Litfin at Large: Stephen Foster Night at Churchill

Litfin at Large: Stephen Foster Night at Churchill
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Saturday night is date night where I come from. This Saturday, however, I must somehow convince Mrs. At Large about the merits of ordering in. That, or whisk the woman through the nearest In-N-Out Burger, so we're home in time for the all-graded stakes Pick 5 under the lights at Churchill Downs.

That would mean our date is over by 8 p.m., but hey, McCracken, Forever Unbridled, and Gun Runner are running!

Marriage is all about compromise, is it not? Plus, it is Father's Day weekend.

Matt Winn Stakes (G3) (race 5, 8:03 ET): Gun Runner romped in this race after running in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) a year ago, and McCracken (#2) will try to do the same thing as the 4-5 favorite.

McCraken started off with three straight wins over the Churchill strip last fall, and it may be that he was in the worst part of the track in the Derby when he flattened out after a wide move. Be that as it may, I'm not totally sold on him being back to the kind of dominating presence he was as a 2-year-old. He doesn't look much different physically now than he did seven months ago, and some later-maturing types may have caught up to him by now.

Exhibit A in that regard could be Excitations (#1), a barrel-chested colt who blasted a group of preliminary allowance horses at Keeneland, before he finished off the board in the Pat Day Mile (G3) on Derby day.

If McCraken rates an excuse because of the conditions, it seems plausible the same holds true for Excitations, who had his head cocked at a 45-degree angle while receiving a face full of "wet fast" spray behind fast fractions. He's built like a sprinter/miler type, so 1 1/16 miles is a question, but he will almost surely have better position than last time.

Using both in equal strength to start the Pick 5.

Wise Dan Stakes (G2T) (race 6, 8:35): The top three finishers from last year's edition—Pleuven (#7), Kasaqui (#5), and Thatcher Street (#3)—reconvene, along with five others in what looks like a fairly competitive event.

Pleuven is on the same schedule as last year, making his third start of the season after running in an allowance at Keeneland and the Opening Verse at Churchill. He is a lukewarm 3-1 choice on the line, but will likely go off shorter than that. He is absolutely the one to beat, but there aren't too many places to spread out in this sequence and I don't want to be out before sunset.

A — 7
B — 3, 5
C — 1, 2, 4, 6, 8

That should cover it.

Fleur de Lis Handicap (G2) (race 7, 9:09): A lot of people with only Beholder and Songbird on their tickets had heart palpitations when Forever Unbridled loomed menacingly outside the two champions with a furlong to run in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1).

Forever Unbridled (#1) is 4-5 a bit more than seven months later, and the multiple graded stakes winner is clearly the one to beat here even at something less than full throttle. You have to wonder if she would've given Songbird a run for her money in last week's Ogden Phipps (G1) based on how hard the latter had to work to beat Paid Up Subscriber.

While it's true Forever Unbridled won first time out last year, she had only been off for two months, which is a lot different than seven. The likeliest upset candidates seem like Big World (#5) and Romantic Vision (#6), the one-two finishers in a soft and sloppy renewal of the La Troienne (G1), and Carrumba (#3).

Carrumba was right there with Forever Unbridled in the 2015 Comely (G3) and last year's Phipps, but really hasn't displayed her best form now for a full year.

A — 1
B — none
C — 3, 5, 6

Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) (race 8, 9:43): Gun Runner (#3) got a long overdue grade 1 title in the Clark Handicap to close out a hard-knocking throwback kind of campaign at 3. The bad news for the rest of this field is he looks even better at 4 judging from his Razorback (G3) win and runner-up finish to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup (G1).

Considering that Gun Runner's one Achilles' Heel had been wet tracks, his effort to finish five lengths clear of the rest over a muddy Meydan surface was all the more remarkable.

If the 4-5 favorite is going to be beaten, the most likely scenario would involve Bird Song (#1) getting an easy lead from the rail. That, or Breaking Lucky (#2) and/or Honorable Duty (#4)  running back to their good numbers in the New Orleans Handicap (G2), while Gun Runner comes up flat.

Not likely, I know, but who wants to be out of the Pick 5 before the evening news comes on?

A — 3
B — none
C — 1, 2, 4

Regret Stakes (G3T) (race 9, 10:15): This 12-filly edition of the Regret will be the first test at 1 1/8 miles for most of the field, with the exceptions of Sweeping Paddy (#2), Proctor's Ledge (#4), Savannah Belle (#8), and Chubby Star (#12), all of which will be somewhere in the play.

Also using Blame the Law (#1), Sameeha (#9), Fizzy Friday (#10), and Starr Bear (#11) to varying degrees. Hopefully when all is said and done, we've covered the cost of two Double-Doubles "animal style."

Google it. And you're welcome.

A — 2, 4, 8, 12
B — 1, 8, 9, 10, 11

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