The $500,000 Grade 3 = Spiral Stakes from Turfway Park will send another 3-year-old prospect to the Kentucky Derby this Saturday. With the current point structure for the race (50-20-10-5), it is looking very possible that the top two finishers in the Spiral could earn entries to the Derby. A unique feature to the Spiral is that it is the only race with that point structure ran on a synthetic surface. It also is the first race of the Derby preps to be run at a distance of 1 1/8 mile (9 furlongs) worth a total of 85 points. The tepid morning-line favorite is KITTEN’S CAT at 4-1. The 3-year-old colt by KITTEN’S JOY and owned by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey will definitely take action having won two stakes races in seven career starts.
Here is a breakdown of every entrant in the race… (If you don’t want to read it all my top pick is #12 – followed by the 8,9,10,11)
#1 – BLUERIDGE TRAVELER (Channing Hill/Kenneth McPeek 27% 22 starts)
Having debuted as a 2-year-old at Churchill Downs in November, this $100k purchase by sire TO HONOR AND SERVE failed going 1 1/16 mile on the turf. He did face some trouble in his debut when a horse broke down and he was forced to alter his course. In his second start at the Fair Grounds in December, he was bumped at the start, but closed ground late on the inside to finish second well behind the winner. It was definitely an improvement and after a six week layoff, they tried the same distance of 1mile and 70yards at the Fair Grounds, and it was almost a carbon copy of his second start. He fell 15 lengths back of the pace-setter, found trouble at the 3/16 and bumped with a rival, and then closed ground late to finish 2nd well behind the winner earning a 77 Beyer almost identical to what he earned in December. He shipped over to Oaklawn and ran against a softer group, he pretty much again ran the same race, he got off slow, and closed fast late. This time he was fast enough to catch his rival in the lane and won by a head.
OUTLOOK: It’s really hard to consider this horse with any kind of positive outlook. When I compare him to all of the other Derby prospects I have seen the past few weeks this horse doesn’t even come close to par. I do like how the horse is bred and he should do well sprinting in lower level claiming events throughout his career. One other positive note, if you like this kind of fast closing horse that will either cause you to curse yourself as your ripping up your tickets or cause you great joy as he screams down the center of track sprinting by every horse in the field – his trainer Ken McPeek is very experienced in these spots and on the Derby trail. So if you trust the trainer with your money and like long shot closers when the pace falls apart, good luck. My opinion, I would not put a dollar on him to show in this race. Therefore, I can’t see him coming close to the Derby trail.
#2 – SOGLIO (Trevor McCarthy/Graham H. Motion 19% 118 starts)
Came out of a strong route race on the turf in his debut where he showed the ability to close quickly while getting caught 6wide on the Saratoga turf course. Next out at the same level at Belmont, he showed great speed away from the gate and missed going gate to wire by a neck. Then he threw up a dud on the Keeneland turf which isn’t surprising, that track has a tendency to cause horses to take either huge steps forward or steps backward like it did in this case. Then finally after a couple months off the switch to the Del Mar turf was the key as he dropped far back in a big field and closed 3w-4w to score by a half length. His next start was a stakes start in the Eddie Logan at Santa Anita, the jockey switch to Drayden Van Dyke didn’t hurt either, but he missed by 3/4 a length and surprisingly went off as the favorite. So wrapping up his 2 year-old season, he got 5 races in, won one of them, and hit the board in three others. He also improved his Beyer figure from a 66 to a consistent 80 that he earned in two starts. He opened up his 3 year-old season with a failure at odds of 4/5 in his first attempt at first level allowance company. He didn’t show any improvement in speed figures, he finished 3rd in the race and earned a 77.
OUTLOOK: It’s hard to gauge if this horse really has talent or whether in the only start he won, did he run into a soft field in which the race just completely fell apart. The fractions were a little swift early in that race he won so it is completely possible he just is not that good of a horse. His sire is no joke, SCAT DADDY brings winners and breeds well in all categories, his stud fee is $100k and the breeder Flaxman Holdings Limited held onto him when they could have sold him and made money. He has never stepped off the grass, he has a great trainer, and he has run many routes so he has experience to get the nine furlongs. The problem is his speed figures just are not up to par with many Derby prospects. He could be good enough in a bad field if the pace just falls apart like can happen in some poly track races. I wouldn’t count on it. I still put this one on the outside looking in.
