06/28/2012 2:37PM

King: Rider change on Circle Unbroken no cause for concern in Bashford Manor


When horseplayers analyze the past performances of Saturday’s Grade 3 Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs, at least some will downgrade the chances of Circle Unbroken, noting that he is losing the jockey that rode him to victory in his only race, Leandro Goncalves.

Replacing him is Jon Court – a capable, veteran jockey, but a rider winning at merely a 7-percent clip at the meet.

No one should avoid him because of Court. This is a foot-race - but among horses, not jockeys.

Circle Unbroken looks fastest - to this point, anyway - having run a 79 Beyer Speed Figure in his only race, the top overall figure in the Bashford Manor.

So why isn’t Goncalves up? He’s riding Sum of the Parts in the $400,000 Red Legend Stakes for trainer Tom Amoss at Charles Town on Saturday night.

Considering the purse of the Red Legend is four times that of the $100,000 Bashford Manor, and that Amoss has been Goncalves’s biggest supporter, it doesn’t make financial sense to be at Churchill on Saturday.

But few will likely consider that in handicapping the race, meaning Circle Unbroken should stick to his 3-1 morning line, if not drift higher.

Besides running quickly in his one race on June 17, there were other factors to like about Circle Unbroken’s performance. Breaking a length behind the leaders, he recovered quickly to gain a pressing position on the outside, and then outran a nice colt in Show Some Magic, a Steve Asmussen-trained runner that already had the benefit of a start, having run fourth May 18.

Having already won at 5 1/2 furlongs and possessing a distance pedigree, Circle Unbroken should improve going six furlongs in the Bashford Manor.

As for Court, expect him to deliver. Granted, he’s having a quiet meet, but he hasn’t ridden many horses of the caliber of Circle Unbroken, either.

As any jockey will tell you, it’s about having the horse. And Court has that Saturday in Circle Unbroken.

Price plays on lesser known riders

In addition to Goncalves, third in the Churchill Downs standings, Brian Hernandez Jr. also is not riding at Churchill on Saturday. He will be at Prairie Meadows.

Their absences create more chances for jockeys lower on the leading-rider list, and beyond the Bashford Manor, there appear to favorable wagering opportunities on well-placed horses that should go off at overlaid prices due to lesser-name riders being aboard.

These betting opportunities include:

Race 7, Hammer’s Bullet (6-1): Court replaces Hernandez on this runner, who ran second in a similar $7,500 claimer June 14. Well drawn on the fence going 1 1/16 miles, this gelding looks poised to get a favorable trip, and appears to be in good health, having worked a bullet half-mile at Trackside on June 26 for trainer Dallas Keen.

Race 8, Off Limits (8-1): With leading riders Corey Lanerie and Shaun Bridgmohan tied up on mounts coming off runner-up finishes, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott likely didn’t have a lot of options in securing a leading jock. So he gave the call to Joe Johnson, who has won races for him from time to time, typically at Ellis Park and Turfway Park Off Limits is capable of a high-quality race. Although outrun June 23 in an allowance, she was stakes placed over the winter at Aqueduct and looks well suited to the shift to the grass, a surface over which she worked well around the dogs at Churchill Downs on June 19.

Race 10, Noctivagant (3-1): On the board in four of seven starts while always competing vs. tougher , this filly drops to the maiden cellar, the $10,000 level, but will likely stick to her morning line due to the presence of low-percentage rider Oriana Rossi. Besides a notable class drop, Noctivagant has run Beyers of 51 and 55 in two races at Churchill Downs this meet, ranking her as the fastest filly in the race.

Race 11, Pretty Pleaser (5-1): Fifth as the 3-2 favorite last time out with Lanerie up, she figures to be a significantly better price Saturday, particularly with Marcelino Pedroza taking over for Lanerie, who is on Bail Me Out, a last-race runner-up finisher. Given that Pretty Pleaser’s best race came with Pedroza up, when second to eventual Regret winner Centre Court, there is no reason to discount her. A return to form could make her an overlaid winner.