Head to Head: Handicapping the 2021 Matt Winn

Head to Head: Handicapping the 2021 Matt Winn
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

The Matt Win Stakes (G3) at Churchill Down on Saturday is an excellent chance for eight 3-year-old colts and geldings to see where they fit at the graded-stakes level. Some are looking for softer company while others are stepping up in this 1 1/16-mile contest. The Matt Winn is carded as race 9 with a 4:55 PM EDT post time.

Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power and Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast sort out the contenders from the pretenders, looking for a Winn-er.  




It may not be entirely fair to say that the turf did not agree with Ready to Pounce as the colt was off slow in his debut and gained ground for fourth. However, when his second career start came off the turf, Ready to Pounce did just that, grabbing the lead and drawing away as he pleased. He has some back class on his dam’s side; Single Solution was a stakes winner and a half-sister to grade one winner Vacare. This will be a class test, but Neil Pessin seems to think he’s ready.

Brian Hernandez, Jr. gave Ready to Pounce an excellent ride in the colt’s second start. Breaking from the rail, Ready to Pounce showed enough early speed to take the lead if he wanted it, but Hernandez eased the colt back to fourth place. He tracked the pace and eventually moved back up the rail, through a seam, and took over from there, winning under a hand ride. Two things impressed me about Ready to Pounce: his tactical speed and professionalism. Pessin is 11% win and 63% in the money with last-out maiden winners.



Helium surprised me when he effortlessly made the transition from an all-weather surface to dirt. He sprung the upset in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) en route to an 8th place finish in the Kentucky Derby. He cuts back in distance and drops in class for the Matt Winn. Julien Leparoux retains the mount, and the duo should prove formidable.


Helium ran surprisingly well in the Kentucky Derby, considering it was only his second start of the year and off a long layoff. Obvious class of the field, and if he runs his race, he should win this.



O Besos has yet to win a graded stakes race because the pace scenario typically does not set up to his advantage. After running fourth in the Risen Star (G2) and third in the Louisiana Derby (G2), this son of Orb ran a bang-up race to nab fifth in the Kentucky Derby (G1). He owns the best dirt speed in the field, but I doubt that will translate to a win. I expect for him to come running late to nail a minor award, as per usual.


I don’t think O Besos’s lack of a graded stake win is because of a pace scenario. He proved capable as a late-running sprinter last year, but he’s been winless since the jock switch to Marcelino Pedroza. The Greg Foley trainee can sit closer to the pace and must do so if he’s to have any impact. I agree, Ashley, minor award.



Has anyone checked Dale Romans for his sanity lately? Because I feel like that needs to be done. I can understand taking a shot, but Southern Passage can’t even win in allowance company. However, if the track comes up wet, maybe he would be worth a play as his only career win came in the slop at Churchill Downs.


I dunno about Roman’s sanity – maybe he’s racking up favors with the racing secretary with the placing of some of his horses. Weather is supposed to be cool and clear on Saturday, so there goes Southern Passage’s mud chances. He does well at the $50,000 claimer level and not much else.



Fulsome began his career on the lawn where he went 4: 1-1-0. When his fifth career race came off the turf, trainer Brad Cox decided to run him anyway. That turned out to be a good decision as Fulsome won both that race and his next start, the Oaklawn Stakes. Brad Cox is red hot, and Fulsome should definitely be on your ticket.

I expect we’ll be seeing a lot of Fulsome this summer, especially if he runs to his pedigree. As Ashley noted, Cox tossed Fulsome onto the dirt, and the son of Into Mischief scored twice. Fulsome’s dam is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winners Sightseek and Tates Creek. 2018 Breeders’ Cup Mile hero Expert Eye and 2009 European Champion 2-year-old filly Special Duty are also part of the family. Fulsome has tactical speed and beat Matt Winn entrant Game Day Play last out.



Hello Hot Rod had his win streak snapped when he finished fourth in the Federico Tesio. He didn’t face the same level of competition there that he will face here, so I don’t expect a win by any means. This will be the colt’s first start for new trainer Caio Caramori, who is adding blinkers to Hello Hot Rod’s equipment for the first time. He could round out the superfecta at a price.


Hello Hot Rod does his best work as a pacesetter/presser. He had some issues during the running of the Federico Tesio. He was under tight restraint by Fergal Lynch early and never relaxed. Hello Hot Rod hasn’t relaxed in earlier races either. He tilts his head to either see where he’s going or to get a fix on the competition. Blinkers could either help him relax – or make things worse. Either way, worth a wildcard shot to hit the board if you’re feeling reckless. As a side note, Caramori is 13% with the first-time blinkers angle.


Last fall Sittin On Go looked mighty promising, winning on debut and then taking the Iroquois (G3) in his second start. Unfortunately, that is exactly where his success ended. The son of Brody’s Cause has not finished better than fifth in his last six races, all of which were graded events. Considering the company he has been keeping, this will be a drop in class for the Romans trainee. However, while he has every opportunity to hit the board here, do not look for him to win, as he finished 14-lengths behind Helium in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). Use underneath.


Sittin On Go has been doing just that for his entire 3-year-old season. I don’t have as much faith in him as you do, Ashley. He’s proven time and again that he’s not graded stakes quality. Constantly being beaten by his betters can cause a horse to go sour and undermine his confidence. I hope Sittin On Go’s connections give the colt a break and let him tackle allowance foes next for a confidence builder.



Trained by Robertino Diodoro, Game Day Play also exits the Oaklawn Stakes, where he was a close third behind winner Fulsome. The gelding won the Clever Trevor last fall and has been fairly consistent in hitting the board with a few exceptions. His current connections claimed him back in April, and this will be his second start with Diodoro, an angle with which he gets 25% winners. Use underneath.

Game Day Play was an astute claim by Robertino Diodoro. The gelding has shown flashes of quality throughout his career. His Oaklawn Stakes run was better than it looks on paper. The son of Violence battled between horses through the stretch. Ramon Vazquez lost his stick a couple of furlongs from the wire, but Game Day Play kept fighting as Fulsome went by on the far outside. Game Day Play was bested only a head for second. He’s consistent, tries hard, and the distance cut back should suit.


Final Thoughts

Laurie: Favorites have won six of the last ten editions of the Matt Winn Stakes.  Three exiting the Kentucky Derby have won this race, including Gun Runner. Helium fits the profile of previous race winners. I like Fulsome a lot too, and he’s a logical win play. Don’t be surprised to see him take on Grade 1 types soon. Travers Stakes, anyone? Ready to Pounce has a lot of upside. Consider yourself fortunate if you get anywhere close to his initial odds of 15-1. Game Day Play should be in the thick of things.

Ashley:  With so many ducking Essential Quality, Hot Rod Charlie, etc., I expected this race to draw a stronger field. Instead, we get a field of eight with what will likely be a heavy favorite in Helium. If you’re trying to play against Helium, the most logical choice would be Fulsome. I believe Hello Hot Rod will go for the lead with Helium right there with him. I doubt the pace will be contentious, which will leave O Besos with his work cut out for him.







#5 FULSOME (5-2)


#2 HELIUM (5-2)


#2 HELIUM (5-2)


#5 FULSOME (5-2)


#3 O BESOS (2-1)



#7 SITTIN ON GO (8-1)


#8 GAME DAY PLAY (8-1)

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
Facebook: IMTBreds
LinkedIn: Laurie Ross

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