Racing fans will be in for a treat on Saturday when Churchill Downs hosts the $200,000, Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap, a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Nov. 7 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
The 1 1/8-mile Fleur de Lis has been won in recent years by some of racing’s best fillies and mares, including 2010 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and Breeders’ Cup winners Royal Delta, Forever Unbridled, and Blue Prize. The 2020 Fleur de Lis is shaping up to be another memorable renewal thanks to the presence of #5 Midnight Bisou, the reigning champion older dirt female of 2019.
The consistency Midnight Bisou has shown against a high level of competition is remarkable. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the daughter of Midnight Lute has never finished out of the top three while winning 12 of her 20 starts. She’s competed almost exclusively in stakes races, winning 12 graded stakes and five Grade 1 races. She’s placed in two editions of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and enters the Fleur de Lis off a runner-up finish against males in the Feb. 29 Saudi Cup, the richest race in the world with a purse of $20 million.
In short, Midnight Bisou is an overwhelming favorite to win the Fleur de Lis. Dropping in class for a Grade 2 against fellow fillies and mares should make the 5-year-old mare difficult (or perhaps impossible?) to defeat. Fast enough to win with stalking tactics, but patient enough to settle near the back of the pack if necessary, Midnight Bisou is versatile and figures to work out a clean trip while breaking from post-position five under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
The problem is Midnight Bisou’s odds. Her credentials are obvious and she’s favored at 3-5 on the morning line, which means a win bet won’t return much of a profit. If we’re going to invest our money on Midnight Bisou, we’ll have to tackle exotic wagers — like the trifecta — in order to secure a decent payoff.
So, let’s plan on playing Midnight Bisou on top in a trifecta. The question now becomes, who do we use underneath? #4 Serengeti Empress is an obvious choice. A speedy front-runner, Serengeti Empress won the 1 1/8-mile, Longines Kentucky Oaks in gate-to-wire fashion last spring, showing an affinity for the track and distance of the Fleur de Lis.
But Serengeti Empress can be a bit inconsistent and often misfires if she fails to secure the early lead. Just look at what happened in the Apr. 18 Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap: Serengeti Empress was beaten to the front in a fast-paced race and subsequently faded to finish 11th.
There isn’t a ton of speed in the Fleur de Lis field, so Serengeti Empress may be able to secure her preferred position at the front of the pack. She flashed plenty of speed in a workout on June 10 at Churchill Downs, blazing five-eighths of a mile in :57.80, so from all appearances she’s primed for a peak performance. But her occasional off-the-board efforts make Serengeti Empress tough to trust completely.
#1 Go Google Yourself, winner of the Grade 3 Locust Grove Stakes at Churchill Downs last September, is a horse-for-the-course specialist with seven trifecta finishes from nine starts on the main track at the legendary Louisville venue. She endured a tricky trip from a wide draw when finishing seventh in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom and can rebound to challenge for top-three finish in the Fleur de Lis, but if you’re looking for a longshot to include in the exotics, #3 Chocolate Kisses is the filly you want to play.
Winner of the Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park last year, Chocolate Kisses struggled while finishing seventh behind Serengeti Empress in the 2019 Kentucky Oaks, but this well-bred daughter of Candy Ride has shown improvement in two starts this season. Most recently, Chocolate Kisses finished a game second in the 1 1/16-mile Shawnee Stakes at Churchill Downs, beaten just 1 3/4 lengths by Grade 1 winner Dunbar Road.
Chocolate Kisses was a late-running type last season, but this year she’s shown improved tactical speed for trainer Mark Casse. With a bit of luck, Chocolate Kisses can tuck in behind the early leaders and battle on down the straight to finish in the trifecta at somewehere near her 12-1 odds on the morning line.
Let’s make Chocolate Kisses the key to our tickets, counting on her to finish second or third behind Midnight Bisou. For the remaining slots, we’ll use Serengeti Empress and Go Google Yourself equally.
Wagering Strategy on a $30 Budget
$5 trifecta: 5 with 3 with 1,4 ($10)
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, ninth race, $5 trifecta: 5 with 3 with 1,4
$5 trifecta: 5 with 1,4 with 3 ($10)
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, ninth race, $5 trifecta: 5 with 1,4 with 3
Good luck, and enjoy the race!