Shanghai Rain (outside) winning her debut at Churchill Downs - Coady Photography

Shanghai Rain (outside) winning her debut at Churchill Downs – Coady Photography

You have to admire any horse that overcomes adversity to win a race. And when the horse in question is an unraced two-year-old filly making her debut, you have to wonder if you’re looking at an above-average runner.

In handicapping Saturday’s $100,000 Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs, a six-furlong sprint for juvenile fillies, I’m drawn to the chances of #5 Restless Rider. Why? Well, just read the opening of the Equibase result chart footnotes from her June 8th debut going 5 ½ furlongs at Churchill Downs, in which she pushed a fast pace before pulling away to win decisively:

“RESTLESS RIDER was fractious and threw the rider off and fell behind the gate in the pre-load….”

Many times, when a horse acts up this severely before the start of a race, they fail to run their best. The fact that Restless Rider shrugged off the incident to win by 2 ¾ lengths with a solid 81 BRIS speed figure is eye-catching and bodes well for her future. Jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr., the leading rider at the current Churchill Downs meet, will have the mount for trainer Kenny McPeek, who won the Debutante last year with Sunny Skies.

Larry Rivelli is known for his fine work training two-year-olds, and he will be represented in the Debutante by #4 O’Keeffe, who will switch to dirt following a sharp debut win going 4 ½ furlongs over the Arlington Polytrack one month ago. The daughter of Munnings shouldn’t have any trouble handling dirt, though she’s one of several fillies in this race that figures to be involved in the pace, which could be quick enough to set the race up for a presser or a closer such as Restless Rider or #9 Shanghai Rain. The latter filly, conditioned by the two-time Debutante-winning trainer Bret Calhoun, finished fifth with a troubled run in her debut at Keeneland but subsequently employed pace-tracking tactics to break her maiden at Churchill Downs over the next-out winner Blame the Frog. That effort earned Shanghai Rain the best speed figures (83 BRIS and 68 Beyer) of any filly in the Debutante field, and the outside draw gives her plenty of options for working out a good trip.

If you’re looking for a longshot, why not consider #8 Hay Dilly? As a daughter of Candy Ride, she’s bred to improve with distance and maturity, yet she looked good winning her debut sprinting five furlongs at Delaware Park on June 6th, overcoming a slow start to win going away for trainer Kelly Rubley. She recently worked four furlongs in a bullet :48 flat at Fair Hill, a sharp move that suggests she’s doing well, and I get the feeling that Hay Dilly is a filly that could improve significantly in her second career start.

So how should we play the race? I’ll make Restless Rider my key horse in the exacta, requiring her to finish either first or second with one of the other three fillies I mentioned occupying the other slot on the ticket:

$5 exacta: 5 with 4,8,9 ($15)
$5 exacta: 4,8,9 with 5 ($15)

Good luck!