Just how many graded stakes races will trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith team up to win this year?
One week after sweeping the Triple Crown with Justify and winning the Ogden Phipps Stakes (gr. I) with Abel Tasman, Baffert and Smith will seek another big win together with Ax Man in Saturday’s $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs.
As is the case with many of the Baffert/Smith runners, Ax Man looms as a formidable presence in the 8.5-furlong race. Excluding a fourth-place finish in the San Vicente Stakes (gr. II), in which he dueled hard for the lead through a fast pace, Ax Man has gone unbeaten in three starts by a minimum margin of 6 ¾ lengths, flashing impressive speed and dominating his opposition with authority. Just check out his easy win in the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico last month, in which he led at every call and was never challenged while leaving the next-out stakes winner Prince Lucky far behind.
Then again, Ax Man isn’t the only talented horse in the Matt Winn field. Funny Duck is actually more accomplished, having posted a 4 ¾-length upset in the Pat Day Mile Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day. While Funny Duck did benefit from rallying into a fast pace, he clearly enjoyed the switch to dirt after competing on turf in his five previous starts, so continued improvement in the Matt Winn is not out of the question.
Then there’s Combatant, who has cracked the superfecta in five stakes races without winning one of his own. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the son of Scat Daddy will be dropping in class following an 18th-place finish with a wide trip in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), and the cutback in distance to 8.5 furlongs should also help his chances.
Navy Armed Guard, Home Base, and King Zachary all enter the Matt Winn off of allowance wins at Arlington Park or Churchill Downs, with the Dale Romans-trained King Zachary looming as an intriguing mid-priced longshot given that his lone off-the-board effort to date was a sixth-place finish in the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. II) against tougher company.
Completing the field is King Zachary’s stablemate Tiz Mischief, who was beaten just a head in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs last fall. He has been soundly beaten in his four starts this season, but could have a chance to rebound while returning to the site of his career-best effort.
The Matt Winn Stakes is the fifth race of the evening, with a post time of 7:57 p.m. Eastern.