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Horse Racing Picks (Saturday, May 16): Exotics & Best Bets to Win at Churchill Downs

Horse Racing Picks (Saturday, May 16): Exotics & Best Bets to Win at Churchill Downs article feature image

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  • Horse racing returns to Churchill Downs on Saturday, and Bryan Patton has some picks for exotics and horses to win.
  • Patton details how his model sees each race playing out and uses it to help you find bets that have value on Saturday.

Racing returns to Churchill Downs returns with a thunderous card. It’s hard not to be excited about the ponies hitting the track under the Twin Spires, so let’s go find some value!

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 allows 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, if imperfect, indicator of relative performance and ability.

Class Rating

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.

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Horse Racing Picks for Saturday, May 16

Now that we have covered our strategy, I will take a deep dive into some races that show some +EV based on my model. There are different ways to use this information — or any research you do — to approach races.

Sometimes I will target a horse that I believe is a good value play, and other times I may simply highlight races that are likely to feature a vulnerable favorite and try to beat that horse with some bigger prices.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated due to sloppy conditions at Churchill Downs.

Churchill Downs Conditions for Saturday, May 16:

  • TRACK: Sloppy
  • TURF: Off
  • NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FORECAST: A chance of showers and thunderstorms after 4pm. Partly sunny, with a high near 82. Calm wind becoming south around 6 mph in the morning. Chance of precipitation is 30%.

Race 1

  • Surface: Sloppy
  • Distance: 6 Furlongs
  • Time: 1 p.m. ET

This maiden claimer has some well met looking horses in it and it should be an entertaining race to kick off the card. I can’t recommend any plays in this race because there’s just nothing that jumps out to me but here’s a few notes.

The son of Sky Kingdom, No. 6 Skyburst (6-1) will be ridden by Joel Rosario who is just a dominant force in the saddle right now and has a knack for getting his horses home through the stretch. Joel is winning at a blistering 29% rate in the last 30 days and I like his chances to continue that form coming into the Churchill meet especially with Santa Anita opening up West this weekend as well.

No. 4 J’s Warrior (12-1) is out of Warrior’s Reward, who is just throwing sprinter after sprinter, and this one has looked sensational last in his last two workouts. I think J’s Warrior is sitting on a big one and, given how erratic first timers can be, this feels like the right play if you were going to play just one horse.

I would be remiss not to note No. 9 Takechargecomanche (15-1) who is out of Will Take Charge (one of my all-time sentimental favorites) who comes in trained by Rey Hernandez. I can’t recommend playing this horse, as there’s too many unknowns, but after taking a trip down memory lane with Will Take Charge, his white face, giant heart, and unreal stretch kick, Takechargecomanche may just surprise everyone.

Writer’s Update: The change in track conditions moves No. 2 Dr. Albert (30-1), No. 4 J’s Warrior (12-1), No. 5 Can Imagine (12-1) and No. 8 Fars Glitter (20-1) all move up (12:10 p.m. ET).

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Race 2

  • Surface: Sloppy
  • Distance: 1 1/16 Mile
  • Time: 1:30 p.m. ET

While I don’t want to spend a lot of time breaking down this race I think you have to look at No. 9 Rahway (4-1), who performed horribly during a recent stint at Oaklawn Park but will look to rebound with familiar ground under foot in this 1 1/16 m contest on the dirt.

Michael Maker and Florent Geroux make for a  formidable combination and come in with a 23% win-rate when teaming up. I think this one finds a soft spot to get a win.

Bet: No. 9 Rahway to Win / Place / Show

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Race 3

Surface: Sloppy
Distance: 6 Furlongs

Writer’s note: No. 15 Botero did not draw into this field, so I recommend passing on this race (12 p.m. ET).

This one is simple to me, No. 15 Botero (8-5) is an absolute eye catcher IF he draws in. I’ll also use the No. 9 Wallet (12-1) to begin a Pick 3.

