Is it possible to have a speed duel in a 1 3/4 marathon? Sure if Eldaafer and Gabriel's Hill decide to go at it early. If one defers, there's a chance for a loose-on-the-lead type clicking off 25-26 second quarters around three turns. I like Gabriel's Hill to do just that at some pretty hefty odds. With all these Breeders' Cup races Churchill experience does count and A.U. Miner and Prince Will I Am both will bring big prices to the table if they can pounce on some tiring speed up front.
Big improvement or proven form is the main question here with several foreign invaders tossed in for confusion. Winter Memories will answer both questions with another big effort. In her last, she seemed to win for fun coming six wide. Allure d'Amour ran a few ticks faster than Winter Memories will registering a very similar Beyer speed figure coming off a maiden score - of course she is breaking from the grandstand this time. Kathmanblu and More Than Real are stakes placed and looked to be the main closing threats along with chalky 'Memories. Finally Tale Untold looks battle-tested and beat 18 of 19 competitors in her last while gaining late.
Filly and Mare Sprint
This tricky race can only be parred down to five for me: Champagne d'Oro beat a decent Test field at Saratoga with ease. Her latest fourth place finish at Keenland was simply a tune up for this. Dubai Majesty loves Churchill with three wins from six starts, but has yet to win at the tricky seven furlong distance. Friday may be her day. Informed Decision is likely to reach her highest odds this year and she simply relishes the seven furlong distance, winning seven of eleven. The deftly managed Rightly So is 7-3-1 from 11 starts and 3-for-3 at seven furlongs; her last a front-running romp at the Spa. Whether or not Secret Gypsy goes, Rightly So could actually have the front to herself.
Pace will not be the question here. There will be plenty of competition for the front and either a very strong-willed two-year-old will lead them all the way around or more likely a mid-pack or deep closer will come flying late. Awesome Feather intrigues me the most since horses coming off the deep, sandy track at Calder usually put up slower times and can be vastly underrated - even if they are 5-for-5 like Awesome Feather. According to Daily Racing Form's Mike Welsch neither R Heat Lighting nor Tell a Kelly looked comfortable over the Churchill strip this week, so I'm tossing two of the chalkier prospects. Off of her Frizette win, A Z Warrior may be the favorite, and is almost a must use off that last effort. Coming from the other end of spectrum, Richard Dutrow had a 13-length maiden winner Believe in A.P. cruise at Philly Park on October 9. Will she be an all of sudden champ or just a chump filling the field?
Indian Gracey gets favorable post number 1. She is a threat to hit the front and just keep going here. Delightful Mary has made a very favorable impression working on dirt for the first time after two Woodbine synthetic track wins. A relatively unknown trainer/jockey combination and lack of dirt racing experience will provide high odds for anyone willing to take a shot.
Filly and Mare Turf
Midday is one of several terrifying European invaders. She seems push-button in winning three straight Group 1 wins. Play against her at your own risk. For some reason I am attracted t0 the chances of Eclair de Lune - a foreign invader that won the coveted, Grade 1 Beverly D. at Arlington's European-like turf. You'll get a price for her. Harmonious seems to have a lot to overcome despite her talent - facing older competition for the first time and stepping out an eighth of a mile longer. Too much for me.
A two-horse race for me - one leading early or one coming late. Life at Ten has worked extremely well since her Grade 1 smash, winning Belmont's Beldame easily. The one-hole could be problematic, unless pilot Johnny V. saves all the ground, only to swing out late to win. Blind Luck will simply take her time and lope around until the real running starts on turn for home. Impressive win at Churchill in May.
Important Note: In looking at Churchill's racing charts the last three days, the middle of the track - both long and short, on the dirt - is the place to be. Horses are consistently winning in the two-, three- and four-path. Unless track maintenance plays with the track this weekend, the rail is not the place to be.