Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs is packed with high-class graded stakes races, but the 14-race card also includes four lucrative optional-claiming allowances races offering six-figure purses.
With that kind of money at stake, the races have attracted quality, competitive fields. And since they’re prominently positioned in popular wagers like the early and late Pick 5, they’re important races to handicap if you want to play the full Derby Day card.
Let’s take a look at each race with an eye toward developing spot plays and identifying horses to use in the multi-race wagers:
If you’re a fan of the pace figures produced by RacingFlow.com, then you have to shake your head in disbelief at the string of bad luck that has befallen #2 Control Stake. Control Stake has been on the wrong side of speed-favoring race flows in each of his last eight starts, and to put that in perspective, the odds of such a streak occurring are (literally) 43,046,721-1.
Despite encountering one poor setup after another, Control Stake has managed to finish in the superfecta every time while posting competitive Beyer speed figures, including a 95 when second in the Duncan F. Kenner Stakes at Fair Grounds during the winter. Control Stake has been given a brief freshening since his last race and is meeting a field with plenty of speed on paper. Maybe this is the day he finally gets a fair setup and outruns expectations.
I’ll bet Control Stake to win and box him in the exacta with #3 Curate, a speedy son of Bernardini with three wins from five starts for trainer Brad Cox. He’s fired off a couple of 99 Beyers this year and has run well over wet tracks.
I’ll also bet Control Stake and Curate in a double with #5 King Zachary in Race 2.
$10 to win on #2 Control Stake
$5 exacta: 2,3 with 2,3 ($10)
$5 double: 2,3 with 5 ($10)
This one-mile event has attracted a field of experienced stakes veterans, but several are returning from long layoffs and others seem ill-suited to the distance. One of the returnees is #5 King Zachary, a well-bred son of Curlin with a 2-for-3 record at Churchill Downs. As a 3-year-old in 2018, he parlayed a pace-tracking trip into a decisive 4 3/4-length victory in the Matt Winn Stakes (G3), for which he earned an eye-catching 98 Beyer. Trainer Graham Motion wins at a 24% rate with horses returning from long layoffs, and if King Zachary has improved at all with maturity, he should be one of the main contenders on Saturday. The expected wet track shouldn’t be an issue either. He won an allowance race over a sloppy, sealed track at Churchill Downs on Derby Day last year.
$12 to win on #5 King Zachary
$3 exacta: 5 with 1,2,7 ($9)
All eyes will be on #2 Hidden Scroll, who won his debut over a sloppy track at Gulfstream Park by 14 lengths with a 104 Beyer. But after sprinting out too fast and tiring to fourth in the Fountain of Youth (G2), Hidden Scroll regressed significantly while employing rating tactics in the Florida Derby (G1) and trudged home sixth, beaten 11 1/2 lengths.
Hidden Scroll is dropping in class and distance for Saturday’s allowance race, and the possibility of a wet track could help his chances, but could he be burned out after his tough winter campaign?
An appealing alternative to the favorite is #4 High Crime, an impressive debut winner at Gulfstream who finished fourth in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes (G3) after pressing a hot pace. He subsequently stretched out to 1 1/16 miles in a Keeneland allowance race and set the pace before tiring late to finish second against the promising Intrepid Heart, a colt I believe could win the Belmont Stakes (G1). Now High Crime is cutting back to seven furlongs and should challenge Hidden Scroll for supremacy. If the favorite falters, High Crime can take advantage.
$5 exacta: 2,4 with 2,4 ($10)
$2 exacta: 2,4 with 1 ($4)
Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown thought enough of #10 Bandon Woods to nominate him to the Triple Crown before he’d ever run a race, and while the son of Uncle Mo could only finish fourth in his debut at Gulfstream, it was a competitive maiden heat that produced the next-out winner Fort Worth and the future Florida Derby (G1) runner-up Bodexpress.
Bandon Woods subsequently stretched out to 1 1/16 miles over a sloppy track at Keeneland and rallied from a couple lengths off the pace to win by three lengths with an 87 Beyer. There’s no reason to think he can’t deliver another big run on Saturday, and I favor him to beat #2 Get the Prize and #5 Aquadini to the finish line.
$10 to win on #10 Bandon Woods
$5 exacta: 10 with 2,5 ($10)
Total cost of all wagers: $75