Varenka training in the rain at Churchill Downs - © Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM /Breeders Cup

Varenka training in the rain at Churchill Downs – © Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM /Breeders Cup

A quick glance at the field for Saturday’s $150,000 Regret Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs is enough to make your head spin. The 11 sophomore fillies going 1 1/8 miles on turf all have similar form lines and speed figures, and there doesn’t appear to be a clear standout.

Dig a little deeper and #4 Varenka just might have an advantage in this competitive field. I’ll certainly be making her the key to my plays Saturday.

Trained by Graham Motion, Varenka showed a lot of promise in four starts last season. After she finished third in her debut sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs at Laurel Park (beaten six lengths by the future graded stakes winner Elsa), Varenka stretched out to 1 1/16 miles for the P. G. Johnson Stakes at Saratoga and fired off a much-improved effort. She rallied fast from behind a slow pace to finish second by a length.

Varenka subsequently crossed paths with the sensational Newspaperofrecord in both the Miss Grillo Stakes (G2) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), and while Varenka never threatened to defeat the division leader, she ran well in both races to finish second and fifth, respectively—not bad for a maiden. In the Breeders’ Cup, Varenka charged wide from the back of the pack and fell just 1 1/2 lengths short of second place.

Following a winter break Varenka returned to action in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race May 11 at Belmont Park, where she was compromised by pedestrian early fractions. Despite the obstacle Varenka unleashed a tremendous finish and sprinted the final five-sixteenths of a mile in :27.99 to win easily by two lengths and earn a 109 Brisnet Late Pace Rating.

Varenka has turned a corner and is set for a big season. As a daughter of Ghostzapper out of a Dynaformer mare, Varenka is bred to improve with maturity, and she should relish the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Regret Stakes. When the real running begins, I expect Varenka’s to unleash the strongest kick in the homestretch and outsprint her rivals to the finish line.

#1 Winter Sunset, the lone stakes winner in the field, finished third behind top fillies Concrete Rose and Newspaperofrecord in the 1 1/16-mile Edgewood Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs last month. Although Winter Sunset remains in grade 3 company, she’s facing an easier field this time around and should appreciate the subtle drop in class. #11 Princesa Carolina also boasts quality form lines and has never run poorly over a firm turf course (most recently she won a 1 3/16-mile allowance race at Keeneland in gate-to-wire fashion). She could be a threat on the front end.

I’ll bet Varenka to win and play her on top of an exacta with Winter Sunset and Princesa Carolina underneath:

$20 to win on #4 Varenka
$5 exacta: 4 with 1,11 ($10)

Good luck!