Head to Head: Handicapping the Matt Winn Stakes

Head to Head: Handicapping the Matt Winn Stakes
Photo: Coady Photography

Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Matt Winn Stakes (G3) is a new edition to the series of points preps leading up to a Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby, with points awarded on a 50-20-10-5 basis to the top-four finishers. A full field of 3-year-old colts and geldings has signed on to go 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs with the bunch led by Maxfield making his first start of the season.

Ashley Tamulonis of Horse Racing Nation's Coast To Coast blog went head to head, comparing and contrasting our handicapping:




Boy, what a pedigree on this colt! His dam, Music Note, had the misfortune to come along at the same time as Proud Spell and Zenyatta. However, she was successful in her own right, particularly going long. Distance seems to be key for Mystic Guide, as well. He broke his maiden going 8.5 furlongs after a so-so debut at 6 furlongs. He should continue to do well at the longer distances going forward. Contender.

As Ashley noted, Mystic Guide is a well-bred colt bred to run all day. That being said, his most successful half-sibling is Ventura Highway, a gallant winner of 66 starts, mostly claiming races at Penn National. Not a ringing endorsement. The Michael Stidham trainee looked good outclassing maidens at the Fair Grounds in his last start, earning him a triple digit late-pace figure on the Brisnet scale. Mystic Guide’s off the pace style could take him far. Contender.


Pneumatic hails from the female family of Pyro, who was Grade 1-placed at 10 furlongs as a 3-year old. There’s plenty of stamina in the family, indicating that distance should not be a factor in keeping this colt’s perfect record in tact as he progresses. Trainer Steve Asmussen’s first call jockey, Ricardo Santana Jr., is up for Winchell Thoroughbreds -- connections that have had plenty of success together. Contender.

What’s not to like about an undefeated son of Uncle Mo out of a stakes-placed three-quarter sister to Pyro? Asmussen has been patient with this colt, and he should be ready for the next step. Note the second-to-last bullet breeze to perk him up. No hot air here: I think he’s a serious contender.



Trainer Uriah St. Lewis is swinging for the fences with Informative. It took eight starts to break his maiden, and his two starts in graded company were forgettable. Pass.

With one victory in nine starts, Informative let us know that he’s really not into winning. Pass.



Speedy Celtic Striker was in the bridle early in the Gotham (G3) but finished in a whole different zip code once it was all said and done with. Look for him to prompt the pace early before folding like a bad poker hand. Pass.

Celtic Striker showed he's a cut below when defeated by a combined 57 lengths in a pair of stakes starts at Aqueduct. Not counting on him to score a goal in the Matt Winn, and I’m not going to play poker with Ashley. Pass.


You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and that seems to be Calumet’s mantra these days. Flap Jack has done well on the turf and all-weather, but his dirt performances have left quite a bit to be desired, particularly the 33-length thumping he took in the Oaklawn Stakes. Pass.

Flap Jack has shown a preference for running on surfaces other than dirt. This looks like a poor placement. I'd rather see connections let Flap Jack be who he wants to be. Pass. 


Pace-setting Ny Traffic wheels back to a more ideal distance after running a bang-up third in one division of the Risen Star (G2) and second in the Louisiana Derby (G2). He could have eyes on a gate-to-wire trip. Contender.

Ny Traffic is talented and tries hard. He just doesn’t have the ability to win at nine furlongs and farther. He settled into second place behind Wells Bayou in the merry-go-round Louisiana Derby, and that’s where he stayed, drifting out badly and practically staggering in the stretch. He might hit the exotics if they leave him alone to set an easy early pace.


This Stanley Hough trainee has not shown much in stakes company, but what he does have going for him is a 2-for-2 record under the Twin Spires. Maybe that will be enough to get him a piece of the pie. That’s a big maybe.

Since Hough changed Necker Island’s running style from pacesetter to stalker, the son of Hard Spun has finished out of the money at speed-favoring Gulfstream Park. Once this colt is passed, it’s game over for him. So if he can get back to front-running ways, he might have a shot at the exotics. I’m not counting on it, though. Pass.


Crypto Cash was up against it in the Arkansas Derby (G1), drawing into the division in which Charlatan was the lone speed. He passed tiring rivals to improve to sixth from near the back of the field. Definitely not my preferred closer in this field. Pass.

