August 11, 2020

Shapiro Enjoying His Churchill Downs Handicapping Adventure

Justify in Kentucky Derby 144
The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs (Churchill Downs/Coady Photography)

by SCOTT SHAPIRO

It has been nearly a month since I moved my tack to Louisville from Southern California and attended my first Kentucky Derby week at legendary Churchill Downs. As expected the first week of the spring meeting brought tremendous joy and excitement.

Premier Thoroughbred racing in the Kentucky spring is something I have always followed intently, but I have never been actively involved in the days and weeks following the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. What I have discovered is a racing product that has exceeded my expectations.

There are a number of reasons that I have been so pleased with the spring Churchill product, but the full field turf events top the list. Not only are these races run over a legitimate turf unlike some courses that barely resemble grass, but the competitive fields often require the use of a number of handicapping angles to come up with the winner.

Of the 15 tracks with at least 25 turf races this year, Churchill ranks third in average field size (9.7) and “last” in winning favorites (16.2%)

The 6th race on Thursday’s eight-race card is a great example. Nine horses are entered for this Alw55000n1X event at one mile on the sod, and I could make a solid case for 7 of the 9. What more could a horseplayer—especially one who dabbles in exotic pools—ask for?

In addition to the grass races, I have really enjoyed the two-year-old events. Some handicappers find these races to be a “grab bag” of sorts, but I disagree. A proper use of trainer statistics, pedigree data, race replays, and workout info can often lead a handicapper to a standout or better yet a vulnerable top choice (trainer and pedigree statistics—aka Brisnet.com Super Stats—are part of the TwinSpires.com Express platform).

Jamie Newell/Horsephotos.com

Plus, I enjoy the thrill of watching up and coming juveniles compete for the initial time with the dream alive for each of the connections. Runners like the well-bred Sir Truebadour who won for fun on Thursday, May 17, for trainer Steve Asmussen barn.

A third thing that I have found noticeably enjoyable at the Churchill spring meeting is the one-turn mile races over the main track. I have watched a lot of races at Belmont Park in my life, and I have always appreciated the combination of speed and stamina that is required to be successful at a one-turn eight-furlong event. I particularly enjoy them when the frontrunners battle early and set things up for a runner from well off the pace. These races are a great challenge to handicap for the most part with both routers cutting back and sprinters stretching out and a true joy to see run regularly just a few miles away from my home.

The combination of strong grass fields, competitive two-year-old races with potential future starts and challenging one-turn mile events on the main track have been a major reason why payouts continue to be solid on a daily basis at Churchill Downs this summer. With very few “free squares” available in the multi-race sequences it has been difficult to connect, but you have been rewarded handsomely when you have.

This week should bring more of the same as it gets started with a strong 8-race card on Thursday evening. See you under the Twin Spires!