The Bet: No. 15 Botero to Win; Pick 3: 15,9/2/10

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Race 4

  • Surface: Sloppy
  • Distance: 1 Mile
  • Time: 2:32 p.m. ET
Horse Model Score
No. 2 Monomoy Girl (4-5) 33%
No. 6 Talk Veuve To Me (7-2) 9%
No. 1 Miss Bigly (15-1) 7%

No. 2 Monomoy Girl (4-5) is an absolute monster having ripped off SEVEN wins in a row with just shy of $3 million in lifetime earnings. I don’t look for her to slow down or miss a beat even off a year-and-a-half layoff. Her work tab looks dialed in and she should get a beautiful ride from her regular pilot Florent Geroux.

To put the ability of Monomoy Girl in perspective, Miss Bigly ran one of the best races of her life at the Fair Grounds over a mile on a fast track in 1:39.61. Monomoy Girl ran the same distance with more weight over a slower surface in 1:34.10. Another common back of the napkin conversion you can use is that one second is equal to roughly 5 lengths so that means she’s roughly 25 lengths better if you were to compare those two races.

If you are looking for value underneath I like No. 6 Talk Veuve To Me (7-2) who will get the familiar pairing of Ricardo Santana Jr. riding for Steve Asmussen (19% win rate).

She’s got a nice regular work tab with some really good looking efforts in March and April but I don’t think even with her best she can best a rusty Monomoy Girl.

No. 7 Lady Kate (7-2) is a talented horse in her own right and has a record of 3-2-0 from 8 starts with $142,000 in lifetime earnings. Eddie Kenneally is winning at a 29% rate in the last 30 days and Jose Ortiz is a heck of a jockey. If she can stalk the early pace she should have a shot to finish within a few lengths of Monomoy Girl and claim second place.

When my system has a horse rated between 30-39% it wins at roughly 32% of the time and comes in the money roughly 65% of the time. This means you shouldn’t really play Monomoy Girl at less than 2-1, which is true for almost all horse races, playing short favorites is a good way to run out of money really fast.

I would say that a horse coming off a year and a half layoff, no matter how talented, doesn’t warrant a large wager at short prices.

I don’t think you can justify playing against Monomoy Girl nor can you justify taking the short price. Instead,  I will look to take advantage of my confidence in the winner to play a cold exacta. The real way to get value out of using Monomoy Girl is by singling her in a Pick 3 and then trying to beat the favorites in the next two races.

Writer’s Update: The change in track conditions moves No. 5 Estilo Femenino (15-1) and No. 7 Lady Kate (7-2) down in my rankings (12:14 p.m. ET).

The Bets: 2/6,7 Exacta; Pick 3: 2/10,18/9

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Race 5

  • Surface: Sloppy
  • Distance: 1 1/16 Mile
  • Time: 3:04 p.m. ET
Horse Model Score
No. 10 Fortuity (6-1) 27%
No. 9 Enchanted Empire (12-1) -2%
No. 11 Implication (3-1) -2%
No. 18 Amani’s Eagle (3-1) -2%

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated due to change in track conditions at Churchill Downs. The changes are reflected in the model score and the preview (12:20 p.m. ET).

This race changes a lot as moves onto the sloppy main track. No. 10 Fortuity (6-1), a speedy son of The Factor who posted a very solid debut just one length behind a well-met winner in Spanish Kingdom, stands out as the value in this field. As a note, Spanish Kingdom flopped in his return to the track at Oaklawn Park, so that is cause for concern but the way Fortuity finished that race he’s got every right to do the same thing and be two or three lengths clear here. The Factor’s progeny are winning at just over a 14% clip on the off tracks so there’s reason to believe Fortuity will stay strong in the slop.

I would highly recommend using Fortuity as a key in some horizontal wagers like Pick 3s or Pick 4s.

No. 7 Oxide (8-1) will likely be the pace-setter and I suspect he will draw company from No.4 Contractor Bill (20-1), which could end up compromising his chances and sets up my pick No. 10 Fortuity for a late charge down the lane. I also think this change in surface helps No. 13 A.K. Safari (8-1) to move forward here with his last closing kick.

It’s hard to look elsewhere now that No. 18 Amani’s Eagle (3-1) has drawn in,  but I still like the chances of No. 10 Fortuity and No. 13 A.K. Safari to be competitive and beat Oxide, who I think is a vulnerable favorite.

