March 18, 2019

William Walker Stakes kicks off Churchill Downs’ spring meet

Salmanazar wired the Texas Glitter Stakes at Gulfstream Park under John Velazquez on Saturday, February 24, 2018 (c) Lauren King/Adam Coglianese Photography

A field of 10 sophomores has been entered to go five grassy furlongs in Saturday’s $100,000 William Walker Stakes, the feature event on opening day of Churchill Downs’ 2018 spring meet.


The meet runs for 38 days and is highlighted by the 144th editions of the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) on May 5 and 4, respectively.

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First post at Churchill Downs on Saturday is 6 p.m. (ET), and the William Walker is scheduled to go off at 10:11 p.m.

Headlining the field is Beckford, who was last seen running fifth, beaten only two lengths, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Del Mar. The British-bred colt entered that November 3 contest, which saw him rally from last after being in tight early, off another fifth, this time in the Middle Park Stakes (Eng-G1) at Newmarket.

Beckford captured his initial two starts, including the Railway Stakes (Ire-G2), and filled the runner-up spot in both the Phoenix Stakes (Ire-G1) and Vincent O’Brien National Stakes (Ire-G1) for trainer Elliot Gordon. Following the Breeders’ Cup, the dark bay son of Bated Breath was switched to conditioner Brendan Walsh, who has tabbed Julien Leparoux to ride Beckford as the colt makes his three-year-old bow on Saturday.

Lightly raced Salmanazar seeks a return to the winner’s circle here under jockey Corey Lanerie. The Todd Pletcher-trained bay broke his maiden at Keeneland and finished seventh in Belmont Park’s Tremont Stakes last year on the main track, but opened 2018 wiring the Texas Glitter Stakes and finishing third in the Cutler Bay Stakes, both over Gulfstream Park’s turf. The Shackleford colt breaks from the rail.

Masked rides a two-race win streak into the William Walker for trainer Bob Baffert. The Data Link chestnut was a well-beaten fifth making his career debut on the dirt at Santa Anita Park in late January, but easily broke his maiden and took an allowance/optional claimer once switching to the downhill turf at that venue in his past pair. Shaun Bridgmohan takes the reins for the first time Saturday.

Drena’s Star also boasts a two-race winning skein. The chestnut son of First Samurai finished second in his debut last November before breaking his maiden by 1 1/4 lengths. Both of those efforts came on Fair Grounds’ main track, but trainer Tom Amoss switched the colt to that venue’s turf last out against allowance/optional claiming rivals to record a 4 1/4-length romp. Florent Geroux has the call as Drena’s Star makes his stakes bow.

Battle Station is a two-time stakes winner, but both of those came on dirt. The Wesley Ward pupil does have turf experience, wiring his maiden debut by three parts of a length last August at Saratoga, and gets Albin Jimenez aboard here.

Completing the William Walker field are Elusive Mischief, who broke his maiden by 6 1/2 lengths two back over Fair Grounds’ turf; last-out turf maiden scorer Vitsal; stakes winner and turf debuter Angaston; Pure Shot, a four-length allowance/optional claiming winner last out at Oaklawn Park who will be trying turf for the first time in this spot; and claimer I’m Corfu.