05/01/2014 10:39AM

Sahara Sky tops star-studded cast in Churchill Downs

Benoit & Associates
Sahara Sky, winner of $1.1 million, will break from post 4 under Joel Rosario in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The popular Derby Day event known simply as the Churchill Downs has seen some lean times, but the race has undergone a resurgence in recent years when attracting the likes of Shackleford, Amazombie, and other top middle-distance runners.

That upward trend continues Saturday, when Sahara Sky, well entrenched as one of the top milers in North America, faces several other standouts in a terrific renewal of the Grade 2, $400,000 Churchill Downs.

[DRF Live: Get live reports and handicapping insights from Churchill Downs on Saturday]

Sahara Sky, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, will break from post 4 under Joel Rosario in a field of 11 older horses in the seven-furlong Churchill Downs. The 6-year-old Sahara Sky has won 8 of 19 starts and earned more than $1.14 million, highlighted by a triumph in the 2013 Met Mile. He comes off a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Carter at Aqueduct four weeks ago and shows three workouts at Santa Anita in the interim.

“The seven furlongs is a real nice distance for us, provided we can get enough pace up front,” Hollendorfer said.

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The Churchill Downs also got its defending champion, Delaunay, who streaked to a four-length score in the slop as the 9-5 favorite last year. He will break from post 10 under Rosie Napravnik.

“The good news is he loves this racetrack,” said trainer Tom Amoss. “The bad news is this isn’t last year’s field.”

Indeed, the competition appears superior this year, with the lineup also including Clearly Now, third as the favorite in the Carter; Laugh Track, the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up; Falling Sky, a runaway winner of the Gulfstream Park Sprint in March; and Shakin It Up, the beaten favorite behind Sahara Sky in the Grade 2 San Carlos at Santa Anita in March.

This is the 80th running of the Churchill Downs, which is carded as the ninth of 13 races and is a key link in multirace wagers leading into the Derby. Post time is 3:46 p.m. Eastern.

Among the prior winners of the Churchill Downs was Pleasant Tap, the sire of Sahara Sky. He won a memorable running in 1992 by a nose over Take Me Out.