Best Horse Racing Picks This Weekend: Churchill Downs & Del Mar

Led by a much anticipated match-up of Maxfield and Midnight Bourbon under the famed twin spires, Thanksgiving weekend at Churchill Downs will offer some of the best racing to be found before the close of the year.

The Grade 1 Clark featuring Maxfield and Midnight Bourbon, as well as Happy Saver, Dr Post and King Fury, is the headliner on Friday, but the females will begin the festivities on Thursday in the Grade 2 Falls City. Bonny South and Army Wife are the favorites there. We will also get an early glimpse at some Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks horses with the running of the Kentucky Jockey Club, for the boys, and the Golden Rod, for the girls, on Saturday.

This week we will focus not only on the four interesting stakes races from Churchill Downs but also on a pair of strong turf races from Del Mar.

Thursday Races

Falls City Stakes (G2), Churchill Downs, 1 1/8 miles (dirt), 3-year-olds and up fillies and mares

Bonny South finds an easier spot on the Thanksgiving day holiday, after having faced Letruska in three of her last four starts when she headlines a field of seven entered for the $500,000 Falls City Stakes at Churchill Downs. The 4-year-old daughter of Munnings began her season with a hard-fought victory in the Grade 3 Doubledogdare at Keeneland. She has not won in four subsequent starts but has kept top company, and rallied to finish not all that far behind the division leader three times.

Chief among her competition in the holiday feature is Army Wife. Trained by Mike Maker, the Declaration of War filly won back-to-back graded stakes races this summer in Maryland and Iowa before finishing third in both the Grade 1 Alabama, won by Malathaat, and the Grade 1 Cotillion, won by Clairiere, in her last two starts. The defending winner of the Falls City, Envoutante, as well as the hard-hitting Crystal Ball, also should get plenty of attention in this one.

Our Pick:

Army Wife (5/2) – The very consistent 3-year-old should get the jump on her favored opponent as she faces older mares for the first time.

Friday Races

Clark Stakes (G1), Churchill Downs, 1 1/8 miles (dirt), 3-year-olds and up

Maxfield, who will be making the final start of a successful career, will put his perfect record at Churchill Downs on the line against a solid field set for the $750,000 Clark Stakes on Friday. A Grade 1 winner, the 4-year-old son of Street Sense earned his two biggest victories of the year at Churchill Downs, when he easily scored Grade 2 victories in the Alysheba in April and the Stephen Foster in June.

His top rival in the Clark will be Midnight Bourbon, who has come in second in three consecutive Grade 1 races in which he has finished. Runner-up finishes in the Preakness, Travers and Pennsylvania Derby point him out as one of the best of a very good 3-year-old crop. Trainer Todd Pletcher looks to have the best chance to defeat the top two with the solid pair of Happy Saver and Dr Post. Both are graded stakes winners and come off a second in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup and a third in the Grade 1 Woodward respectively.

Our Pick:

Midnight Bourbon (9/5) – Pace makes the race, and Midnight Bourbon looks to be the only speed in this one.

Hollywood Turf Cup, Del Mar, 1 1/2 miles (turf), 3-year-olds and up

Fresh off a tough trip in the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf, Rockemperor looks to be the one to beat this time around, as he headlines a field of seven set for Friday’s Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar. The Irish-bred broke through with his biggest career victory two starts back when he defeated a strong field in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic on the Belmont grass. He was unable to follow it up with success at the highest level but encountered some traffic problems along the way while finishing 6 ½-lengths behind the winner Yibir in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Among his competition on Friday will be the progressive Friar’s Road. Trained by Michael McCarthy, the 4-year-old son of Quality Road has only made two starts on the turf, but has been impressive in both. First he rallied strongly to win going away in a Del Mar allowance race and then ran a big race to just miss in the Grade 2 John Henry at Santa Anita last time. Two other graded stakes winners coming out of the Breeders’ Cup, Acclimate and Astronaut, should also be given serious consideration in the Hollywood Turf Cup.

Our Pick:

Friar’s Road (4/1) – It’s a tough spot, but he looks to be a budding turf star on the West Coast.

Saturday Races

Hollywood Derby (G1), Del Mar, 1 1/8 miles (turf), 3-year-olds

Public Sector and Subconscious, two streaking graded stakes winners from opposite coasts, top an overflowing field of 15 3-year-old turf horses entered in Saturday’s Grade 1 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar. Favoritism should fall to the East Coast invader, as Public Sector has won three straight graded stakes races in New York for trainer Chad Brown. Most recently, the English-bred son of Kingman got up by a neck in the Grade 2 Hill Prince at Belmont Park. Before that, he won the Hall of Fame Stakes and the Saranac, both at Saratoga.

Home turf advantage will be on the side of Subconscious, though. Trained by Richard Mandella, the son of Tapit has won three straight in Southern California. After breaking his maiden at Del Mar in his fourth-lifetime start, he came back to win two straight at Santa Anita, including a very fast allowance race and the Grade 2 Twilight Derby. Another horse who comes in off a graded stakes win is the Kenny McPeek trained Camp Hope. A son of Summer Front, he has been a new horse since switching to the grass. He has won two straight easily on the Keeneland turf, including the Bryan Station on October 30.

Our Pick:

Subconscious (7/2) – His tactical speed should be a nice advantage in this full field, many of which do their best running from off the pace.

Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), Churchill Downs, 1 1/16 miles (dirt), 2-year-olds

A wide open group of 14 juvenile males, topped by Howling Time and Classic Causeway, have been entered in Saturday’s Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. As an early prep for next spring’s Kentucky Derby, the group of 2-year-olds will look to see how they stack up against their peers on the same track that will host the annual Run for the Roses.

Howling Time could go favored for trainer Dale Romans. An undefeated son of Not This Time, the dark bay has won both of his two careers starts at Churchill Downs, including an impressive 3 ¼-length victory in the Street Sense Stakes. Chief among his rivals is the Brian Lynch-trained Classic Causeway. A sharp winner in his debut at Saratoga, he finished third last time in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland after breaking from the outside post. Others expected factors in the $400,000 feature include the Kenny McPeek duo of Tiz the Bomb, second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last time, and Smile Happy, who romped in his career debut at Keeneland.

Our Pick:

Classic Causeway (9/2) – He gets a much better post this time to flash his speed and should improve off the third-place finish in Grade 1 company.

Golden Rod Stakes (G2), Churchill Downs, 1 1/16 miles (dirt), 2-year-old fillies

Champion Essential Quality’s half-sister, Famed, will vie for favoritism with the runaway winner of the local Rags to Riches Stakes, Sandstone when the two juvenile fillies headline a field of eight set for Saturday’s $400,000 Golden Rod. The Grade 2 race will offer qualifying points to next spring’s Kentucky Oaks on a scale of 10-4-2-1.

A daughter of Uncle Mo, Famed is trained by Brad Cox and has been odds-on in each of her two career starts. After running a solid second in her 6-furlong debut in September at Churchill Downs, the Godolphin homebred went to Keeneland and broke her maiden by nearly eight lengths on a sloppy track. As for Sandstone, the Kenny McPeek-trained daughter of Street Sense finished fifth in her debut in May but has come back with a pair of overpowering wins this fall, breaking her maiden and then winning the listed Rags to Riches by nearly 20 lengths combined.

Our Pick:

Secret Oath (8/1) – Daughter of Arrogate is working very well after breaking her maiden in second start. She could surprise.

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Brian Zipse

Expert on Horse Racing

Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.

Email: [email protected]