Whicker: Will one Churchill Downs upset lead to another?

Robin Smullen rides Tiz the Law during a workout at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., Friday, June 19, 2020. The Belmont Stakes is scheduled to run on Saturday. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

John Rebenstorf was the radio play-by-play man for Cal State Fullerton and UCLA. He used to speak of Tracy Murray draining buckets from the “parking lot.”

He would have enjoyed Churchill Downs on Friday.

As Gamine and Swiss Skydiver prepared to stage a private duel at the Kentucky Oaks, Shedaresthedevil jumped the fence.

“Ride to win the race,” trainer Brad Cox told jockey Flaurent Giroux. “If she runs third, it’s a victory.”

Running first was a victory, too.

Shedaresthedevil exposed Gamine’s distaste for running a mile and an eighth and never gave in to Swiss Skydiver’s rush, winning by a length and a half.

The 15-to-1 shot set a race record by doing it in 1:48.2.  In doing so, she gave hope to the 15 colts who are supposed to be wallpaper for Tiz the Law in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.

Staton Flurry, the principal owner, admitted he wouldn’t have believed this outcome in the spring. “Swiss Skydiver beat us by 13 lengths in the Fantasy Stakes,” Flurry said.

But 3-year-old fillies had four extra months to grow and get healthy, and Shedaresthedevil had won the Indiana Oaks coming in. She also won at Churchill Downs on June 5.

“We’ve dodged the tougher races, that was the plan,” Flurry said. “We haven’t been knocking heads with the best horses.”

“We wanted to come here with some juice left in the lemon,” Cox said. “I felt like we hadn’t squeezed her too much. When you’re 15-1 in a Grade I stakes, there’s no pressure. Some handicappers really liked her, coming in. I hope she rewarded them in a big way.”

Flurry knows about parking lots. His family owns most of the lots that surround Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. When he got out of college and began building an operation, a friend told him Cox was the next up-and-coming trainer. They got together, and their first claim won his second race.

“It’s all been downhill from there,” Flurry said.

Meanwhile, a rivalry was interrupted, if not ruined, before it began.

Gamine, the $1.8 million filly who won the Acorn at Belmont Park by several city blocks, had run more than a mile just once in four races. In that one, she barely held off Speech. In this one, she had the lead from the beginning, running the half-mile in a dawdling 47.92. The pressure from Shedaresthedevil drained her battery.

“The winner just latched onto her,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “I really thought, on the turn for home, she would come up with the afterburners. But they weren’t there. She might have been a little confused. You could tell she was a tired horse.”

Swiss Skydiver, like Shedaresthedevil, is a daughter of Daredevil. She had to work to get free of the rail but was in prime position at the top of the stretch.

“She was comfortable where she was at,” jockey Tyler Gaffalione said. “She had a quarter of a mile to get there. We were just second-best today.”

The other Sure Thing at Churchill this weekend is Tiz the Law, particularly since Art Collector and King Guillermo were scratched this week. By post time Saturday, he might be as low as 3-to-5, and the California trio of Authentic, Honor A.P. and Thousand Words might be in the 8-to-1 range. Fortunately, Shedaresthedevil was there to remind us to hold our horses.

Kenny McPeek, who trains Swiss Skydiver, is among the unsold.

“I think the Derby is still wide open,” McPeek said earlier this week. “He’s pretty darn impressive, but he’s not a given. He didn’t run that well at Churchill last year.”

That was in the Kentucky Jockey Gold Cup, when Tiz the Law was third to Silver Prospector. He is undefeated since, and all his Beyer Speed Figures have been at least 100.

It is difficult to throw away tickets on Honor A.P., who was considered Tiz the Law’s equal before he finished second to Thousand Words in the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar. That race was only a mile and 1/16, as opposed to a mile and a quarter Saturday.

Beginning in 1980, the Derby favorite lost 20 consecutive times. A points system for Derby hopefuls has returned some normalcy, but it’s still a demolition derby, with all the predictability of 52-card pickup.

“We’ll just pretend this day didn’t happen,” Baffert said, as he prepared to walk toward parking lots that, even when empty, are closer than they appear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *