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Turfway’s Spiral Stakes (III) has quickly become one of the most intriguing Kentucky Derby preps of recent years, with eventual Derby winner Animal Kingdom taking it in 2011 and last year’s victory falling to 4th place finisher Went the Day Well. A mix of turf and dirt horses will line up for the event, which is bound to be an exercise in surface handicapping. This will be the first 9-furlong race we’re doing on the trail.
This is a tough race. Have some Brisnet PPs… but don’t pay too too much attention to the speed figures since many of those races are on turf.
Weather shouldn’t affect Turfway’s all-weather track.
$550,000 Spiral Stakes (III) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on polytrack at Turfway Park. Post Time: Saturday, March 23 at 5:50pm CST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, All carry 123 lbs, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Balance the Books - Julien Leparoux, Chad Brown - Saratoga pony! The Lemon Drop Kid colt was a standout as a juvenile on grass, but hasn’t had a start since running a good 3rd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (I). He gets Leparoux after a string of consistent 4-furlong breezes. His G2 win gives him some class, but the rail spot and layoff will probably hurt him on his first trip on poly.
2) Channel Isle - Jon Court, D. Wayne Lukas - English Channel colts I’ve noted become a force out of nowhere, and are often tops on grass and poly. He has poly experience from running at Keeneland and doesn’t look like it’s going to be a problem whatsoever. With powerhouse Lukas training, a good poly experience, and a win at 9 furlongs (on turf at Churchill), he’s an interesting bet and could win this race.
3) Uncaptured - Miguel Mena, Mark Casse - One of the best two-year-olds of last year, the Lion Heart colt returns off a lengthy layoff for his three-year-old debut. He looks ready despite the time off with 5 straight, sharp-looking bullet works visible per Equibase. 6 for 7 starts with 4 being on synthetic, he’ll be a proven force on Turfway’s poly. His victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (II) hasn’t held up well since he took a break, but regardless, he has a proven off-the-pace running style and his form holds up well on synthetic.
4) Fear the Kitten - Rosie Napravnik, Mike Maker - With a 2nd and 3rd this year in graded dirt stakes, the Kitten’s Joy colt leaps back into the picture and onto a surface that should favor him a bit more than dirt. He broke his maiden (albeit in a maiden claimer) on poly and really hasn’t run a bad race yet, and he’s usually not too far from the front. The Napravnik-Maker double makes him a big value play.
5) My Name is Michael - Joel Rosario, Bill Mott - The Macho Uno colt gets turned out for the first time since transferring to Mott. With 4 starts out of 5 on Woodbine’s all-weather, he should take to Turfway’s track like a duck to water after closing phenomenally well— but too late— last out on dirt in the Sam F. Davis (III). The question here is if he’ll get a setup. He has some pretty good speed figures racing on synthetic already, and the Davis proved he’s in shape. Should I mention he beat Clearly Now last year?
6) For Greater Glory - Robby Albarado, Steve Hobby - Never off the board in 5 starts, the Afleet Alex colt some cool distance breeding and looks to improve on poly after a rocky, bumpy 3rd last out in the one-mile Battaglia prep race here at Turfway (won by General Election, place was Giant Finish). He should dig a stretch-out but will get a class test. Certainly worth using in exotics.
7) Mac the Man - Norberto Arroyo Jr, Jeff Greenhill - The pride of Turfway this year, the El Corredor colt is 2-for-2 this year both in Turfway stakes. Greenhill has him fresh for this race after skipping the Battaglia Memorial. Adaptable pace-wise, he is capable of powerful fractions as well as easy-breezy ones and kicks into a drive in the stretch. A miss here at his home base of Turfway would demean his overall worth. He will be competing against real horses here, but has the numbers to run big.
8) General Election - Albin Jimenez, Kellyn Gorder - The winner of the mile-long Battaglia Memorial prep, the Harlan’s Holiday colt showed he liked Turfway after making just one start there, closing to win that race dramatically and by 8-wide. That field included many in this race. Not sure how high or low to rank this one, but the WinStar stable colors certainly help persuade me to not dump on him.
9) Black Onyx - Joe Bravo, Kelly Breen - A Rock Hard Ten on poly bodes well automatically. This jewel of a colt raced on grass, beating the likes of Crop Report (favored in the Rushaway) and Saint Vigeur. On dirt, he failed in both tries with no real kick. This will be his stakes debut, and while he doesn’t have poly experience, turf ability with decent speed figs and class conquering is a good omen.
10) Giant Finish - Jose Espinoza, Tony Dutrow - I like the first Frost Giants, but even that fact didn’t make me support West Hills Giant, who ran 2nd in the Withers at long, long odds. A few good races, he was 2nd in his poly debut in the Battaglia Memorial. He looked just about done at the end of his recent start, though I credit the bumping that was going on for that. He looks to improve in his 2nd try on poly.
11) Taken by the Storm - Alan Garcia, Ken McPeek - The latest McPeek trainee to hit the Derby preps, the Stormy Atlantic colt is bred for grassy ventures. He won his maiden at Keeneland in a rompfest over 9 furlongs on grass over Channel Isle, and looks fit as can be fresh off an allowance win on Gulfstream’s competitive grass over some strong runners. He keeps Alan Garcia for this shot at the stars. With a bullet registered at Gulfstream, he’s one of the most interesting horses that is due to be a “wiseguy” choice If he does poly just as well as grass he can win this.
12) Capo Bastone - John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher - Likely to take some money, the Street Boss colt came off a sluggish two-year-old bow to win a Gulfstream dirt allowance last month after trading hands from John Sadler to Todd Pletcher. He has 2 synthetic starts from Del Mar, including his debut victory over some ponies who won recently That allowance race has been debated, since the Beyer figure was very low. Add to this skepticism runner-up Offlee Fast’s next race, the Tampa Bay Derby, in which he finished up the track. I don’t understand why this horse has or had a following. Seems very ordinary to me.
Top Picks in Order (plus minimal post-time odds I’d like for wagering):
1) My Name Is Michael (10-1)
2) Mac the Man (5-1)
3) Taken by the Storm (12-1)
Tough race all around with no real standouts or concrete pace. For a poly race, I like to look at the most experienced ponies on the surface as well as their current form. It’s tough to pick one solid horse here, but I did take a liking to My Name Is Michael, who looked pretty good losing with THE MAN Bill Mott training first-time. He’s bound to [hopefully] rocket back on poly 2nd start back. Mac The Man has home field advantage, but he shouldn’t be examined as just another Turfway star; he’s got speed and ability where it counts. Taken by the Storm demands to be taken seriously and looks fit to fire. I also liked Black Onyx while I was handicapping, but don’t trust the class level jump with no poly experience. At least McPeek I know has a good record of training grass-to-poly types.
Value Pick: Most money will land foolishly on Uncaptured, Capo Bastone, and Balance the Books despite their long layoffs, snorish recent performances, etc. D. Wayne Lukas’s Channel Isle will probably get pounded too after his Rebel exacta last weekend. I’ve been preaching Fear the Kitten all year as a value play and he will remain a good play at 8-1 or better with his breeding, Rosie riding, and Turfway leader Maker training. My top 3 should also be at reasonably good odds!