Saturday's Churchill Card Features Aristides, Opening Verse

Saturday's Churchill Card Features Aristides, Opening Verse
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
Defending champ Rothko has been made the 9-5 morning line favorite for Saturday’s 25th running of the $100,000-added Aristides (Grade III) at Churchill Downs.
Owned and bred by Satish Sanan’s Padua Stables and trained by Steve Asmussen, Rothko will break from post position No. 1 under Ricardo Santana Jr. in the field of five older horses.
The six-furlong sprint will go as Race 5 at 2:51 p.m. (all times Eastern) on the 11-race program that also includes the eighth running of the $65,000-added Opening Verse for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles on turf. First post is 12:45 p.m.
Rothko, who’ll attempt to join Bet On Sunshine (2000-01) as a two-time winner of the race, dominated six rivals in last year’s Aristides as the even-money favorite, stopping the teletimer in 1:09.40 while defeating Will’s Wildcat by 2 ½ lengths.
However, Rothko hasn’t won a race since last year’s promising Aristides effort. The Kentucky-bred son of Arch finished second as the odds-on favorite in his next start in the Iowa Sprint Handicap at Prairie Meadows then was unplaced in the A.G. Vanderbilt Handicap (GI) at Saratoga and Vosburgh Invitational (GI) at Belmont Park.
Following a seven-month break between starts, Rothko returned to action as a 5-year-old on May 1 in six-furlong allowance/optional claiming event at Churchill Downs and finished fourth. Overall, he’s won four of his 12 starts and $270,602.
Asmussen will attempt to become the first four-time winning trainer of the Aristides, which is named in honor of the inaugural Kentucky Derby winner of 1875. He and Paul McGee
and D. Wayne Lukas have won the race three times. In addition to Rothko, Asmussen won the 2003 renewal with Mountain General and the 2010 edition with Riley Tucker.
The only other stakes winner in the field is the 6-year-old gelding Good Lord, who has thrived since last summer for 78-year-old trainer Forrest Kaelin
– the longest-tenured horseman based at Churchill Downs.
Since a fourth-place finish in last year’s Aristides, Good Lord, owned by Doug Shank and Stan Young, has won five stakes in his last nine starts, including a victory in the $130,000 Mountaineer Mile in November. The 6-year-old gelding most recently finished third in the Texas Mile (GIII) behind Master Rick and Prayer for Relief, who returned to run one-two in Monday’s $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap (GIII). Overall, Good Lord has won nine of 48 starts and $498,609.
The Aristides field, from the rail out (with jockey and morning line odds): Rothko (Santana Jr., 9-5); Scatman (Shaun Bridgmohan, 5-2); St. Maximus Gato (Marlon St. Julien, 8-1); Good Lord (Fernando De La Cruz, 3-1); and Jasizzle (Robby Albarado, 3-1).
The Opening Verse, which goes as Race 10 at 5:30 p.m., annually serves as a steppingstone to the $150,000 Firecracker Handicap (GII) at one mile on turf on Saturday, June 29. Six of the seven older horses entered is a graded stakes winner, including 2011 winner Turallure, who used the Opening Verse as a springboard to victories in that year’s Bernard Baruch Handicap (GII) and Woodbine Mile (GI). He also finished a nose back of Court Vision in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI) at Churchill Downs.
Entrants who won graded stakes races in 2012 are Corporate Jungle, winner of the Appleton (GIII); Daddy Nose Best, winner of the El Camino Real Derby (GIII) and Sunland Derby (GIII); Keep Up, winner of the River City Handicap (GIII) at Churchill Downs; Middie, winner of the Washington Park Handicap (GIII); and Silver Max, winner of the Transylvania (GIII), American Turf (GII) and Virginia Derby (GII).
The lone non-graded stakes winner in the field is Cease, who won the $150,000 Maxxam Gold Cup Handicap in 2012 and was beaten a half-length by Pool Play in the Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap (GII) later that year.
The field for the Opening Verse, which honors the upset winner of the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Mile for trainer Bill Mott: Daddy Nose Best (Santana Jr., 6-1); Turallure (Corey Lanerie, 7-2); Middie (Jon Court, 4-1); Silver Max (Albarado, 3-1); Keep Up (Bridgmohan, 5-1); Cease (Brian Hernandez Jr., 6-1); and Corporate Jungle (Rosie Napravnik, 5-1).
The Aristides and Opening Verse highlight an abbreviated three-day week of racing at Churchill Downs following Monday’s Memorial Day holiday program. Racing resumes Friday with a 10-race program that begins at 2:45 p.m. No one hit Monday’s Pick 6 for the seventh consecutive day, which means there’s a $68,357 carryover for Friday on Races 5-10. The sequence to link six winners in a row begins at 4:50 p.m. 

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