs. See a trend here? Looking to follow the lead on this will be Uncle Mo, Santiva, Dialed In, and Shackleford. It will be good to be back at Churchill Downs on Saturday, we’ll see if any of these horses feel the same.
Written by: Little Brink