Race of the Week: Commonwealth Turf Cup, by Joe Wulffe

Saturday November 10th: Race 10 at Churchill Downs. The $100,000 Grade 3 Commonwealth Turf Stakes, run at 1 1/16 miles on the turf, for three year olds. (Post Time: 5:36 PM EDT).

Joseph Wulffe

Twitter: @Whtnbourbonguy

[A notice to all readers: Over the course of Thursday night and into the day on Friday, the Louisville area received enough rainfall to affect the conditions for both tracks such that all races were taken off of the turf on Friday and the main track was listed as sloppy and then muddy. However, it is expected that this race will be run over the Matt Winn turf course on Saturday, although it is quite likely that the course will be rated as either yielding or good. Thus selections for this race have been provided with a softer going in mind for the turf. In the event that this race is removed being run on the grass and is instead run over the main track selections will be as follows: 1-6-2.]

Selections: 7-1-4

 

(7) Hot Springs: One of two entrants in this field for trainer Steve Asmussen, this son of Uncle Mo comes into this race following a quality effort in the $100K Jefferson Cup over nine furlongs on the Churchill lawn back in September. Thus far in his short career, Hot Springs has proven himself to be a horse for course at Churchill Downs as he is a perfect three for three over the Matt Winn turf course. Additionally in every one of his turf starts this year, his speed figures have consistently improved; if he can continue to mature as he grows older and match or even best the 94 Bris Speed Rating (BSR) from his Jefferson Cup performance then he will certainly be a legitimate contender amongst this field. The slight step up in class that he will experience today should not be too much of an issue as he has acquitted himself well in his two prior efforts against Grade 3 stakes company. However, the going might be a bit of a question mark for Hot Springs. Over the course of his six lifetime efforts on the grass, Hot Springs has never raced on anything worse than good rated turf and it is quite likely that he might encounter some ground with significant give in it today. Yet, his pedigree does offer hope that he may handle the softer going and being drawn to the far outside could actually work in his benefit as that portion of the course may be a bit firmer (the turf course at Churchill actually drains towards the rail and the running lanes nearest the hedge are usually the softest).

Hot Springs’ running style is primarily that of a pace stalker and over the course of his career has demonstrated good tactical speed in that he has been able to work out trips both when rating from just off of the pace as well as when stalking from further back. Such versatility will likely come into play again today as it is quite probable he will take up a pace stalking role and tuck in just behind the initial leaders, provided he breaks well from that outside post. Hot Springs has displayed fairly good closing speed and should be able to use it to get himself into contention as the field turns for home. Over the past three years, Asmussen has done well not only with returning runners that won their last race back to the winner’s circle (19% win rate from 1172 starts) but also with trainees running on grass (17% win rate from 1494 starts). Additionally, Ricardo Santana will be back in the irons today and while his stats for riding in turf races this year are not great, he has been aboard Hot Springs for each of the colt’s three wins at Churchill and has won with 21% of his last 102 mounts for Asmussen over the past 60 days. Hot Springs appears to be the most likely winner of this race but beware that his ML odds are 2-1 and will likely dip even lower especially if any defections occur in this race.

 

(1) Reride: The other entrant of the duo for the Asmussen barn, this son of Candy Ride enters this race following a slightly disappointing second place effort in a $73K Allowance race over a sloppy eight and a half furlongs at Keeneland last month. Once considered a promising young dirt starter for Asmussen, after a poor performance in the UAE Derby (G1) at Meydan in March, Reride has since been campaigned over both dirt and grass resulting in a mixed bag of efforts. Over the course of three career starts on the grass, Reride has hit the board just once and that effort came last October over an incredibly soft Keeneland turf whilst running a mile. So while his pedigree suggests he should be able to run well over the lawn, Reride’s previous efforts don’t lend much credence to that notion although his effort in the $200K Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury wasn’t exactly terrible considering the post position he drew and the trip he was given. Moreover, Reride has demonstrated that he can handle racing over wet or softer goings both on the dirt and on grass and if the turf course at Churchill ends up being rated as good or worse this could work to his advantage.  

Reride’s running style is fairly adaptable in that he can either be forwardly placed and serve as the pace setter or he is just as comfortable being taken back and rating a few lengths behind the initial leaders before trying to get into contention late. Such versatility should give his new jockey, Florent Geroux, several options as to how he wants to position his charge after breaking from the gates. Geroux can either decide to gun it from the get go and take over the lead or as the only other true early speed horse is drawn just to his outside, Geroux could opt to take back and draft just behind this rival. Reride has decent enough early and tactical speed to be able to pull off a victory employing either running style. However, Geroux will likely need to stay clear of the rail as that ground potentially could be softer than the rest of the turf course and thus might be just soggy enough that it could create stamina-sapping running conditions. Asmussen has done alright over the past three years with runners making the transition from the dirt to the turf as he has been winning at a 14% rate from 504 starts. Although this will be Geroux’s first time aboard Reride, he has been doing quite well this year when riding E/P type mounts such as Reride as he has posted a 20% win rate from 501 starts thus far. Of all the runners in this field, Reride appears to be the most likely to pull off the upset against his stablemate Hot Springs and if he stays around his 4-1 ML odds, then he will certainly offer some value playing on top in this race.  

 

(4) March to the Arch: This son of Arch, trained by Mark Casse, will be receiving some class relief today although he was far from embarrassed in his fourth place effort in the nine furlong Hill Prince Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park last month. Additionally, March to the Arch acquitted himself well in his rallying third place effort in the Saranac Stakes (G3) at Saratoga back in September. While it appears that he may be better suited to racing at nine furlongs and possibly longer, March to the Arch has finished second by a nose and then a head in his two efforts at eight and a half furlongs (though just one of those was on the turf, the other was run over the Tapeta at Woodbine) and should be able to deal with the slight cutback in distance today. The turf conditions today though could be a bit of a question mark for this one as all of his prior efforts over grass have come over firm or good rated goings and it remains to be seen as to how exactly he will handle even softer ground conditions.

March to the Arch’s running style is that of a closer and he is arguably the best closer amongst this field assembled for today as the Bris Late Pace figures he’s posted in his last two efforts against stakes company are quite impressive. While he does appear to fit well into this race, the pace scenario could be a bit problematic for him as there does not appear to be a lot of early speed to generate initial fractions that are truly conducive to his running style. However, regardless of how this race develops, March to the Arch will likely give another good account of himself and should be flying late as the field turns for home, hoping to unleash that closing kick of his. Over the past three years, Casse has done well when shipping his runners in to race as he has been winning at an 18% rate (from 1129 starts) during that time period which bodes well for March to the Arch as this will be the first time he has contested a race at Churchill. Additionally, Julien Leparoux gets the call to ride today and not only has he been off to a hot start at Churchill (16 wins from 73 starts for a 22% win rate so far), he also has won with 20% of his mounts for Casse over the past 60 days. At 5-2 on the ML, March to the Arch doesn’t exactly offer up a lot of value but he certainly has a legitimate shot at hitting the board today in this race against decidedly weaker foes than he’s previously faced and thus merits inclusion as an underneath play in all exotics.

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