Crypto Cash had no response against a salty group in the Arkansas Derby. He meets a lesser field in the Matt Winn, and has gained ground in every start. On the negative side, I think he’s outclassed, and his speed figures aren’t all that. Pass.


Sent out by Brad Cox, Shake Some Action ran into trouble early in the Louisiana Derby and wound up sixth. Distance is not a big factor here, and hopefully Javier Castellano can work out a better trip for this colt than did Colby Hernandez did last out. Could crack the bottom of the exotics.

Shake Some Action had a terrible trip in the Louisiana Derby, having to steady about five times, then was shifted out around the turn, and bumped hard in the stretch. Note the positive jock change to Castellano, who won previously at nine furlongs with this son of Into Mischief in the allowance ranks. I’m willing to give him another chance. Logical longshot.


Grade 1 winner Maxfield is back for the first time since earning black type in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) last October. A minor bone chip sidelined him through the winter, but he has been working steadily for trainer Brendan Walsh lately. If he can run back to his Breeders’ Futurity form off the long layoff, he's the one to beat. But that's a big ask off such a layoff.

Here’s the Matt Winn's "20 Questions" favorite. Will Maxfield be as strong as before his injury? How good is he, really? Is he fit enough to win around two turns in stakes company in his first start of the year? Will he outgrow his habit of breaking slow? Maxfield is the Matt Winn wildcard. I would add him to all bets, just in case.



By Hard Spun and out of the Afleet Alex mare Aristra, Attachment Rate has been a consistent trifecta hitter but has not really faced the cream of the crop. The outside draw is a disadvantage, and this colt will need to step it up in order to snag a check.

Attachment Rate was wide on both turns in the Unbridled Stakes, and Luis Saez did a bit of race riding to keep eventual winner Dr. Post pinned in. It was all for naught once Dr. Post got running room in the stretch. Attachment Rate tried but was outclassed, settling for second place. By Hard Spun out of a daughter of Afleet Alex, Attachment Rate is bred to improve with maturity and distance. John Velazquez takes over the reins, and this pair could have a say in the outcome. Exotics.


Like Ny Traffic, Major Fed enters the Matt Winn off good showings at Fair Grounds, running second in the Risen Star and fourth in the Louisiana Derby despite a poor start. The far outside post is not ideal, but Major Fed will not be looking for the lead. Joel Rosario should be able to work out a decent trip while avoiding trouble. A must-use on your tickets.

Major Fed made Brisnet Speed Rating  improvements in each start and showed what he was made of in the Louisiana Derby, breaking slow, then taking the scenic route through the clubhouse, while gaining ground to finish fourth. He’s made up ground in his last three starts, yet never seems to get to the wire first. I predict another wide trip with an in-the-money finish possible.

Final Thoughts

Laurie: Ny Traffic and Major Fed have taken turns beating each other in Louisiana. But how good were the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby? Only a neck separated them in the second division of the Risen Star, won by Modernist. Ny Traffic got the best of Major Fed and Modernist in the Louisiana Derby, but few were making up ground. The loose-on-the-lead winner Wells Bayou could muster only fifth in his Arkansas Derby division. I’m going with new faces this time around.

Say what you will about the inconveniences COVID-19 has brought us, but a silver lining are these full fields. With many tracks closed, our top players are being forced to face one another early and often, something that we have seen a good bit of so far on the Derby trail. Ny Traffic is the best of the speed, so look for him to set the pace. If he can nab a comfortable lead, he could be hard to run down in the stretch. Both he and Major Fed faced solid fields at Fair Grounds, setting them up well here. Mystic Guide and Pneumatic are both interesting new shooters, while Maxfield will be up against it in making a successful comeback.




#6 Ny Traffic

#2 Pneumatic

#12 Major Fed

#9 Shake Some Action

#10 Maxfield

#10 Maxfield

#2 Pneumatic

#1 Mystic Guide

Meet Laurie Ross

 HRN Pedigree Analyst 


 Published Author

 Pedigree Research/Consultation/Sales 

 ThoroFan Board Member

 Member – NTWAB

Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

Twitter: @IMTBreds
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