The Grade 3, $150,000 Matt Winn Stakes Saturday at Churchill Downs is a newly minted points race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, which takes place on Sept. 5 this year.
A field of 12 aspiring 3-year-olds were entered in the Matt Winn, led by the winner of the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity last fall at Keeneland in Maxfield. The Street Sense colt is undefeated in two races but had a number of setbacks on the comeback trail and runs in this two-turn race following more than seven months on the bench. Another with stakes credentials, although not a stakes win, is Ny Traffic, who was the runner-up in the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby in March when last seen. Attachment Rate showed he belongs at this level, having finished third in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes in March then second in the Unbridled Stakes last month. Major Fed is another potential contender, having finished second in a division of the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford in February before a troubled fourth of 14 in the Louisiana Derby the following month. Of the horses trying stakes for the first time, a pair of colts in Mystic Guide and Pneumatic deserve a good deal of respect as both won convincingly in their most recent races. Informative finished second in the James F. Lewis III Stakes last fall as a maiden but his most recent effort resulted in a seventh-place finish in the Gotham. Necker Island enters the Matt Winn off a fifth-place effort in the Gotham followed by a fourth-place finish in the Unbridled and was never a threat in either. Celtic Striker, Crypto Cash, Flap Jack, and Shake Some Action round out the field.
Although he is trying stakes company for the first time, Pneumatic has a very good shot to run well enough to win the Matt Winn Stakes. Having won a three-quarter-mile sprint at first asking by a neck in February, Pneumatic improved substantially to win around two turns in his second career start last month, earning a 96 Equibase Speed Figure. For a first-level allowance win, that was an excellent figure and the colt is bound to run even better in this race. To put that 96 figure in perspective, Louisiana Derby runner-up Ny Traffic earned a 97 figure, and Maxfield earned a 97 figure winning the Breeders’ Futurity last fall. In that allowance win last month, Pneumatic ran four paths wide on the entire far turn and powered away nicely like a colt with a bright future. As a son of excellent sire Uncle Mo, who according to STATS Race Lens has sired the winners of 18 of 69 (26%) dirt route stakes races for 3-year-old males over the past five years for a big 129% profit on every $1 wagered, if Pneumatic takes a logical step forward in his third career start he can win the Matt Winn.
Mystic Guide is the horse most likely to have a say in whether Pneumatic wins or not as he’s another colt who ran a visually impressive race to win his most recent start. That win, on March 21, followed a third-place debut in a sprint (just like Pneumatic) and resulted in a 99 Equibase Speed Figure, which is tied for the best last race in the field with Attachment Rate’s 99 figure when second in the Unbridled Stakes. In that March race, Mystic Guide was five paths wide on the turn before showing excellent acceleration to go from fifth to first, gaining a two-length advantage with an eighth of a mile to go then widening to an easy five-length win. As a son of Ghostzapper, Mystic Guide is another who is bred to be a top-caliber horse, and perhaps with just logical improvement off that last effort he can earn his first stakes win and throw his name into the hat as a Kentucky Derby contender.
Major Fed drew the outside post position in this 12-horse field, but as he has a late running style that position in the gate should not hurt his chances as he can drop back and save ground before the first turn. Drawing the rail in the 14-horse Louisiana Derby field in March, Major Fed broke slowly and was last for the first mile then moved six paths, then eight paths wide, into the stretch, ending up just a half-length from the third horse. Having earned 96, 92, and 93 speed figures in his last three starts, including when second to Modernist in the second division of the Risen Star Stakes, Major Fed is on the threshold of being a big player in this race with just slight improvement. Joel Rosario, who rode Major Fed for the first time in the Louisiana Derby, has chosen to ride him back suggesting one of the top jockeys in the country has some confidence in this colt’s ability to succeed with a better trip.
Maxfield deserves honorable mention, not only because he’s undefeated in two starts but because he has a Grade 1 win to his credit. After breaking his maiden his first time out at Churchill Downs last September, Maxfield was visually impressive winning the Breeders’ Futurity by 5 1/2 lengths in October with a 97 speed figure. He’s had setbacks since then, and it is quite the task to return from 7 1/2 months away and not only win a two-turn race but to do while facing a group of horses that have all run much more recently. Attachment Rate deserves to be mentioned as a contender as well, with 98 and 99 Equibase Speed Figures in his last two races, most recently in the Unbridled Stakes at the same 1 1/16-mile distance as the Matt Winn. Ny Traffic is one more I might consider, along with Maxfield and Attachment Rate, for minor awards and using on exacta tickets in the second position. Since moving to the barn of Saffie Joseph Jr. before his January 20 start, Ny Traffic has run three very good races in a row. Starting with a 6 ¾-length win in that race, Ny Traffic was beaten by a neck by Major Fed for second in the second division of the Risen Star. Then in the Louisiana Derby, he raced in second from start to finish behind winner Wells Bayou. He may be a need-the-lead type, as is Celtic Striker, but if the two of them don’t battle hard for the early lead, Ny Traffic could be in the thick of the action down to the finish line.
The rest of the field (with best Equibase Speed Figure): Celtic Striker (88), Crypto Cash (93), Flap Jack (79), Informative (87), Necker Island (99), and Shake Some Action (89).