Undoubtedly, this week is all about the Kentucky Oaks on Friday and the Kentucky Derby on Saturday; these two races are the staples of the season each and every year. For horse racing fans, though, the two-day event is memorable for its fantastic undercards. The stars shine bright in these races, and this weekend really kicks off the return of the major turf racing season. In no particular order, here are the five horses you need to be watching this weekend that aren’t in the Kentucky Oaks or Kentucky Derby:
American Freedom (Alysheba Stakes on Oaks Day)
It’s very exciting to see this horse return! Last year, American Freedom disappointed at Churchill Downs in the Pat Day Mile, but after that disappointment, he turned things around with wins in the Sir Barton Stakes and Iowa Derby. After those two smaller stakes victories, he took on the division’s big guns twice in the Haskell Stakes and Travers Stakes. In the Haskell, he ran toe-to-toe with Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist and put him away but was passed late by Exaggerator and finished second. Four weeks later in the Travers, American Freedom again ran second but was no match for the champion, Arrogate. On Oaks Day, we’ll see how American Freedom has developed since that pair of runner-up performances.
Miss Temple City (Churchill Distaff Turf Mile on Derby Day)
The highly popular Miss Temple City is slated to return on Derby Day. She has a great love for the turf at Keeneland down the road in Lexington, but she’s never made a start on the turf at Churchill Downs. This filly is now a three-time Grade 1 winner after her victorious last start at Del Mar in the 2016 Matriarch Stakes. That win was big in disproving that she was only a “Keeneland lover,” something I never believed to be true. Hopefully, she’ll be ready to kick off another big season.
La Coronel (American Turf on Derby Day)
This filly has had her ups and downs, but after her HUGE win last time out at Keeneland in the Grade 3 Appalachian Stakes, it looks like she’s back to her best form. Now, her connections have decided to take on a very tough field of boys in the American Turf. This aggressive spotting reminds me of the path that trainer Mark Casse took last year with Catch a Glimpse when he ran her against boys in the Penn Mile. La Coronel’s challenge will be tougher than that, but there’s no doubt that her talent is extremely high. If she does well here, a trip to Royal Ascot could be next.
Oscar Performance (American Turf on Derby Day)
As a 2-year-old, Oscar Performance was nothing short of awesome, but he didn’t run well in his 3-year-old debut at Keeneland last time out. He’ll be in better shape for this one, though, and I’m expecting a big performance. This race is loaded with good horses, including La Coronel. This matchup between the best turf female and the best turf male in the 3-year-old divisions should be quite the showdown.
Finest City (Humana Distaff on Derby Day)
Finest City’s current form is as good as any horse in training right now. Three races back, she stormed home to win the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, then one race later, she dominated again in the Grade 2 Santa Monica Stakes. Last time out, she stretched out to two turns in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita and challenged Vale Dori for much of the race before getting tired and finished second. However, she’s back to one turn for this race, and the seven furlong distance will be right in her wheelhouse.