The Bet: No. 10 Fortuity to win at 3-1 or better; 18, 10, 13 Exacta Box (unless 18 gets bet down below 2-1)

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Race 6

  • Surface: Sloppy
  • Distance: 6 Furlongs
  • Time: 3:36 p.m. ET
Horse Model Score
No. 9 Floroplus (4-1) 24%
No. 5 Irritator (20-1) 4%
No. 1 Twinking Light 2%

My numbers point to No. 9 Floroplus (4-1), who who holds the highest last Speed Rating despite finishing a length back against slightly tougher competition at today’s distance.

He’s trained by Kim Hammond and keeps Alex Archard in the saddle today for the fourth straight ride. While those two may not be household names, they are winning at a 20% clip together with eight wins in 41 starts.

Floroplus has run well at Churchill historically and finds an easier spot here to pick up a seventh lifetime win.

It’s hard to see anything wrong with this horse at 4-1, especially since his likely toughest competition, No. 5 Irritator (3-1), is so inconsistent.

Irritator hasn’t posted a speed rating over 84 on fast dirt outside of Canterbury, which is a funny track. If this Thomas Amoss-trainee can piece it together on the fast dirt he absolutely becomes an immediate threat, but I’m just not convinced that’s going to happen.

Bets: No. 9 Floroplus to Win/Place/Show at 3-1 or better; 9/5 Exacta Box (1u); Exacta Box 5/9 (0.5u)

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Race 7

  • Surface: Sloppy
  • Distance: 6 Furlongs
  • Time: 4:08 p.m. ET

This maiden special weight event for $79,000 is loaded with talent and therefore there’s a lot of horses with reasons to back them. This may be the betting race of the day.

No. 5 Say Moi (5-2) is the deserved morning-line favorite thanks to a solid debut at Gulfstream Park for Bill Mott and John Velazquez (19% win rate). This daughter of Union Rags looks to be a good horse, finishing fourth lengths behind talented Center Aisle, a $1.5m purchase, and posted an 82 speed rating.

Trainer Wesley Ward is known for his two-year-olds, but here he sends forth No. 1 Golden Star Lady (8-1), who has had her ups and downs. She has kind of dawdled around this level of maidens for her first five attempts and finished as close as one length two races ago at 5 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita’s main track.

It’s hard to know what to do with her and her growing odds indicate the public agrees, but based on her two sub-47.5 works at Keeneland since her last race, I think Ward may finally have her ready to do the classic Ward thing and sprint to the lead and try to hold it. Coming out of the one-hole here leaves her little choice so we’ll see if she’s good enough.

No. 12 Stonewood (6-1) gets a hot jockey in Florent Geroux who has won 3 of the last 4 times he’s paired with trainer Carlo Vaccarezza. This horse ran a respectable debut where she got to the front and faded to fourth, beaten by only 2 lengths while posting a 79 Speed Rating. She did all of this in a field with a class rating of 85.

There are two daughters of American Pharoah entered in this contest and both are likely to have some ability. No. 9 Rocks That I Got (15-1) has a catchy name and will be ridden by a hot jockey in Declan Cannon (26% in the last 30).

She’s got an acceptable work tab for this level but nothing really jumps out. The other daughter of AP, No. 11 Bernadette the Jet (5-1) has world-class connections but she’s coming off two very slow races at Laurel, so it’s really hard to know what to do with her, as you expect Graham Motion horses to improve at second ask.

She gets a dominant jockey in Joel Rosario (29% win rate) on her this time though and maybe that, combined with the time off, and a nice consistent work tab will be enough to move her forward.

No. 10 Offering (8-1) comes with the seemingly ever present pairing of Asmussen and Santana who, I’ll remind you again, have 124 wins out of 657 attempts (19%). Santana is winning at a 21% clip in the last 30 days coming out of Oaklawn and he’ll be a force at this meet.

To me this horse looks like she’s sitting on a BIG BIG race with some wicked works before and after her debut on April 10 at Oaklawn, where she was bet to the middle of the pack and finished that way. That race was won by a Baffert filly named Ishnannity that looks to be quite good.