#3 FAST AND ACCURATE (Tyler Gafflione/Michael Maker 24% 45 starts)
This one had a rough start to his career in Erie, PA at Presque Isle Downs. He was bet down to 9/5 in his debut and ran 2nd but 93/4 behind the winner. He followed that up by entering a state bred stakes and ran okay in stakes company finishing 4th but just 33/4 behind the winner. Then Maker shipped him to Parx for his first dirt/route race. He bobbled at the break and ran wide throughout, no factor. He dropped in for a tag at Turfway Park in December won going away, followed that with a stakes win on the turf after shipping to Gulfstream and taking 8 weeks off. It was a big jump considering that he was just up for a tag and then two months later he is a stakes winner on the grass. Its hard what to make of this one with the drastic changes in form and constant jockey switches as well.
OUTLOOK: So Julien Leparoux hopped on him for his most recent effort at Gulfstream which he won by nearly 3 lengths in his first start against open company not as a maiden. He is bred by the well known sire HANSEN son of TAPIT, his pedigree shows he should do well at the distance, but the inconsistency is hard to gauge. At his best on the grass, he probably fits in the mix, his best effort thus far on poly is not good enough to win and that’s why you get the 15-1 morning-line. At this point, he has to be left off the top of tickets, but I do think he warrants being on the bottom of trifecta and superfecta tickets.
#4 – CONVICT PIKE (Angel Cruz/George Arnold 0% 7 starts)
Debuted as a 2-year-old at Ellis Park in August, he went off at 17-1; had some trouble but did improve ground late. His next start was in the slop at Churchill going 1-mile, he pressed four wide early and faded. That’s when the improvement started, his next two starts were ‘just misses’ on turf at Keeneland and Churchill. His last start as a 2-year-old came on New Years Eve, he went 71/2Furlongs and finally broke through the last possible day he could get a win. He then decided to enter in a restricted non-wagering event for horses purchased at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale, he ran a very game second in an 8.5f race on polytrack scoring a Beyer figure of 81.
OUTLOOK: An 81 Beyer figure would not put him at all near the forefront of the Kentucky Derby picture, but it does put him in the mix in this race. If he can show more improvement, possibly running in the top three, he could have a chance to come back in the Lexington and score a Derby berth. If he does happen to win this race, the answer will already be solved, but I would be very curious to see what kind of number he would put up in that race.
#5 – COLONEL SAMSEN (Jose Lezcano/Eoin Harty FIRST)
Note: Blinkers OFF (0/6 0%), this is surprisingly the first horse that has appeared in the Derby preps thus far. His last race came in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate in February. He ran fifth and did not earn any points for the Derby that day, but it did prove to be a decent group of 3-year-old’s as some came back to win in their next start. COLONEL SAMSEN’S Beyer numbers have fluctuated throughout his short but race-filled career. Saturday will be his tenth career start in six months which is a high number for horses his age. His speed figures have fluctuated between 66 and 78 when you throw out his debut in which he earned a 43. Some of the names you will recognize that he has faced are GORMLEY and AMERICAN ANTHEM. Both, recentl lost a lot of their luster when both horses were swallowed up in different races at different tracks. That leaves the fact that COLONEL SAMSEN getting crushed by those two respective animals means we may be talking about a much lower class race horse here. His highest speed figure of 78 came in the California Derby at Golden Gate, he finished 3rd and didn’t defeat anybody worth talking about.
OUTLOOK: With the grimm status of AMERICAN ANTHEM and GORMLEY fresh in our minds as handicappers it is very hard to have high thoughts about this horse when it comes to being a Derby candidate. That doesn’t mean he can’t win this race and qualify for the Kentucky Derby. His connections and breeding don’t jump off the page as perennial powerhouses, but no one has among the first five entries we have gone through. At this point, I would keep him in the bottom half of exotics and nothing higher.
#6 GIANT PAYDAY (Chris Landeros/Ian Wilkes 11% 136 starts)
I haven’t been following jockey Chris Landeros, but apparently Ian Wilkes has though highly enough of him to use him regularly, so he must be doing decent enough to take note. He rode this horse for his first four starts, he actually won two of them, but was disqualified and placed third in his second career start for veering in the stretch causing interference with another rival.
It didn’t matter, he came back at Keeneland in start number three and repeated that effort while closing like a freight train in the stretch drive. That’s the kind of kick necessary to win from deep in the field. In his subsequent three start against much tougher, two ALWX1, and the last the Grade 3 – Palm Beach Stakes – He ran second in his two dirt starts, and looked a bit lost without any kick in the Palm Beach. His speed figures however were fast enough in those ‘off efforts’ to put him in the mix if he runs his best race.
