This week, the roads to both the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks visit a pair of tracks that typically fly a bit farther under the radar. Saturday, Turfway Park hosts the final synthetic-track points races leading up to the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks: the Spiral Stakes (GIII) and the Bourbonette Oaks (GIII). That pair of Polytrack preps will be the focus of this piece. Sunday, Paul Mazur ventures out west to cover the Sunland Derby (GIII) and the Sunland Park Oaks.
Both of Saturday's graded stakes races at Turfway drew the requisite mix of proven Polytrack horses, turf types trying for a shot at racing's biggest stage, and recent maiden winners rising out of the woodwork. In contrast to a few recent Derby preps with towering favourites, both preps at Turfway drew large and contentious fields, and should be excellent betting races.
Both the Bourbonette Oaks and the Spiral Stakes are scheduled to take place on Saturday, March 21 at Turfway Park.
Edited on March 21 to reflect the scratch of BOSSY from the Bourbonette Oaks.
Race 10: Pure Romance Bourbonette Oaks (GIII), three-year-old fillies, one mile over the Polytrack, post time 5:42pm EDT
The Bourbonette has been part of the racing schedule at Turfway Park (née Latonia Race Track) since 1983, and has carried a Grade III designation since 2006. The race has always been contested at a flat mile, though it was run on dirt through 2005. This year's edition will be its tenth since Turfway installed Polytrack. Over its history, only one runner who has hit the board in the Bourbonette Oaks has gone on to claim the lilies: Lemons Forever, who finished third in 2006, returned next out to win the Kentucky Oaks at 47/1 odds. Two runners who have run well in the Bourbonette Oaks have gone on to make a mark locally. Aurelia's Belle, who won in 2014, proved her Polytrack prowess once again at Arlington Park later that year by winning Arlington Oaks (GIII). Ioya, third in the 1990 Bourbonette for trainer Chris Block, made a bigger mark in the breeding shed by producing Ioya Two, an Illinois-bred mare by Lord at War. Ioya Two won the 2001 Modesty Handicap (GIII) at Arlington, and has produced four stakes-winning Illinois-breds to date: Amazing Results, I O Ireland, Ioya Bigtime, and Mavericking.
Aurelia's Belle proves clearly best in the 2014 Bourbonette Oaks.
This year's edition of the Grade III Bourbonette Oaks offers a $150,000 purse, as well as 50, 20, 10, and 5 Road to the Kentucky Oaks points to its top four finishers. The race drew a field of twelve runners, plus two on the also-eligible list.
SHARLA RAE is the morning-line favourite, but she has three big strikes against her. She has never shipped out of California, her form has been better on Tapeta than on Polytrack, and she will not have a lot of speed into which to close. At likely short odds, looking elsewhere holds more interest. Unless one or both of the also-eligible entries draws in, there does not appear to be a large amount of early speed in this race: mainly, just BACK FLIP and SWEET SUCCESS. Between the two, though BACK FLIP is the only one with synthetic-track experience, SWEET SUCCESS has shown herself to be a bit faster horse so far. Though she tries a synthetic surface for the first time, she is bred for the polytrack through and through: sire Candy Ride brings a strong synthetic-track influence, and dam Aspiring gained both of her career wins on polytrack, as well as her only graded stakes placing: a third-place finish in the 2007 Bourbonette. There is a lot to like about SWEET SUCCESS: everything but the likely short price.
One who looks to be in a strong position to improve for a better price is WALKING THE KITTEN. She won first out over the Kentucky Downs grass, but this Kitten strayed a bit from the path between a troubled fifth in the Jessamine (GIII) and then bolting and being pulled up in the Wait a While. She returns against tougher here, second off the lay. In her first race back she finished fifth, but should come back stronger second off -- as evidenced by both her pair of workouts since as well as trainer Mike Maker's 21% strike rate second off the lay. She also adds blinkers here, something that could keep her a bit closer to the pace. She will probably not end up right on the front end, and may not want to be if BACK FLIP and SWEET SUCCESS get into it early, but should be within striking distance throughout. Maker has historically been a trainer who knows what he is doing by adding blinkers; he wins at 26% going blinkers-on, with a positive ROI. Another with appeal is HARLAN'S DESTINY. Pacewise, she should be stalking near, though can rate a bit farther back as well if traffic gets backed up or the speed gets too crazy (a possibility, if the AEs draw in). Though she has garnered most of her wins by outclassing fellow West Virginia-breds out at Charles Town, she has more class than the average Chuck Town denizen. This Wayne Catalano trainee did get the best of a blanket finish at Churchill last November against Zeven and Tiger Ride, both of whom have won since that last outing. Though HARLAN'S DESTINY has yet to race since winning the Eleanor Casey Memorial S. on December 20 at Charles Town, she has been working regularly since late January. Trainer Wayne Catalano wins at 17% off lays of similar length, suggesting he should have her ready.
#2 WALKING THE KITTEN (15/1)
#7 SWEET SUCCESS (4/1)
#6 HARLAN'S DESTINY (5/1)
Longshot: Though WALKING THE KITTEN looks like Mike Maker's strongest entry, he has three horses in the field, and more than one of them comes in here with a shot. #4 RIGHT ON KITTEN (20/1) finished a late-running fourth in the Cincinnati Trophy at Turfway last out, but that race only covered six and a half furlongs. It was also her first try on a synthetic surface. Now, with a race under her, she stretches out to a distance more in line with what she prefers. She broke her maiden going seven and a half furlongs on turf, and and won a stakes race at Retama going a flat mile on turf. This group will be tougher, but trainer Mike Maker wins at 24% stretching from a route to a sprint, and her worktab has improved at Turfway since that last race. Second off the winter freshening and with the added distance, RIGHT ON KITTEN could stalk a few lengths off early, and take advantage if the speed horses in the race get too feisty. Her class remains a question, but she has enough upside to be worth a price near her morning line.