In the search for value in what looks like a really tough race I’m going to play this in a creative way that could very easily come up empty.

Writer’s update: There’s not a lot to go off of for the change in surface but all three sires for No. 5 Say Moi, No. 10 Offering, and No. 11 Bernadette the Jet have historically done well on the off tracks. (12:40 p.m. ET)

The Bets: 5/10,11 Exacta Box (2u); 10/11 Exacta Box (1u); 1/5,10,11/5,10,11 Trifecta (0.5u)

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Race 8

  • Surface: Turf
  • Distance: 1 Mile
  • Time: 4:40 p.m. ET

Editor’s note: This preview has been updated to reflect the change in surface and that No. 6 Labeq scratched and that No. 16 Hackberry didn’t draw in (12:46 p.m. ET).

Another loaded race here with a big $81,000 purse to entice quality entrants, despite some narrow criteria.

Chad Brown (30% win rate the last 30 days) is the first name that comes to mind when we talk about turf racing in America and he sends out No. 9 Motagally (6-1), who has some respectable efforts under his belt but none of them on turf.

I don’t know the backstory here but it feels like maybe this four-year-old was being pointed toward the Triple Crown but it just didn’t pan out.

Moving this horse to turf could prove to enhance his closing kick and put him in position to win but he will have to improve on his best efforts to do so.

A fresh face that shows up here is No. 4 Tankerville (6-1). He is a lightly raced son of Kitten’s Joy out of Starformer, a really good turf runner in her own right here in the states.

The question with this horse will be how he handles the firmer ground since he comes from Australia. I can’t see any reason to doubt his ability to adapt to racing here, but this is a tough spot.

The rest of this group mostly comes out of the same Fair Grounds circuit. And while horses like No. 7 Limnery (4-1) hold some impressive speed figures, I just think this race may pose a big jump in class with the horses coming in from elsewhere.

Wet weather means a new exacta box here: 2,9,17. The value horses here will be the 2 and the 9 as I suspect the 17 will take heavy action unless the bettors miss him being so far down the line.

The Bets: 2,9,17 Exacta Box

[Bet now at TVG and get your first bet 100% risk-free up to $300.]

Race 9

Surface: Sloppy
Distance: 7 Furlongs
Time: 5:12 p.m. ET

Editor’s Note: This preview has been updated to reflect the changes in track conditions and the fact that No. 1 Patrol and No. 2 Adhhar have scratched (12:50 p.m. ET).

The conditions for this race make it a tough one to handicap. We get a talented group of horses that just haven’t managed to cross the wire in front more than one time..

No. 4 Yamano Maker (6-1) is very much an unknown who seems to prefer the dirt and this just may be the right distance for this horse. However, I don’t see enough on the work tab to make me think this horse can win first time back off the long layoff and off a miserable effort at Saratoga.

Next, we continue towards the outside of the field with No. 9 Box of Chocolates (10-1) who is a consistent horse that will put in a solid effort and has the top last speed rating, but has really struggled at today’s distance against similar company. This feels like a toss.

No. 10 Saratogian (12-1) is a tough read and was actually entered in the Arkansas Derby with 50-1 odds but ended up being drawn against Nadal and King Guillermo so the trainer wisely scratched him.

His maiden win was decent enough, but the fact that the horse was entered into a 1 1/8 mile race really makes me scratch my head why he’s ended up back here at 7 furlongs. He’s a confusing horse that I just have to toss, but it wouldn’t shock me if he landed in the winner’s circle at a big price.

No. 11 Smile Bryan (6-1) will be my hunch play because who can pass on a horse that shares their name and it’s spelled correctly (sorry I’s). A son of goldencents that has seen some varied company and never won at the distance but has been close a lot, maybe he finally breaks through here?

I’m willing to take a price here on a stretch-running horse with Joel Rosario aboard who just might be able to time this ride and get in front just at the wire.

No. 12 Admire (5-1) is the most highly touted horse and feels like the most likely winner of this race, especially if we just look at his race two back and his competition from 2019. The problem is that he’s mixed in some inconsistent results. He’s run some big races and had some super stiff competition in his career but there’s a reason he only has one win.

