Week 8/10 of the Derby Handicap Contest! Submit your choice of horse through this link by 6:08pm EST (20 minutes before post time). Read the Contest tab for rules and more information.
The Sunland Derby and the Spiral Stakes complete another weekend of Derby preps, with some interesting up-and-coming talents taking the stage for each of these G3 events and the fields filling well enough as the races begin to lengthen. The jewel of Turfway Park, the Spiral Stakes often yields an upset winner so it’s a great value race to play if you know your polytrack well, with past winners including Lil E. Tee, Animal Kingdom, and Serena’s Song, overall yielding 3 Kentucky Derby winners. Turf types have excelled in this race.
$550,000 Spiral Stakes (III) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on all-weather track at Turfway Park. Post Time: Saturday, March 22 at 6:28pm EST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, All carry 123 lbs, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Big Bazinga - Luis Contreras, Katerina Vassilieva - A Woodbine transplant, the Bluegrass Cat gelding excelled on Woodbine’s all-weather as a juvenile and returns to it for the first time as a three-year-old in an attempt to bounce back on what could be his preferred surface. He lost the Holy Bull on dirt by some 33 lengths, but bounced back once placed on turf in his last start, missing by a neck in a Gulfstream allowance. Bluegrass Cat throws plenty of nice turf/poly horses…ahem, Kathmanblu, one of my favorite fillies! Usable in exotics.
2) Asserting Bear [ON] - Joe Rocco Jr, Reade Baker - A winner on Woodbine’s poly, the Bear Kid colt turned in career-best figs on the all-weather at this distance mark. He was a mere 3 3/4 lengths in the scrambled finish of the Sam Davis (III) last out on dirt. Bear Stables has had some luck in the past, and Asserting Bear has some good efforts on all-weather. Not that special an entry, but not a total toss-out.
3) Poker Player - Channing Hill, Wayne Catalano - Hyped and wide into the stretch of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (I), the Harlan’s Holiday colt hopped nicely off an extended layoff to run 2nd in the Battaglia prep for the Spiral, beaten nearly 5 lengths by Solitary Ranger but making up ground at the end. There is some pace here for Poker Player, who has shown he can do Turfway’s poly. He should improve off that layoff, but needs some stronger numbers to win.
4) Tamarando - Russell Baze, Jerry Hollendorfer - A titan on poly, the Bertrando colt boasts 4 wins in 7 tries on the all-weather and trainer Hollendorfer is no stranger to shipping and winning. Victorious in his last start, the 9-furlong El Camino Real (III), Tam looks fit as the likely favorite. In a field this size, it’s easy to see how Tam is among the best, but he won’t be at a worthwhile price.
5) Coastline - Stewart Elliott, Mark Casse - Speightstowns can pretty much do anything, and this one broke his maiden over Keeneland’s all-weather track only to fizzle in subsequent dirt starts, save one at Churchill. He has the best speed figure on the surface and is usually forwardly-placed. He can win at a nice price.
6) Smart Cover - Corey Lanerie, Dale Romans - Stumbling at the start of his three-year-old debut in a nice turf stake at Gulfstream, the Any Given Saturday colt is being given another try in this, his first start on all-weather. He ought to improve 2nd off the layoff, but his class is very questionable.
7) All Tied Up - Luis Saez, Todd Pletcher - Even the Score’s other son Dullahan loved poly, so why not All Tied Up? A victor in 2 of his 7 starts— all on the lawn— Pletcher sends this one to the poly for the first time. Pletcher is gifted at churning out some poly stars as he demonstrated with Silsita and In Lingerie in Turfway’s Bourbonette Oaks. All Tied Up with reap some pace should he liken to poly.
8) Solitary Ranger - Florent Geroux, Wayne Catalano - I really like the first US Ranger foals, and Solitary Ranger could be among the best of them, as he put on a show romping in the Battaglia stake prep and is 2-for-2 as a three-year-old and an artist on the all-weather. His works look excellent and he’s humming off that Battaglia win. Very nice horse who will look to help set the pace.
9) Almost Famous - Calvin Borel, Pat Byrne - A winner twice as a two-year-old, the Unbridled’s Song colt didn’t make an immediate lead in the Holy Bull (III) and just never got into the race, an action he repeated in the Fountain of Youth (II). He needs that lead, and by the looks of it, an uncontested one which he probably won’t get. I feel good about dismissing this one.
10) Harry’s Holiday - Rosie Napravnik, Mike Maker - Hansen’s owners return to the Derby preps with this Harlan’s Holiday colt, who went wide to finish 3rd in the Battaglia prep, but before that, romped in the 96 Rock prep at Turfway by 8 lengths. Can he route, or was the Battaglia not his day? Either way, he gets an upgrade with Rosie Napravnik.
11) We Miss Artie - John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher - The other G1 winner in the field, the Ramseys are taking another shot at the Derby preps with this son of Artie Schiller, last seen being whipped by 17 lengths in the Fountain of Youth (II). He won his only poly start— the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland from the 10-hole— and missed beating Storming Inti by a head before that, so talent is in check. Class alone could hand him the victory, but he doesn’t have the type of speed figures necessary to beat out many of these horses, even on poly. I also don’t like the way he was caught by Storming Inti in a race he should have had in the bag.
12) Arctic Slope - Albin Jimenez, Ken McPeek - Making his first start since November, the Van Nistelrooy colt is shooting for the moon after being beaten 12 lengths last out in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (II). His lone poly start put him nearly 5 lengths behind We Miss Artie, albeit after a wide trip and a bad start. Very steep challenge for a horse to try hot off the bench.
Top 3 Picks in Order:
1) All Tied Up
3) Solitary Ranger
Before I start, there are a lot of horses in here that could win this, and for that reason, I’m playing against the scary favorite Tamarando, who may very well win, and I’m not a huge fan of We Miss Artie, despite generally liking Artie Schillers… on turf. All Tied Up hit a wall of horses while closing things up like a zipper last out, and I think he could easily take to poly with 2 wins at 1 1/16 miles so he’s not just a turf sprinter. As a fan of the saying “Don’t overlook the Speightstown,” I include Coastline, who may very well be the horse for the course and a poly specialist. Solitary Ranger I’m just a fan of and he’d be the kneejerk pick here had I not been able to analyze the race. He could stick it out in the front end.
Value Pick: Value can be had in most places. All Tied Up would be a keeper at 6-1 or better, Coastline 8-1 or better.
Contest Wager: All Tied Up