The nine-furlong Turf Classic, one of five graded stakes on the Derby undercard, drew a contentious field of eight, with several of the challengers coming out of the Maker's Mark Mile (gr. IT) run at Keeneland April 11.
One of those is Einstein, who is making his third try in the Turf Classic after finishing fourth in the race in 2006 and seventh last year. Trained by Helen Pitts for Midnight Cry Stable, the 6-year-old Spend a Buck horse ran a closing second, one length behind Kip Deville, in the Maker's Mark. Pitts feels the Brazilian bred is spotted nicely for the Turf Classic, which, with an eighth of a mile more to negotiate, is more to Einstein's liking.
"He's doing great, and his race in the Maker's Mark should set him up perfectly for this one," she told Daily Racing Form.
Robby Albarado, who rode Einstein three weeks ago, has the return engagement. Favored on the morning line at odds of 3-1, they break from post 5 and carry co-high weight of 124 pounds.
Einstein captured the 1 3/8-mile Gulfstream Park Turf (gr. IT) by a neck in February. The dark bay has won seven of 17 lifetime starts and leads the field in earnings with $774,782.
Also coming out of the Maker's Mark is Thorn Song, who ran third, fifth-place finisher Out of Control and War Monger, 10th.
The Irish-bred Artiste Royal, also carrying 124, seeks his first victory for trainer Neil Drysdale since capturing the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. IT) at Oak Tree's Santa Anita meeting last fall. Owned by David Heerensperger, the 7-year-old tuned up for the Turf Classic with a fourth-place finish behind Daytona in the one-mile Arcadia Handicap (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita April 5.
Artiste Royal was given some time off after running eighth in the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) at Tokyo last winter, returning to action with a runner-up finish in the Kilroe Mile Handicap (gr. IT) March 1. Making his first start at the 1 1/8-mile distance, he has won five of 23 starts with earnings of $540,257.
James Cassidy ships the Irish-bred Golden Balls to Churchill from Southern California, where the 4-year-old Danehill Dancer colt finished third in the Arcadia after a layoff of more than nine months. Fontana Racing, the Gould Family Trust and Deron Pearson own Golden Balls, who has not been out of the money in three U.S. starts since his arrival from Great Britain last spring.
Thorn Song, trained by Dale Romans, won the River City Handicap (gr. IIIT) at the distance over the Churchill Downs grass course last November. Zayat Stables owns the 5-year-old son of Unbridled's Song, whose best effort in three starts this year came in the Maker's Mark. Thorn Song set the pace before being collared by the winner coming off the far turn.
Romans also saddles the outsider Yate's Black Cat, a three-time winner at Churchill.
Trainer Bobby Frankel is represented by Stud TNT's Brazilan-bred Out of Control, winner of the Oak Tree Mile (gr. IIT) by a nose in October.
Peter Vegso's homebred War Monger, winner of the Sunshine Millions Turf at Gulfstream for trainer in January, returned to run third as the 11-10 choice in the Kilroe prior to the Maker's Mark debacle in which the 4-year-old War Chant colt faltered after a wide trip.
Duveen, a grade III winner on the Churchill lawn a year ago, is on the comeback trail for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. The 4-year-old Horse Chestnut colt last raced July 21, finishing seventh in the Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) at Colonial Downs.
$500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. IT, Race 9, 4:52 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, ML Odds
1. Out of Control (BRZ), Garrett K. Gomez, 119, 5/1
2. War Monger (FL), Kent J. Desormeaux, 121, 4/1
3. Golden Balls (IRE), David R. Flores, 117, 9/2
4. Thorn Song (KY), John R. Velazquez, 119, 5/1
5. Einstein (BRZ), Robby Albarado, 124, 3/1
6. Yate's Black Cat (KY), Ramon A. Dominguez, 117, 20/1
7. Duveen (KY), Edgar S. Prado, 119, 8/1
8. Artiste Royal (IRE), Rafael Bejarano, 124, 5/1