I do think we might be able to garner some clues from the performance of Motagally in the previous race who has also faced Moretti, Vekoma, and Tacitus. If Motagally shows up big, I’d be more inclined to believe in Admire, but 5/1 feels about right.

Bets: 6,11,12 Exacta Box; No. 12 to Win at 3-1 or better; Show Bet on No. 6 Sacred Oath at 5-1 or better

Editor’s note: The bets above have been updated to reflect the change in track conditions and the field changes (12:50 p.m. ET).

[Bet now at TVG and get your first bet 100% risk-free up to $300.]

Race 10

  • Surface: Sloppy
  • Distance: 7F
  • Time: 5:44 p.m. ET

Editor’s note: This preview has been updated to reflect the change in surface and conditions (1 p.m. ET).

This is a field worthy of a stakes race for three year old fillies, thought it also has some interesting conditions.

I’ll begin with No. 1 Mo City (9-2), a well-met daughter of Uncle Mo coming from the Michael Stidham barn, which is on fire with a 27% win rate in the last 30 days.

She’s coming off a bit of a let down from her last effort at Aqueduct in a stakes race where she chased and just never got there finishing a distant 5th. She gets to shorten up a bit to 7 furlongs, but doesn’t get any sort of break when it comes to the level of horses here. She’s not without a chance but she might be over her head here. Uncle Mo’s are winning in the mud at a 20% clip.

No. 2 Portrait (4-1) is the most likely winner in my eyes. What should give you pause is the fact that she had to drop down in class in her last effort at Fair Grounds and still couldn’t quite get home at even money. I think the cut back in distance absolutely plays to her favor and may see her return to the winner’s circle with an open length win.

Bill Mott sends out No. 5 Miss T Too (4-1), who gets Johnny Velasquez in the saddle. She is coming in off a very nice maiden win at Gulfstream where she posted an impressive 92 Speed Rating, which makes her immediately competitive with this group.

She steps up in competition, shortens up in distance, but absolutely looks the part of a winner here.

No. 8 Four Graces (9-2) will probably compete with Mo City for the public’s money but her last performance at Gulfstream against weaker competition leaves a whole lot to be desired. Her maiden win was impressive at the distance so maybe coming back to 7 furlongs will fit her. I still don’t see enough to make me think she’s better and she’s certainly less battle hardened than others here.

The final horse I want to cover here is No. 11 Aurelia Garland (8-1), who was a first-time starter when she took down a $100,000 MSW purse at Belmont, which is a massive accomplishment. Since then she’s scratched from consecutive races. You also get Jose Ortiz aboard this Rodolphe Brisset trained filly which adds some value. I think the 8-1 morning line is a fair price but watch this one come post time and see how she looks and what kind of steam she’s got. Constitution progeny are winning in the mud at a 17% clip.

I’m trying to beat the two likely favorites here, so I’ll try to bake in some value with an exacta box using the second tier of horses. It’s entirely possible that the No. 2 and No. 5 end up as post-time favorites. If they do, you can move on and look elsewhere for value.

In these conditions I am moving the No. 1 Mo City forward and I believe that the 2, 5 and 11 2, 5, 11 all sustain favoritism.

Bets: 2,5,11 Exacta Box; 2,5,11/4 Daily Double (2u); 2,5,11/8,11 Daily Double (1u)

[Bet now at TVG and get your first bet 100% risk-free up to $300.]

Race 11

Surface: Sloppy
Distance: 5 1/2 Furlongs
Time: 6:16 p.m. ET

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect changes in track conditions and the scratches (1 p.m. ET).

Another good race but I’m going to keep this one short and simple with the No. 4 Karak (4-1).

While I don’t understand why this horse is being moved back to the turf after a blistering performance on the dirt, I am confident that Wesley Ward knows what he is doing. The sire Karakontie (JPN) has never recorded a mud win so this worries me.

Despite the unknown, I am sticking with No. 4 Karak to win as I think there’s too much value on him to pass up.

Bets: No.4 Karak to Win; 4,10 Exacta Box

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