Horse Racing Picks (Saturday, May 23): Churchill Downs Best Bets, Exotics, Pick 5
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- Horse racing is back at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 23, with races up until 6:16 p.m. ET.
- The Shawnee Stakes, Tepin Stakes, Blame Stakes, Matt Winn Stakes and War Chant Stakes are all set to go off late Saturday afternoon.
- Below you'll find betting picks for the final five races on the slate, including best bets, exotics and a pick 5.
Saturday’s card at Churchill Downs is very deep and features an all-stakes Pick 5 beginning with Race 7 at 4:08 p.m. ET.
New to Horse Racing?
For those of you that might be new to horse racing, the wagering pools are pari-mutuel, which means that, unlike in sports betting, you aren’t trying to beat the house but rather the public at large. The key to long-term success in betting the ponies is being disciplined in identifying value in the pools.
Speed Ratings and Beyer Speed Figures
Speed ratings are relative performance indicators that allow us to compare performances across tracks where not all factors are even. Some tracks might be naturally faster like Gulfstream or Santa Anita, where the surfaces are harder, compared to a track like Belmont or Aqueduct, where the surfaces are generally a bit deeper.
They also account for the condition of the track as most horses will travel slower over softer ground. This means that simply comparing times is ineffective as they need some kind of leveling factor.
That’s what is built into speed ratings and they give a nice, although imperfect indicator of relative performance and ability.
A relative strength index for the field of a specific race. This gives you an idea of the level of the competition the horse was facing, as it can vary wildly from track to track even with the same win conditions.
How often do favorites win in horse racing?
Generally speaking, the favorite in horse racing wins at about a 35% rate but that number varies depending on the number of horses in the field. Armed with that knowledge you might want to just pick the favorites, frequently known as the chalk, but a closer look at the implied odds shows that you’d need average odds of 2-1 or better to break even on “win” bets.
So, in order to profit horseplayers must pick and choose the horses that they feel have a better chance to win than their implied odds, which is known as positive expected value (+EV). Expected value is not unique to horse racing and something that all bettors should get familiar with if they want to succeed.
Race 7: The Shawnee Stakes
4:08 p.m. ET
The first race in the all stakes Pick 5 sequence is the Shawnee Stakes for four-year-old fillies and mares. It will be run over the main track at the distance of 1 1/16 miles with a field of 8.
The morning-line favorite is No. 4 Dunbar Road (4-5), who is trained by Chad Brown. While she proved she could beat the three-year-old class last year, when facing tougher, older horses in the G1 Spinster and G1 Breeders Cup Distaff, she couldn’t get the job done.
The transition from three to four years old is key and with this being her first race off the six-plus month layoff, I’m going to play against her in this spot.
Other than the layoff and not running well at the end of her three-year-old season, this is also a play against the odds as most will include her in their PIck 5 and if you beat her your potential payouts at the end will dramatically increase. This is a case where I’m taking a stand and being intentional about the structure of the ticket.
My top pick is No. 8 She’s a Julie (2-1). She is also coming off a long layoff, but she’s proven herself as an older horse with two wins as a four-year-old and she has three wins, one second and a third from six career starts at Churchill. With limited pace in this race, her early speed and running style are additional reasons why she’s my top pick.
The other horse that I’m including is No. 5 Another Broad (10-1). While she hasn’t seen the winner’s circle since April 2019, trainer Todd Pletcher wouldn’t put her in this spot unless she was ready to go.
Pletcher wins at a 30% clip with horses coming back off a 90+ day layoff. Additionally, Another Broad gets Pletcher’s top jock and hall of famer John Velazquez in the irons.
She’s one that will sit a stalking trip, but as mentioned there’s not much speed and if She’s a Julie gets an easy lead, Another Broad’s stalking style won’t matter.
Race 8: The Tepin Stakes
4:40 p.m. ET
Next up we have the Tepin Stakes for three-year-old fillies on the turf at the distance of a mile. With a full, deep field of 14 runners this is a difficult race to handicap.
All the way to the outside is No 14. Alms (3-1), who is a perfect 4-for-4 in her career and has two graded stakes victories. She made her three-year-old debut in February at Fair Grounds in a non-graded stakes event where she won by 4 1/2 lengths over No. 4 Dominga (15-1) and No. 10 Pass the Plate (20-1).
She will have to overcome the outside post position and the short run into the first turn, so don ‘t be surprised if she has to come from further off the pace than she normally is. Alms owns a 36% score in Bryan Patton’s model, giving her the highest score by more than double. She’s my top pick.
No. 9 Sharing (3-1) is the other morning-line co-favorite. The daughter of Speightstown has three wins and one third from four career starts. We last saw her in the G1 Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf where she won at odds of 13-1.
This will be Sharing’s three-year-old debut and while she’s been training well in the morning, there is still the question of how she will transition from two to three. I’m going to include her in the pick 5 ticket.
Down towards the inside is No. 2 Abscond (8-1), who, after finishing out her two-year-old season with a disappointing seventh-place finish in the G1 Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, has come back with two strong efforts early in her three-year-old season.
Her most recent start was in the G3 Herecomesthebride at Gulfstream Park where she finished second by 3/4 of a length. Her tactical speed and inside post position should benefit her in here. She’s one to include at a nice price.
