Continuing a trend we’ve seen in recent weeks of graded stakes that typically draw solid fields instead drawing spectacular fields because of the lack of opportunities in recent months, eight graded stakes winners were entered for Saturday’s Grade 3 Old Forester Mint Julep Stakes at Churchill Downs.
For those of us who love betting turf races, the chance to bet a 1 1/16-mile race that drew a full field of 14 that includes multiple legitimate win contenders at double-digit odds is a dream scenario.
Comprehensive Churchill Downs coverage will continue to be featured on the Fox Sports show “America’s Day at the Races.” Produced by NYRA and presented by Runhappy, Claiborne Farm, Twinspires.com and America's Best Racing, the show is hosted by Greg Wolf and Laffit Pincay III and the broadcast team includes Gary Stevens, Michelle Yu, Andy Serling, and Jonathon Kinchen. The Mint Julep Stakes will be televised during FS2’s 5-6:30 p.m. ET telecast on Saturday, which follows the network’s 1-4 p.m. show earlier in the day.
Read on for more information of the field of 14 for the Mint Julep.
1. Juliet Foxtrot (5-2 morning-line odds): Won her first three races in the U.S., including an allowance win on this turf course and a Grade 3, before running second by a neck in the Grade 2 John C. Mabee Stakes last August at Del Mar. She then was second and third in Grade 1 races to close out her 4-year-old season. Versatile enough to press or stalk the pace, she proved capable against elite competition but will be making her first start in nearly six months. With so little pace in this race, Juliet Foxtrot could find herself in front at the top of the stretch and be very hard to pass late.
JOCKEY: Florent Geroux; TRAINER: Brad Cox
2. Beau Recall (4-1): Closed out her 5-year-old season with a bang by winning a pair of Grade 2 races and running second in two Grade 1s in her final four starts of 2019. She’s been very consistent since joining the barn of Brad Cox with four wins and three seconds in seven starts and she earned a 114 Equibase Speed Figure on this turf course, just a tick off her career best. A top contender.
JOCKEY: Shaun Bridgmohan; TRAINER: Brad Cox
3. Winning Envelope (20-1): Deep closer is in solid form but looks a bit overmatched against this group. She does have a win on this turf course but a late rally for a minor award seems like her best-case scenario as she’d need to improve significantly to compete with these elite turf females.
JOCKEY: Julien Leparoux; TRAINER: Chris Block
4. She'sonthewarpath (20-1): Enters off back-to-back stakes wins at Fair Grounds in February and March and she is as good as she’s ever been right now. I’m not sure she’s fast enough and this is a class test as she was unplaced in her only previous start in a graded stakes, but you could do much worse than a filly on the rise and in superb form when looking for value. A threat at a big price.
JOCKEY: Chantal Sutherland; TRAINER: Steve Margolis
5. La Signare (20-1): Used a visually impressive rally to win Sand Springs Stakes March 28 at Gulfstream Park on a turf course that usually does not favor closers. I think she’s on her way to a career-best year, but this is a really tough spot and I’m just not sure she’s quite as good as a few others in here. There is, however, plenty of value at 20-1 on the morning line.
JOCKEY: Ricardo Santana Jr.; TRAINER: Brendan Walsh
6. Nay Lady Nay (4-1): Lightly raced filly won back-to-back stakes to close out her 3-year-old season, including a Grade 2 win on this course at this distance Nov. 29. She has not raced since then so she’ll make her 4-year-old debut off a six-month layoff. Always respect Chad Brown’s turf fillies and this one has a nice closing kick. A little moisture in the turf would certainly bolster her chances but I think she’s a key player regardless.
JOCKEY: Jose Ortiz; TRAINER: Chad Brown
7. Secret Message (8-1): She won a pair of stakes to start off her 2019 season, including a Grade 2 race at a mile at Woodbine, but she was unplaced in her final three starts last year. She might move up a bit if there is a bit of moisture in the ground and the switch back to Johnny V helps, but I think this is a really tough spot for Secret Message.
JOCKEY: John Velazquez; TRAINER: Graham Motion
8. Altea (12-1): A nice filly from a powerful barn who has run a close second in both of her starts in 2020. She has a nice finishing burst, but Altea is still looking for her first stakes win and has run second or third in 11 of 18 starts so she might be a better play to fill out the trifecta.
JOCKEY: Joel Rosario; TRAINER: Chad Brown
9. Varenka (12-1): After winning three of her first four starts in 2019, Varenka finished fifth (beaten by only three lengths) in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes at Keeneland in October. My two key factors when evaluating turf races are pace shape and how fast horses finish. Varenka’s final quarter-mile (21.90 seconds) in winning the Grade 2 Lake Placid Stakes last August was as fast as any in the field, and I think she has room to improve from her 3-year-old to 4-year-old campaign. The seven-month layoff and lack of pace are a concern, but I know she’ll be flying late.
JOCKEY: Javier Castellano; TRAINER: Graham Motion
10. Hanalei Moon (20-1): Impressive stakes winner at Kentucky Downs last August has not yet proven herself at the graded stakes level after closing out her 2019 season with an unplaced finish in a Grade 1 race and running a well-beaten ninth in the Grade 2 Hillsborough Stakes March 7 in her season debut. Expect improvement in her second start of the year but this is a tough spot for a breakthrough graded stakes win.
JOCKEY: Tyler Gaffalione; TRAINER: Mark Casse
11. Zofelle (20-1): Transferred to the U.S. to trainer Brendan Walsh last year, she won her first three races in this country, including a stakes win at Fair Grounds. She’s another closer in a field full of them with explosive finishing speed as she showed when running second by three-quarters of a length to Mint Julep entrant La Signare in the Sand Springs Stakes March 29 at Gulfstream. A serious player.
JOCKEY: Corey Lanerie; TRAINER: Brendan Walsh
12. Coco Channel (50-1): Winless in her last 14 with only three top-three finishes during that stretch, Coco Channel very likely will be one of the biggest longshots in the field and for good reason. She set the pace in this race and ran a decent fifth a year ago if you are looking for a bright spot.
JOCKEY: Rafael Bejarano; TRAINER: Charlie LoPresti
13. Elizabeth Way (20-1): Won her first two starts in the U.S. after joining the barn of Hall of Famer Roger Attfield for 2020, including the Grade 3 The Very One Stakes by 1 ¼ lengths in front-running fashion Feb. 29. Four-year-old by Frankel finished third behind a very nice filly in Mean Mary in the 1 3/8-mile, Grade 3 Orchid Stakes March 28 and should appreciate the cut back in distance here. With so little pace in the race, look for jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. to be a closer to the pace than she was under a different rider in the Orchid. Very nice filly at big price on the morning line.
JOCKEY: Brian Hernandez Jr.; TRAINER: Roger Attfield
14. Mitchell Road (10-1): She reeled off four straight wins at the end of 2018 into 2019 and has held her own against strong competition with a Grade 3 win among three stakes victories from eight stakes starts over the last 15 months. She’s run well in two races this year, both runner-up finishes, and has some versatility to her game as well. Could be dangerous if she can work out a nice, stalking trip under Joe Talamo from a tough post position.
JOCKEY: Joe Talamo; TRAINER: Bill Mott
THE PICK: Varenka
LIVE LONGSHOTS: Elizabeth Way/Zofelle