An appearance by 2022 Kentucky Derby (G1) upsetter Rich Strike in the $600,000 Alysheba (G2) on Friday kicks off the Derby weekend stakes action at Churchill Downs.
The 1 1/16-mile Alysheba marks the season debut for Rich Strike, who has not been out since finishing sixth in the Nov. 25 Clark (G1). To date it is the only time the four-year-old has finished worse than second in four starts under the Twin Spires.
However, as the Alysheba distance might prove to be on the short side for Rich Strike first up, bettors are likely to gravitate more toward rivals that have been more active this term. That includes Pegasus World Cup (G1) winner Art Collector, who will have a rematch here with West Will Power, his conqueror in the March 25 New Orleans Classic (G2).
Also coming in off of a busy winter/spring campaign is Last Samurai, who landed the Razorback H. (G3) over West Will Power and the Essex H. (G3) at Oaklawn before finishing a head second to Proxy to in the Oaklawn H. (G2) two weeks ago.
Another 2022 Derby alumnus in the field of seven is Smile Happy. Winner of the 2021 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) over the track and distance, the son of Runhappy finished eighth behind Rich Strike in the Run for the Roses and was put away for the remainder of the season.
Smile Happy was most recently third in the April 1 Oaklawn Mile (G3), which came two weeks after a season-opening allowance win over nine furlongs.
Secret Oath, last year’s Kentucky Oaks (G1) heroine, heads a stellar field of 10 fillies and mares in the $750,000 La Troienne (G1), also over 1 1/16 miles. Secret Oath earned her first win since the Oaks in the March 11 Azeri (G2) at Oaklawn, but was run down late in a rematch with Clairiere in the Apple Blossom H. (G1) three weeks ago.
Grade 1 veteran Search Results, second by a neck in the 2021 Oaks, will look to rebound off the worst performance of her career when sixth of eight in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) at Keeneland in November. Pauline’s Pearl, who landed the 2022 La Troienne, is also looking to bounce back from a poor showing, in her case a seventh-place run behind A Mo Reay in the Beholder Mile (G1).
Others of note in the La Troienne include Played Hard, winner last season of the Falls City (G2) and Locust Grove (G3); Cotillion (G1)-winning speedster Society, third in the Madison (G1) in her season debut; and Grade 2 scorer Desert Dawn, third behind Secret Oath and champion Nest in last year’s Kentucky Oaks in her only prior visit to the Downs.
Munnys Gold will be an overwhelming favorite to maintain her undefeated record in the $500,000 Eight Belles (G3), a seven-furlong test for three-year-old fillies.
The Todd Pletcher trainee has been an emphatic winner of three starts to date by a combined margin of 38 lengths, and captured her stakes debut against Florida-breds by more than 17 lengths at Tampa Bay Downs in late March.
Also expected to attract some support are Forward Gal (G3) winner Red Carpet Ready and Accede, a second-time starter from the Chad Brown stable.