Welcome to the post-Triple Crown season. We had an incredible one this year, with Justify becoming the 13th Triple Crown winner, just a few years after American Pharoah accomplished the feat. But now we turn to the world of later-developing 3YO’s (it’s funny, in a normal year, you could consider Justify one of those) and a summer full of GII and GIII state derbys. Tonight, we have the Matt Winn, a GIII affair from Churchill Downs, which begins to set the stage for the summer. It’s 8.5 furlongs on the same main track which hosted the Derby 6 weeks ago.
The 4/5 morning line favorite is Ax Man, who hails from the incredibly deep barn of two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert. He debuted with a 97 Beyer Speed Figure, winning by 9 1/2 lengths under Drayden Van Dyke, who had the first 3 mounts of his career. He’s 3 for 4, with his only blemish coming in the hot pace of the GII San Vincente, which brought winner Kanthaka into the Derby consciousness for a short time. He’s been odds-on in 3 of his 4 starts — the only exception being his maiden — and he earned his first stakes victory in the ungraded Sir Barton on Preakness day, where he decimated the field to win by 6 3/4 and earned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure. He’ll be the favorite — likely at lower than 4/5 — and he’s a deserving one at that.
Home Base is rapidly improving for trainer Michael Tomlinson, who is winning at a 32% clip at the current Churchill Downs meet. Claimed for $50K at Gulfstream, he broke his maiden at Keeneland at 32-1 and then won a first-level allowance against older at 10-1. He earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure in the latest win. Both wins were at 7 furlongs and he’ll have to prove he can handle two turns. He has early speed. Combatant last ran in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 18th out of 20. He is trained by Steve Asmussen. He is a proven dirt router with some speed. Prior to that challenging run in the Kentucky Derby, he finished in the money 3 times in Derby prep stakes at Oaklawn. He’ll likely need pace to be competitive today, something that doesn’t seem all that likely. He seems like a good horse to finish underneath for those who play exactas, trifectas, and superfectas.
Funny Duck won the GIII Pay Day Mile over this track on Derby Day and did so at almost 40-1. Trained by Rusty Arnold, he closed from off the pace and earned a 91 Beyer Speed Figure. Like the others (other than Ax Man), he’ll need to improve to figure today. Tiz Mischief had his best performance with a 3rd place finish (albeit 13 1/4 lengths) behind Audible in the Holy Bull and ran an 83 Beyer Speed in the Blue Grass against Good Magic. He struggled on the yielding turf on Derby Day in the GII American Turf and now returns to his preferred surface. He is trained by Dale Romans. His only win is his maiden and he prefers to come off the pace. King Zachary is also trained by Dale Romans and won a 3YO allowance on Derby Day. He faced top competition in the Wood Memorial but finished 6th — 13 1/2 lengths behind Vino Rosso. He has some early speed but would need to improve greatly in the time since Derby Day. Navy Armed Guard is trained by Joan Scott and has two wins — a maiden-breaker at Tampa in a lower-level maiden and a win over Polytrack at Arlington in a first-level allowance for 3YO. His recent Beyer figures, even in the wins, are still way too low to be competitive here. His stakes tries — the GIII Lexington and the GIII Sam F. Davis — resulted in losses by double-digit lengths.
Analysis: Ax Man dominates this field. A ferocious pace battle could do him in and set it up for Combatant. An improving Home Base could easily finish second and could challenge Ax Man if, for some reason, Ax Man doesn’t away from the gate cleanly or is off his game.