OUTLOOK: Even though he has yet to win or finish in the money in stakes company, he did show enough in that recent turf race that his speed numbers seem to have gotten better as he gets older. The problem was he is not running on turf Saturday, it will be poly and it usually transfers pretty well, but we have nothing to gauge it by because he has never run a stop on synthetic. I do think this one deserves some consideration on the top end because of his connections and I know Ian Wilkes wouldn’t enter this start without knowing he is fast enough to compete in it. He finished second to GUEST SUITE who is a major Derby player in my eyes. GUEST SUITE has the pedigree to be a serious player at 10 furlongs. The difference with GUEST SUITE is he has developed differently than GIANT PAYDAY. If GIANT PAYDAY has improved in the past few weeks, he will be a player Saturday, if not, it’s the end of the Derby trail for him.
#7 – SHIRAZ (M.R.Hernandez/Michael Maker 36% 14 starts)
I don’t know anything about this jockey, but he is putting up some serious numbers winning at a 44% clip. The second of Michael Maker’s entries is not owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, it will be interesting how much of an effort you get from each entry. I have to believe their will be some tactics between the two. The interesting part about them is SHIRAZ was no slouch of a purchase, he took $105k at the OBS one year ago. It took SHIRAZ three attempts on the lawn sprinting before he broke his maiden. He is stakes placed, he ran 3rd in the Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream in January. He earned an 80 Beyer in his first start as a 3-year-old and then regressed in his next two starts. One on poly at the Ocala Training Center in a non-wagering event and his next start was a lackluster 3rd place effort at the Aqueduct on the inner track in a first level allowance race.
OUTLOOK: For SHIRAZ to compete in the Spiral, he is going to have return to the form he had in the Dania Beach and improve on it. He has had about a month to workout and get his mind right before they tackle this race. They get a new jockey and an uncoupled partner in the race that could either help, hurt, or have no factor at all on the outcome. I am not sure who Michael Maker plays these situations and to be honest, I don’t care. I am going to play the race with the horses as individuals and hope they just run their races. If some shananigans happen so be it. I do think SHIRAZ definitely deserves to be on the bottom of tickets and depending on how he looks physically on the track, he could be on some of my horizontal plays in the late races. As far as betting him straight up to win or keying him in an exacta, I do not see him on my tickets in those situations. So I guess my honest opinion is he is not a win candidate, but he does have the ability to do it under perfect conditions.
#8 – KITTEN’S CAT (Luis Saez/Joe Sharp 19% 199 starts)
Although this horse hasn’t been in a Derby prep to date, I have been watching this horse closely since he debuted last August at Ellis Park. What’s interesting is trainer Joe Sharp is a Mike Maker deciple, his owner in this race is Ken and Sarah Ramsey who also have another horse in this race with a different trainer who happens to be Mike Maker. Now do you get my point why this race is what I like to call a cluster$%&#, but there is a big difference with KITTEN’S CAT. He is fast. His Beyer’s come in in the mid to high 80s on multiple occasions. He won the Juvenile Turf Sprint at Santa Anita in November with a 85, he won the Kitten’s Joy Stakes in February with an 87. And, he finished second to TICONDEROGA and earned an 85 in the Palm Beach Stakes.
OUTLOOK: This is the horse that has shown the ability to rate and has the speed to make a run in the stretch against a slow, moderate, and/or fast pace. Right now, he has to be considered as the only possible horse with a Derby type resume. It may change if somebody else in this field decides to take this race and turn it into one. That has happened in the past with the Spiral Stakes when Animal Kingdom came out of the race and entered the Derby with momentum off a big race. It’s possible for any of these horses with turf pedigree to do that, but if anyone has the speed on paper to do it right now it’s Ken Ramsey’s KITTEN’S CAT.
#9 – PARLOR (Jesus Castanon/Eddie Kenneally 25% 4 starts)
With only three career starts it’s hard to gauge where PARLOR is at, but his resume thus far is what you want to see from a young horse. He broke his maiden routing on the turf at Ellis Park back in August. He followed that up at Kentucky Downs in a juvenile stakes and nearly won it losing by a neck after being checked in a difficult spot at the 1/2-mile pole and getting off to a slow start, but then he closed ground as fast as a 2-year-old turf horse can and just missed. He then shipped down to Florida for the Winter. He won his first level allowance race at Tampa scoring a Beyer of 79 in a handy effort.
OUTLOOK: This far he has done everything you have asked a young horse to do without any problems. Eddie Kenneally is very experienced and he wouldn’t be in this spot without thinking ‘win-first’. I would keep this one at the top of your tickets along with the horse right to his inside KITTEN’S CAT, you have to decide which resume you like more. A horse with only three great starts and solid finishes or a horse with a lot of experience and some races mixed in with fast speed numbers. In this spot, I think may be leaning towards PARLOR, he looks to be getting better with added distance and has shown the ability to come from off the pace. I would like him to be a little closer than where he got himself in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Stakes. He can’t get too far back, if he does it’s KITTEN’S CAT that will get the jump on him and with his late speed it will be hard to catch him.
