Race of the Week: $1 Million Grade 1 Turf Classic from Churchill Downs | Saturday, May 6, 2023

The Lead:
Saturday's fabled Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs immediately follows the traditional lead-in, the Grade 1 Turf Classic. By immediately, of course, we mean 90 minutes later on this marathon, 10-hour, 14-race bonanza of great racing.

But before you saddle up with your Kentucky Derby play for this year, let's get the cash in the Turf Classic. For more Kentucky Derby analysis, visit the 1/ST Kentucky Derby Wager Guide.

Horseplayers utilizing the 1/ST BET and Xpressbet betting platforms will enjoy up to a $10 money-back special on every race Friday and Saturday from Churchill Downs if/when their win bet finishes second or third.

Field Depth:  
Defending champ SANTIN is the only Grade 1 winner in the lineup. UP TO THE MARK and BYE BYE MELVIN are Grade 1-placed. MASTER PIECE, HONG KONG HARRY and SPOOKY CHANNEL have won at the Grade 2 level. SANTIN, BYE BYE MELVIN and MASTER PIECE have consistently held the strongest company lines in this race.

Rail-drawn OCEAN ATLANTIQUE, synthetic specialist WOLFIE'S DYNAGHOST and widest-drawn BYE BYE MELVIN should be attending a solid pace for the 1-1/8 miles trip. STEADY ON won't be far off of it as a pressing miler.

Our Eyes:
Here are my horse-by-horse notes.

1-OCEAN ATLANTIQUE: Taken out of his speed game in the Kentucky Cup Classic with a troubled start, so a draw a line through his last. The Turfway synthetic form ourperformed expectations on grass at the recent Keeneland meet. You could do worse than Mike Maker at a price with rail speed in a major Kentucky turf route. Suspicion this American Pharoah gelding might put a scare into them before the closers come calling.

2-MASTER PIECE:  At age 7, would join 3 others, including Wise Dan, as the oldest Turf Classic winners. Late-running nibbler rarely gets home in time, winning just 1 of his last 10.  Respect the consistent form for a minor share, as well as international rider Christophe Lemaire, who is in town to ride Derma Sotogake in the Kentucky Derby. L

3-WOLFIE'S DYNAGHOST: Admire horses who like to win races, 7-for-19 lifetime and 3 scores in the last 4. REgardless of surface, he seems to bring a consistent effort, though he seems best on synthetics. Will have to contend with Ocean Atlantique for early command. John Velazquez piloted Wise Dan to victory in this race in 2014.

4-STEADY ON: First or second in 6 of his last 7 races, this will be the class test for the son of 2009 Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof The Nile. Figures to get a good trip just off the speed under jockey Jose Ortiz, who won this race in 2018 aboard Yoshida. Trainer Todd Pletcher's 2 wins in this race came with English Channel (2006) and Colonel Liam (2021). Owner-trainer tandem here same as Kentucky Derby chalk Forte, so it could be a heck of an afternoon.

5-UP TO THE MARK: Third in the Grade 1 Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland last time out behind a trail-blazing performance by Chez Pierre ... one of the best I've seen on that turf course. Should handle the extra distance on performance and pedigree. Irad Ortiz Jr. looks for a third Turf Classic win, following Bricks and Mortar (2019) and Colonel Liam (2021), the latter also for trainer Todd Pletcher. Pletcher's 2 wins in this race came with English Channel (2006) and Colonel Liam (2021).

6-EARLS ROCK: Has split 4 decisions since returning from a 1-1/2 year layoff last November, all in Southern California. Trainer Phil D'Amato is the best in the west in terms of grass horses and will also bring Hong Kong Harry to the fight. The 9-furlong distance might be stretching this one beyond his best. Preference to the 'other' runner for D'Amato.

7-HONG KONG HARRY: SoCal turf aces Phil D'Amato and Flavien Prat are back paired again with a change in venue. Solid finisher has been favored in 9 of his last 10 starts, but may not have the same respect in this spot. Certainly won't be a big price, but could be a good time to buy up against Pletcher & Company. Jockey Prat won this race in 2021 aboard Domestic Spending. The one to fear late.

8-SANTIN: Since its 1987 inaugural, 3 horses have won the Turf Classic back-to-back (Einstein, Wise Dan and Divisidero) and this 5YO will try to add his name to the select list. He added the Grade 1 Arlington Million win to his resume later in 2022 at Churchill, but that turf course was in a total overhaul at the time and nothing like what we have this spring. Couldn't finish with Hong Kong Harry when sent west to Del Mar for the Seabiscuit, but now gets the home game while training Brendan Walsh is coming off the best Keeneland meet of his career. Should be trending back into form.

9-SPOOKY CHANNEL: The 8YO could become the oldest Turf Classic winner, but there's a lot of tread still on the tires with "only" 28 starts at his advance age. He's won 13 of them, including the Grade 2 Muniz on Fair Grounds' Louisiana Derby Day card. Has had no pace help whatsoever in 3 starts since returning from a year away and yet continues to fire. He'll get a much better set-up Saturday.

10-BYE BYE MELVIN: Off since November, he's no stranger to layoffs, having missed 14 months in 2021-'22. Difficult post for his forward style given there's speed to the inside. Longtime pilot John Velazquez changes seats to ride Wolfie's Dynaghost. His last stakes win was the 2020 Saranac at Saratoga, so we'll take a pass Saturday.

Most Certain Exotics Contender:
SPOOKY CHANNEL gets a great set-up and has finished within a length at the wire in 6 straight starts.

Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
OCEAN ATLANTIQUE is the most intriguing of the early pace players to hang around for a share.

Sending it in ($100 bankroll):