Race 11: Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (GIII), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles over the Polytrack, post time 6:28pm EDT
The Spiral Stakes has been run at Turfway Park (née Latonia Race Track) since 1972. The race was originally run at a mile on dirt, but stretched to a mile and a sixteenth in 1982 and then to its current distance in 1988. It has been run on Polytrack since 2006. The race first earned a Grade III rating in 1984, earned a Grade II starting in 1998, and has been back at its current level since 2011. Through its history, two of its winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby: Lil E. Tee (1992) and Animal Kingdom (2011). Three of its other winners in the early 1990s also went on to win other Triple Crown races: Summer Squall (1990, Preakness), Hansel (1991, Preakness and Belmont), and Prairie Bayou (1993, Preakness). Hall of Fame inductee Serena's Song (1995) did not parlay her Spiral Stakes victory into a Derby win, but she she beat males again later that year in the Haskell (GI). Like the Bourbonette Oaks, the race's winners' list also includes a runner with local connections. Western Playboy (1989) was bred in Illinois, and remains the most recent Illinois-bred horse to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
Animal Kingdom, 2011 Kentucky Derby winner and 2013 Dubai World Cup winner, prevails in the 2011 Spiral Stakes.
This year's Spiral Stakes offers a purse of $550,000, and 50, 20, 10, and 5 Road to the Kentucky Derby points to its top four finishers. The race drew fifteen entrants, though due to an antiquated race condition and the 12-horse capacity of one of the Turfway starting gates, just twelve were allowed to enter and the conditions prohibited an also-eligible list. The field will likely consist of eleven, as trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has announced that Imperia would scratch from the race.
Leading into the Battaglia, the local prep for the Spiral, the buzz surrounded The Great War. Unfortunately, he bled in that race, and has stepped off the Derby trail. ROYAL SON won that prep in a runaway, and should take a lot of money on the strength of that race. However, he will not likely get an easy lead in that field, with BIG FAMILY, WATCHYOUROWNBOBBER, and possibly even CONQUEST TYPHOON wanting to be near the front. He also seems a prime bounce risk, having improved from an 81 Brisnet speed figure two back to a 103 in the Battaglia, with no back numbers higher than an 85. He stands to regress, he will not get the perfect trip, and ROYAL SON screams underlay. Another who will likely be overbet, and who will be worth taking a swing against, will be METABOSS. Though he is a proven quantity at a mile and an eighth, he has won on turf and on Tapeta. Polytrack does not play the same way, and Golden Gate form does not necessarily ship out to Turfway. How METABOSS ships at all remains a question; this will be his first race out of California. Though METABOSS has a bit more appeal than ROYAL SON given the pace, there remains too much uncertainty to take here at a short price.
Enough about who won't win the Spiral. Who will?
ANOTHER LEMON DROP looks tough here. Though he finished second against easier last out, the race was only at seven and a half furlongs, and there was a wire-to-wire winner. There is enough front-end here to make an uncontested lead highly unlikely, so his off-pace style should have a good chance. He is a son of Lemon Drop Kid, whose progeny tend to have a good time at nine furlongs, and broke his maiden last year going this distance on the grass at Keeneland. The biggest question surrounding him is that it is his first time on a synthetic track of any sort. Still, his only half-brother to race (Ontology) did not have problems handling Polytrack in the 2013 Best Pal S. (GII) at Del Mar, and it is not unprecedented for a Lemon Drop Kid to take well to it. DUBAI SKY is another turf type who tries a synthetic surface for the first time here. His sire, Candy Ride, has been particularly strong as a synthetic track sire, suggesting he has a strong chance to handle the surface well. He has not gone past 1 1/16 miles yet, but both other siblings to race (full brother Twirling Candy and half brother Ethnic Dance) are graded stakes winners at nine furlongs. Pacewise, he is versatile: he has won right on the front end, and he has also won coming from significantly off the pace early. Expect something more like his off-pace allowance victory two starts back, between his outside post and the other pace in the race. He also adds Lasix for the first time. Finally, CONQUEST TYPHOON has significant appeal. He has raced three times on Polytrack before, never missing the board, so he should be able to handle the surface. His versatility of pace makes him very strong: though he has usually been on or near the lead, he showed two back in his Cecil B. DeMille S. (GIII) win that he can come from the back of the pack and still hit the wire first. He finished third in his only career attempt at 1 1/8 miles, last out in the El Camino Real Derby (GIII). That day, he was dogged by Ernest Shackleton and Indianaughty early, and survived better than either. He should be fitter here second off the lay, and also able to take back if there is enough other pace to make it wiser for Mike Smith to rate him.
#5 ANOTHER LEMON DROP (6/1)
#12 DUBAI SKY (8/1)
#9 CONQUEST TYPHOON (5/1)
Longshot: Trainer Mike Maker brings a trio of runners into the Spiral this year. Despite his solid 21% record on the meet, all three of his runners come into this race as long shots. However, one cannot count his entire brigade out. #10 FIRESPIKE (20/1) faltered last out in the Battaglia, but won the OBS Championship Stakes two starts back in his first attempt over the Polytrack. He started poorly in the Battaglia, as did much of the field, but could be a factor at a big price if he gets out of the gate better this time around. FIRESPIKE worked a five-furlong bullet over the Turfway polytrack on March 14, suggesting his ability to handle Turfway's poly specifically may not have been his problem last out. He has some speeds that compare very strongly with this field, and pacewise ought to sit nicely off the pace but not in the clouds early. FIRESPIKE will go off at longer odds than he did last out, and should be good value as a result.
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