The last horse that I looked at in here was No. 7 Outburst (5-1). After spending her two-year-old season in France, she shipped over to the US for trainer Eddie Kenneally for her three-year-old season.
She is a perfect 2-for-2 in the US, both coming at Tampa, with the most recent being the G3 Florida Oaks. In those two US starts she’s proven to be versatile, coming from off the pace in one and going gate-to-wire in the other. She’s been training well and is another one at a good price that I’ll include.
Race 9: The Blame Stakes
5:12 p.m. ET
The ninth race is the Blame Stakes for four-year-olds and up, which will be run at one mile over the main track. It’s another full field of 14.
My top pick is No. 3 Global Campaign (9-2) for trainer Stanley Hough. Last year, as a three-year-old, he won the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont and started off his four-year-old campaign with a win in allowance company at Gulfstream at the end of April. Hough is 25% second off the layoff and 22% in non-graded stakes races.
Global Campaign has tactical speed and should be able to sit a stalking trip. The biggest challenge he will have to overcome is the inside post position and not getting caught down on the rail or boxed in.
No 7. Silver Dust (8-1) is another horse with tactical speed that should sit a stalking trip. Last time out he finished a disappointing fifth in the G2 New Orleans Handicap, but he should appreciate the cut back in distance in this spot.
Silver Dust is a horse for the course with two wins, one second and two thirds from seven career starts at Churchill. Trainer Bret Calhoun is 23% coming in off a 46-60 day layoff and 22% when shipping in. Silver Dust one to include at a price.
My longshot play is No. 11 American Anthem (15-1). He moved over to the Danny Gargan barn for his six-year-old season, finishing fourth in the G3 Toboggan by 3/4 of a length and second in non-graded stakes by a length and a quarter.
Gargan is 26% in non-graded stakes races and 24% coming in off a 46-60 day layoff. American Anthem has a win and a second from two career starts at Churchill and has six wins, three seconds and three thirds from 18 career starts. I don’t understand his morning-line odds and will be including.
Race 10: The Matt Winn Stakes
5:44 p.m. ET
The big race of the day is the G3 Matt Winn, which is now a Kentucky Derby prep race, with the winner getting 50 points, 20 to second, 10 to third and 5 to fourth.
The morning-line favorite is No. 10 Maxfield (5-2). Prior to getting taken off the Derby trail, he was one of the favorites. After a seven and a half month layoff and the injury, I’m going against him in this spot.
No. 2 Pneumatic (4-1) for trainer Steve Asmussen is coming in undefeated, 2-for-2, both as a three-year-old. Asmussen is 22% with a winner from last race and 20% when shipping in and his top jock, Ricardo Santana gets the mount. Pneumatic should sit just off the pace and look for him to make his move coming out of the turn. He’s my top pick.
Next I looked to No. 11 Attachment Rate (4-1), who only has a maiden victory to his name, but finished third in the G3 Gotham and second in a non-graded stakes race at Gulfstream a month ago. He probably needed that race at Gulfstream and if he can take a step forward in here, he will be dangerous.
Down on the rail is No. 1 Mystic Guide (15-1). He’s coming in off a maiden-breaking score at Fair Grounds. He posted the highest Beyer number last time out (89) and if he continues to move forward he stands a change at a huge price. Mystic Guide is also the top choice in the model with a score of 27%. He’s one to include.
The last horse is No. 12 Major Fed (5-1). While I originally was going to pass on Major Fed, I kept coming back because jockey Joel Rosario always seems to find the perfect trip, especially with the deep closers.
Major Fed is another one who only has a maiden victory to his name, but he did finish second in the G2 Risen Star and fourth in the G2 Lousiana Derby. He has continue to improve from a Beyer’s standpoint in each race of his career. If he can continue that trend, look for him to be flying late and getting up in the shadow of the wire.
Race 11: The War Chant Stakes
6:16 p.m. ET
The night cap is the War Chant, a non-graded stakes event on the turf. This is yet another full field of 14 going a mile.
No. 6 Hieronymus (9-2) is my top choice. He has four wins from five career starts, but the lone loss came right here at Churchill. All of his wins have come in gate-to-wire fashion, so we will know early if we have a winner. Trainer Brad Cox is 25% in non-graded stakes races, 25% when shipping in and 24% coming in off a 46-60 day layoff.
Down on the rail is No. 1 South Bend (12-1) for trainer Stanley Hough. After a two-year-old season on the dirt and being Triple Crown nominated, his connections tried him on the turf earlier this year.
While he’s never won on grass, he has a second and two thirds from four career races. With there being a decent amount of speed in the race, it should set up nicely for this closer and Julien Leparoux gets back aboard. One to include.
The last horse I’m including is No. 12 Pixelate (6-1). He has two wins, two seconds and two thirds from six career starts on the turf. He gets an upgrade to Joel Rosario, who will be aboard for the first time. He will need to continue to step forward if he’s going to have a chance in here, but he has one of the highest Beyer speed figures last time out. He is also tied for the third-highest model score at 18%.
- Pick 5 (Race 7): 5,8/2,7,9,14/3,7,11/1,2,11,12/1,6,12