Champion World Approval and up-and-coming Ax Man highlight a pair of graded events on the Stephen Foster (G1) undercard at Churchill Downs Saturday. The “Downs After Dark” program gets underway 6 p.m. (ET) and features a total of five stakes on an 11-race card, including the $200,000 Wise Dan (G2) and $100,000 Matt Winn (G3).
World Approval recorded five stakes tallies, including the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Del Mar, en route to being named champion turf male last season. The 6-year-old gelding opened 2018 with a victory in the Tampa Bay (G3) in mid-February but must rebound from a disappointing fifth as the 1-2 favorite in the March 10 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) at Santa Anita.
A gray son of Northern Afleet, World Approval has trained forwardly according to reports for his return from a 98-day freshening and John Velazquez will be up for Mark Casse. He’ll meet seven foes in the 1 1/16-mile turf affair.
Divisidero represents the main rival. A three-time graded stakes winner on Churchill’s turf, including back-to-back editions of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1) in 2016-17, the 6-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy couldn’t make it back to the races in time for this year’s Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day but Divisdero received a nice tune-up when posting a rallying second in the May 26 Monmouth (G2) following a near eight-month hiatus. That marked his first start for trainer Kelly Rubley and Jevian Toledo retains the mount aboard the late runner.
Mr Cub will bring a two-race win skein into the Wise Dan for Ian Wilkes, including a comfortable score in the May 3 Opening Verse at Churchill Downs. Mr. Misunderstood likes the local turf, recording a pair of stakes victories last year in his only starts at Churchill, and Parlor will return to stakes competition after opening his 4-year-old season with an allowance win under the Twin Spires.
Triple Crown winner Justify will parade for fans during the “Downs After Dark” and trainer Bob Baffert will send out another exciting 3-year-old in Ax Man, who will be a prohibitive favorite in the Matt Winn for 3-year-olds. A brilliant debut winner on New Year’s Day, the speedy colt faltered at 2-5 when finishing fourth in the San Vicente (G2) second time out.
After a couple months off, Ax Man stretched out to two turns and romped by 8 ½ lengths in an entry-level allowance. The Misremembered colt continued to dominate when shipping outside of Santa Anita for the first time in the May 19 Sir Barton, drawing off to a 6 ¾-length decision on the Preakness undercard, and registered a respectable 100 BRIS Speed rating. Mike Smith has the mount on the talented front-runner and Ax Man will face six rivals in the 1 1/16-mile test.
Combatant placed in a quartet of Kentucky Derby qualifiers but never fired in the Run for the Roses, checking in 18th. The Steve Asmussen-trained son of Scat Daddy figures to appreciate the class relief Saturday and will be running late with regular rider Ricardo Santana Jr.
Funny Duck will make his first appearance since springing a 39-1 upset in the sloppy Pat Day Mile (G3) on the Kentucky Derby undercard. Home Base and King Zachary will try to carry their improving form forward against better company after recording last-out allowance wins.