#10 BRONSON (Manny Franco/Todd Pletcher 19% 142 starts)
Debuted as a young 2-year-old in June and won at Monmouth as an odds on 4/5 favorite. He raced in a good group that day. He followed it up in the Grade 3 – Sanford Stakes at Saratoga early in that meet, he went off at 5-1 and got in trouble at the start getting squeezed back at the start and was forced to check. He never recovered and ran evenly. He followed that up in a turf sprint and closed very well three wide to finish second behind an unknown. His latest start was a first level allowance victory at Gulfstream in the slop. The fractions were extremely slow (:24.4, :49.3, 1:14.2).
OUTLOOK: It’s not one of the fastest Todd Pletcher horses on the Derby trail, but he does have some wins and you can’t fault him for doing what he was asked to do. I truly don’t understand how Beyer numbers work because he ran just behind a :43.82, :56.11 5furlong finish and he only got a 66 in that start. If you are Beyer speed guy, BRONSON is not a contender. If you look at connections in a race, Manny Franco, Todd Pletcher and it’s a Derby qualifier for more than likely the top two finishers. At this point, I do have this one in the mix for the exotics in 3rd and 4th position, but for anything beyond that he would have to really surprise. I do like the fact he won in the slop at Gulfstream and on the fast track at Monmouth. It will be interesting how that form translates to the Turfway surface.
#11 – KING AND HIS COURT (Gary Boulanger/Mark Casse 23% 92 starts)
This is another entry with some races you would like to see from the typical Derby prospect on paper. He started out his career at Woodbine and it took three starts to break his maiden. The trainer switch to Mark Casse was key and the horse improved immediately with a restricted stakes win, he defeated STATE OF HONOR who is also on the Derby trail and legitimate candidate following his latest effort in the Tampa Bay Derby. After running in the Sam F. Davis against TAPWRIT, McCRAKEN, and STATE OF HONOR among others at odds of 50-1, I didn’t think I would see him again after the poor effort he put up simply breaking last and running evenly throughout the race doing absolutely nothing. Funny thing what you can get from race to race. Look at his morning-line of 5-1 this time around. What to do?
OUTLOOK: It’s really interesting that two Kentucky Derby prep races can be worth the same amount of points at different racetracks, but a horse can go off at odds of 50-1 one time around and then this time around the track odds maker thinks you deserve to be the second choice. It has a lot to say about what trainers think of this race on the synthetic track. Had some trainers known how soft a group would be entered in the Spiral, maybe they would have taken a shot to qualify in this race instead of some of the other talented filled affairs. As far as KING AND HIS COURT goes I do not think he deserves a morning-line of 5-1, I think there are some more talented horses in the race than him, but it truly depends on how much value you put into his races in Canada. He probably deserves odds closer to 8-1 or a little higher, and that’s where I will keep his value line unless things change on how he physically looks versus some of the others. His Beyer’s are trending the opposite direction which you don’t typically like to see and this is KING AND HIS COURT’S last chance to turn it around. A lot of horses go in three race patterns which would mean he is ready to pop in this start, he should have energy and stamina built up since his last race at Tampa. At the right odds he deserves to be used in all positions on any type of bet. I am going to box 8,9,10,11,12 in a trifecta for the simple fact they all have so many questions, I don’t have time to answer them all. I think they all deserve to be on the ticket somewhere.
#12 – EN HANSE (Robby Albarado/Michael Maker 24% 46 starts)
The third and final entry in the race is another entry that will make you wonder what the heck a trainer tells three different jockey’s with three different owners in a race he wants to win. It would be pretty cool to see Bode Miller and Kendall Hansen get a Derby entry. EN HANSE has put up a Beyer of 83 on this surface at Turfway Park which none of these other horses have had the chance to do. It does give him an advantage. In 8 career starts, EN HANSE has won three of them. He broke his maiden in his fourth career start for a $75k tag at Churchill Downs in November. He has since won three of his last five starts, and also had a good second in the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes. He also won the WEBN Stakes two back putting up an 83 Beyer.
OUTLOOK: Being sired by a son of TAPIT in HANSEN can only be a good thing in a race like this. Having all of his success at Turfway Park is a huge positive. In other words, it’s hard to dismiss this horse and he is the best chance that Michael Maker has to win this race. After now reading about all the entries in the race, this horse also needs to be used in all your horizontal wagers, and on the top in many exotic plays.
#12 – EN HANSE
#8 – KITTEN’S CAT
#11 – KING AND HIS COURT
#9 – PARLOR
#10 – BRONSON