There are quite a few interesting 2-year-old stakes to be run this Saturday, and with Showdown at the Spa withdrawals setting in, I thought it would be good to give a few opinions. Here goes. . . listed in order of strongest opinion to weakest.
Churchill Downs Race 7 - GIII Iroquois - There's a lot of hype surrounding Ride On Curlin, and though he may prove that good, I'm not sure that what seem like key races that he comes out of were as strong as they look. Plus now he'll be asked to stretch out three furlongs with other pace present. I really like Honorable Judge. Though his wide run when romping first out over one mile at Parx Aug. 11 probably looks a little better than it should because of how frequently that track has a dead rail, he did it the right way from off a slow pace and looks like he'll run all day. The last time trainer Butch Reid shipped to Churchill was with Honorable Judge's full-brother Afleet Again in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Marathon, and that runner went ahead and blew up the tote at 41-1. Afleet Again had previously finished second in the 2010 Whirlaway and took that year's GIII Withers S. at 24-1, so Reid has a pretty solid ROI when shipping away from him Pennsylvania base. Since a two-turn, 1 1/16-mile race for two years olds this time of year offers a major stamina test, I'll take the runner who clearly won't mind any amount of real estate thrown at him. I'll also get extra greedy and try to get Ride on Curlin out of the exacta with Tapiture, runner-up to GI Hopeful winner Strong Mandate on debut; and the Dale Romans-trained duo of Cleburne and Cee 'n O, who both impressed me visually in their respective maiden breakers.
Arlington Race 9 - Arlington-Washington Lassie - Like most 2-year-old races this time of year, solving this race seems to hinge on determining which speedy maiden breakers can switch off and carry their speed over more ground. I'm most interested in Istanford, who is the lone winner at this (approximate) distance thanks to a five-length front-running romp at about one mile on the turf here Aug. 18. Though she set a quick opening quarter of :23.50, the Mike Stidham trainee was able to slow things down for the middle part of the race before showing off a powerful stride in the lane. Those who chased her finished far back, but I'm not expecting Istanford to be up on the pace with a number of sprint stretch-outs signed on here. Look for her to settle early and try to mow them down. While she might go favored, I can't dismiss Maria Maria, whose field-best 81 Beyer Speed Figure was earned over seven furlongs here back on July 19. The extra time between races should alleviate any chance of regression and, though the bottom of her pedigree contains a lot of sprinters, she is by Curlin so an additional furlong should be within her scope. The Colonel Johns figure to appreciate more ground, so I'll also toss in Sweetsoutherndame, who was second behind a slow pace in the Ontario Debutante last out Aug. 10.
Arlington Race 7 - GIII Arlington-Washington Futurity - Whyruawesome may be a bit obvious off his super-impressive troubled-trip debut, but I'm hoping his under-the-radar connections keep the price inflated. Pinched back to last in his seven-panel unveiling here Aug. 16, the 17-1 shot dragged his way into contention and reeled in a very loose leader with relative ease in the stretch despite lugging in badly. Whyruawesome was far off a very quick opening quarter, but the eventual runner-up still enjoyed an easier trip--he tracked in second before inheriting a loose lead when the early pacesetter blew the turn. Even though he cost himself several lengths by being extremely green in the stretch, Whyruawesome covered his final furlong in :12.74 compared to :13.43 for the next two finishers. The drawbacks are obvious: he clearly isn't the most mentally mature 2-year-old considering the way he behaved last time despite blinkers and having already been gelded, and it is a short turnaround from his debut. But something like 4-1 or 5-1 on probably the most most talented runner in the race is worth the gamble.
Churchill Downs Race 6 - GII Pocahontas - She doesn't look fast enough on paper, but I think it's pretty interesting that Steve Asmussen has opted to run Nevada Deputy here. She likely would have been a short price and tough to beat in the Happy Ticket S. at Louisiana Downs off her nightmare trip in that venue's Donnie Wilhite Memorial S. last time, but instead he goes for dirt and much deeper waters. At a big price, she seems worth a flyer.
Louisiana Downs Race 8 - Happy Ticket S. - Multi-millioniare sprinter Benny the Bull doesn't exactly strike me as a promising sire of turf routers, but Love Bullet is out of a Stormy Atlantic mare and has some other things going for her off a sharp debut tally sprinting over this main track. I really liked the way she got over the synthetic track once she switched leads before selling for $20,000 at OBSAPR, and her trainer Scotty McNair is three-for-seven with a $6.20 ROI with first-time turfers over the past five years according to DRF Formulator. Perhaps she'll be a pace casualty, but I definitely wouldn't be surprised if she takes another step forward here.