It's finally here, this first weekend in May that we've been anxiously awaiting all year. A record-setting “Thurby” crowd of nearly 40,000 people came to Churchill Downs on Thursday, and talk of sunshine is expected to bring near-record crowds through the Louisville oval's gates on Friday and Saturday.
Those fans will be treated early on Friday afternoon, as the G1 La Trioenne is the first stakes race to kick off the day. Carded as the sixth race, the 1 1/16-mile event features G1 Madison victor Sheer Drama for trainer David Fawkes against six other older fillies and mares. Second in this race last year, Sheer Drama's two main rivals appear to be Todd Pletcher's Curalina, third in the Breeders' Cup Distaff last out, and Kiaran McLaughlin's Penwith, who won the G2 Royal Delta before running fourth in the G1 Santa Margarita.
Next up is G2 Eight Belles, featuring 3-year-old fillies over seven furlongs. Carina Mia is the morning-line favorite, cutting back in distance after a fourth-place effort in the Ashland. Following the fillies is a five-furlong turf sprint, the G3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint, featuring Wesley Ward's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Hootenanny. The G2 Alysheba over 1 1/16 miles is a very competitive field this year, with division staples like Majestic Harbor, Majestic Affair, Noble Bird, Eagle, and Cat Burglar showing up to compete. The G3 Edgewood is another race restricted to 3-year-old fillies, with Catch a Glimpse looking to extend her winning streak to six over 1 1/16 miles on the turf.
Carded as race 11 on Friday, the G1 Kentucky Oaks is expected to go off at approximately 5:49 PM. The morning line favorite is Rachel's Valentina, celebrated daughter of the great Rachel Alexandra and Bernardini. She is up against a very well-match field following the defection of Songbird. Weep No More defeated the favorite last out at Keeneland, and Cathryn Sophia was a hard-fought third in the same race. Land Over Sea had to fly to Louisiana to get her qualifying points, avoiding Songbird, and Lewis Bay was impressive winning the Gazelle at Aqueduct. Other fillies who have made a positive impression in their morning work include Go Maggie Go and Mokat.
Two G3 events wrap up the day across the country, with Twentytwentyvision headlining the American Stakes at Santa Anita and Carve and Jessica's Star facing off in the Texas Mile at Lone Star Park.
Saturday racing kicks off with the G2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile in Louisville, led by the brilliant Tepin over one mile on the turf. The G2 Churchill Downs Stakes is a seven-furlong event featuring some of the country's top sprinters in Kobe's Back and Salutos Amigos.
The G1 Humana Distaff features a pair of G1 winners in Birdatthewire and Wavell Avenue, as well as several G2 winners looking to step up in Sarah Sis, Stonetastic, and Taris. These older fillies and mares will contest seven furlongs over the main track, with Taris earning the slight edge in morning-line favoritism.
Next up is the G2 American Turf, over 1 1/16 miles on the turf featuring Kentucky Jockey Club winner Airoforce for Mark Casse. The G3 Pat Day Mile highlights a wide-open 3-year-old matchup between several horses edged out of Derby contention. Those include Fellowship, Discreetness, and Star Hill, with Dale Romans' Unbridled Outlaw sharing favoritism with Fellowship. Woodbine's G3 Vigil runs next, featuring 2015 Sovereign Award champion sprinter Stacked Deck.
The G1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic has drawn a very competitive field at Churchill Downs, with Big Blue Kitten pulling slight favoritism in the 1 1/8-mile turf event over Slumber. Also in the field are the multiple graded-placed Tourist, as well as G2 winners Divisidero, Bolo, Chocolate Ride and Grand Tito.
Belmont's G3 Fort Marcy will sneak in between the Woodford and the Derby, highlighting Ironicus over 1 1/8 miles on the turf.
Finally, it will be time for the Kentucky Derby. Morning-line favoritism falls to the unbeaten Nyquist, but a field of 19 other sophomores will line up to contest the 1 1/4 feature race. It's one of the most wide-open runnings in recent history, with very few handicapping experts have a real “solid” choice in the marquee event.
For those that haven't gotten their fill of racing, Belmont's G2 Sheepshead Bay Stake will showcase fillies and mares over 1 3/8 miles on the turf, headlined by the French mare Sea Calisi. Closing out Saturday's action is the G3 Senorita Stakes at Santa Anita for sophomore fillies at one mile on the turf, highlighting G3 winner Decked Out.
On Sunday, a pair of G3 events greet horseplayers who haven't exhausted their weekend bankrolls. Woodbine's G3 Hendrie Stakes features Leigh Court, the Sovereign Award-winning 3-year-old filly of 2013, and Santa Anita's Adoration Stakes features the much-anticipated return of 2015 Champion Older Mare Beholder.
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