05/02/2012 2:14PM

Churchill Downs: Five graded stakes build up to Kentucky Derby


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Churchill Downs racing staff apparently tried to outdo itself this week. As good as the 12-race Friday card and the Kentucky Oaks shape up – and that’s very good, by virtually all accounts – the 13-race Saturday card and the Kentucky Derby might be even better.

Five stakes directly precede the Derby (race 11) on the Saturday card, with the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic serving once again as the traditional lead-in race. The program also features several prior Breeders’ Cup winners, including Musical Romance and Amazombie, both of them victorious here last fall.

Working backward, here are quick previews of those supporting events:

◗ Grade 1, $500,000 Woodford Reserve (race 10, post time 4:46 p.m. Eastern): Get Stormy returns to defend his championship in a terrific field of 11 older horses but surely will not be favored, with that role likely to go to Turallure. Other major contenders include Data Link, winner of the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland, and Al Khali, a sharp winner of a Keeneland turf allowance. Al Khali was cross-entered in the Milesius, a $90,000 overnight stakes on Thursday’s card at Belmont Park.

Turallure, beaten a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Mile here last fall, was second to Data Link in the Maker’s 46.

“He came out of the Maker’s in good shape, and hopefully he’ll move up off it,” said trainer Charlie Lopresti.

◗ Grade 1, $300,000 Humana Distaff (Race 9, 3:51): Musical Romance, winner of the BC Filly and Mare Sprint, will try to rebound off a fourth-place finish in the Vinery Madison at Keeneland when she faces eight other fillies and mares in this seven-furlong race. Juan Leyva will be aboard Musical Romance when she breaks from post 8.

Groupie Doll, winner of the Madison, also wheels back, along with such accomplished runners as Switch, Sassy Image, and Magical Feeling. Sassy Image, trained by Dale Romans, is unraced since being injured last summer in the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga.

◗ Grade 2, $200,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (Race 8, 2:59): Marketing Mix and Daisy Devine both exit eye-catching victories over the Keeneland turf when meeting up with eight other filly-and-mare turf specialists, including Aruna, Hooh Why, and Tapitsfly.

Marketing Mix won the Mrs. Revere last fall over the Churchill turf and dominated a solid field last month at Keeneland, while Daisy Devine has never been better, having captured her last four starts, including the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley in her latest for trainer Andrew McKeever.

◗ Grade 2, $400,000 Churchill Downs (Race 7, 2:08): Amazombie, winner of the BC Sprint over this same track last fall, will have Mike Smith back aboard when breaking from post 6 and facing seven other older runners in this seven-furlong race. Shackleford, winless in seven starts since upsetting the Preakness last May, was a good third in the Carter Handicap last out and looms one of the top challengers, along with Smiling Tiger, Apriority, and Gantry.

◗ Grade 3, $125,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint (Race 6, 1:19): Twelve of the best in the turf-sprint niche are entered, including Great Mills, Chamberlain Bridge, and Great Attack. One sleeper is Bridgetown, who is unraced since winning the Troy Stakes last summer and gets John Velazquez on a return call from Todd Pletcher.

The Derby is the final leg of numerous multi-race wagers, including a $2 pick six with a guaranteed pool of $500,000. The pick six starts with the Turf Sprint, the pick five with the Churchill Downs, and a pick four with the Distaff Turf Mile.

First post Derby Day is 10:30 a.m. The day starts with the first of five allowance races.