Last year, Bonny South came into the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap as the 8/5 favorite. She didn’t run to those odds, finishing a distant second, six lengths behind winner Envoutante.
And yet, Churchill Downs morning-line author Mike Battaglia has no issue making her this year’s 9/5 favorite for the 106th running of Churchill Downs’ Thanksgiving Day marquee race. The Kentucky track brought the Falls City into its Thanksgiving program when it began running Turkey Day races in 1969.
This year’s Falls City is anything but a turkey for horseplayers. You have Bonny South, coming in off a third to Letruska and Dunbar Road – herself finishing an eyelash behind Marche Lorraine in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff – in the Grade 1 Spinster. Before that, Bonny South finished a half-length behind Letruska in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign. That was one of the grittiest efforts against the powerful mare this season.
“We kept her here at Churchill since the summer and pointed her to this race after the Spinster,” trainer Brad Cox said. “She ran well at Keeneland against Letruska, who went gate-to-wire. I think this is a good spot for her to cap off this year’s campaign.”
Can’t blame Letruska for Bonny South’s one burp
Bonny South comes into this campaign finale 1-2-1 in her five 2021 starts. The win came in the Grade 3 Doubledogdare at Keeneland in April. She’s finished second in two Grade 1s: the Personal Ensign at Saratoga in August and the Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Both came to Letruska.
Letruska had nothing to do with the one time Bonny South misfired. That came in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park, where she finished a miserable fifth of six as the 1/2 favorite. Her 96 Equibase Speed Figure was the only time in the last six races she didn’t hit triple-digits on that speed platform.
Bonny South doesn’t have Letruska here in the Falls City either. But she may have a slow pace that cramps her closer style. She also has familiar foe Envoutante (7/2), Crystal Ball (7/2) and underrated 3-year-old Army Wife chasing her in the 1 1/8-mile test.
Envoutante unchallenged queen of Falls City
Envoutante blew through last year’s Falls City via glacial – and unchallenged – fractions. She ran the first quarter in 24.25 seconds and the first half in 48.95. This allowed her to turn a one-length lead into an eventual six-length win. That race and the Spinster marked two of the four times since the 2020 Ashland Oaks she and Bonny South tangled. The pair split the four races, but that Falls City was the only win for either.
In that Spinster, Envoutante went out with Letruska, leaving her nothing left down the stretch. She finished fifth. Her only win in six 2021 outings came in the Black Typeeee Shawnee at Churchill Downs. But she too, has faced the best in her division. That Shawnee marked her only non-graded stakes venture.
Crystal Ball owns three wins this year: two in allowance optional claiming races while running for Bob Baffert. The third came in a minor stakes race at Thistledown in Ohio for new conditioner Rodolphe Brissett. She has enough tactical speed to be competitive here, hanging with Letruska herself in the Spinster before running out of gas. She finished fourth.
Army Wife stationed in good position
The X-factor is Army Wife, who takes on older horses for the first time all year. Her Equibase numbers in the last three races make her a factor here: a 102 in her Grade 3 Iowa Oaks win and 104s in her next two outings. Those were thirds in a pair of Grade 1s: the Alabama at Saratoga and the Cotilliion at Parx.
And Army Wife factored in both. In the Alabama, she took the lead going into the stretch before Malathaat and Clairiere reeled her in. Both finished in the Breeders’ Cup superfecta: Malathaat third, Clairiere fourth. In the Cotillion, she battled Clairiere and Obligatory all the way home, finishing three lengths behind Clairiere and a neck back of Obligatory. The latter horse just captured the Grade 3 Chilukki against older horses last weekend.
The pick: Army Wife. Even though she hasn’t lost to Letruska like her older cohorts, we’ll take 5/2 in this race, because this sophomore’s tactical speed fits this race’s dynamic.