This week, Picks and Ponderings turns its eyes toward Florence, y'all. Turfway's card on Saturday features a pair of three-year-old points races, the $200,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) (previously the Spiral Stakes) for open company and the $100,000 Bourbonette Oaks (G3) for fillies.
Both races offer 20-8-4-2 points to its top four finishers, good for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks respectively. They are run a week earlier this year than last year, a good move given that they no longer offer enough points to guarantee their winners spots in the big races in May. Now, they can take this prep at Turfway and have a bit more flexibility about resting and planning a final prep over the dirt.
Turfway Park: Saturday, March 9
Race 10: Maxim Crane Works Bourbonette Oaks, three-year-old fillies, one mile on the Polytrack, post time 5:51pm EDT
The Bourbonette has been part of the racing schedule at Turfway Park (née Latonia Race Track) since 1983. It carried a Grade 3 designation from 2006 through 2018, though was downgraded to a Listed stakes this year. However, it does retain its $100,000 purse, and it offers Road to the Kentucky Oaks points (20-8-4-2) to its top four finishers. 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 fourteenth 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, third in 2006, returned next out to win the Kentucky Oaks at 47/1 odds. Since then, she has become a star in the breeding shed as well, producing Champion Forever Unbridled, Grade 1 winner Unbridled Forever, and stakes-placed Forever d'Oro.
The class of this field is actually a familiar face in these part: INTO TROUBLE, whose visit to the Land of Lincoln resulted in a score in the Arlington-Washington Lassie last September. However, given her one-turn pedigree, there's not quite enough to like about her as the likely favourite in a race that's so wide open. So, we're going to take a pass on INTO TROUBLE.
FUN FINDER needs to find her form after a disappointing outing in the Silverbulletday, but this is a solid spot for her to do just that. In such a wide-open race, there are plenty of reasons to like this daughter of Cross Traffic. She has sharp yet tactical speed from the outside, making her the kind of horse well suited to a mile at Turfway this meet. FUN FINDER should be fast enough to make the running if she needs, but more likely, she'll be prompting as the likes of BIRDIE, NEW ROO, or RED ROUNDER can show some speed to her inside. Two turns is still a question, but FUN FINDER does shorten up a bit from that last-out try at Fair Grounds -- and pedigree-wise, the flat mile hits her right between the eyes. Finally, her trainer has a nice track record of having horses ready for the Bourbonette. Ken McPeek has won this race three times during his career, including two of the last three editions. All in all, there's enough to make her an appealing one with whom to take a shot.
RED ROUNDER is another who hopes to rebound from a disappointing try in New Orleans, though her last time out came on the grass. She just didn't get the trip she likes that day -- she does her better work on or near the pace, and didn't find that spot last time. RED ROUNDER does have to answer the synthetic track question, but if she can handle it, she should be fast enough in the opening strides to get a decent spot. The good news is, a decent spot doesn't mean right on the lead, only close: note the good third from a stalking spot in the Ginger Brew Stakes two back. The connections also appeal: rider Rodney Prescott already has a win with RED ROUNDER at Indiana Grand, and he is a 25% winner with trainer Mike Maker at Turfway in the last year.
It's hard to talk about Turfway without talking about Wesley Ward, who sends out NAUGHTY JOKER in the Bourbonette. She makes her first start since November, so the question is whether she'll step up fresh. But, the worktab is regular through February, and Ward wins 22% of the time with horses laid off over three months. The hopes have been fairly high for NAUGHTY JOKER since the outset -- she ran in a stakes race against males last October, in her second career start, while still a maiden. She was a chasing second behind Dunph (who runs in this weekend's Tampa Bay Derby). She blossomed for real the next month, when she tallied a stalk-and-pounce maiden win in her first two-turn try. That was over the slop -- but with three decent races over turf, fast dirt, and slop, she has shown an ability to run on multiple footings, and it's not a stretch to think an Into Mischief baby will take to synthetic, too.
#10 FUN FINDER (8/1)
#6 RED ROUNDER (5/1)
#2 NAUGHTY JOKER (9/2)
Longshot: This may as well be the Bourbonette Oaks sponsored by English Channel, as three of the twelve entrants are by him. That includes a lightly-raced daughter with a world of upside, #11 DIVA DAY (15/1). She has only raced once so far, a maiden win over this course on February 1. That came over a six-furlong trip; her pedigree appeals for the stretch out to a mile. And, the connections are sharp at Turfway: choosy trainer Thomas Drury has 10 wins in just 31 starts on the meet, and is a 34% winner (with a positive ROI) with rider Malcolm Franklin over the last year. Franklin booted DIVA DAY home in that debut, and could be finishing well at a price yet again.
Race 11: Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the Polytrack, post time 6:37pm EDT
This race, traditionally known as the Spiral Stakes has been run at Turfway Park since 1972. Starting last year, in Turfway's grand tradition of interesting sponsorships (remember the 2014 Pure Romance Bourbonette Oaks?), it becomes the Jeff Ruby Steaks. 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 3 rating in 1984, earned a Grade 2 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 did beat males again later that year in the Haskell (G1).
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. DABO will attempt to follow him and become the second Illinois-bred winner of this race.
SOMELIKEITHOTBROWN won the John Battaglia Memorial, the local prep for this race. Though Battaglia winners usually don't fare all that well in the meet's flagship race, SOMELIKEITHOTBROWN isn't your usual Battaglia entrant. Nowadays, you're not usually getting big-time horses, the kind who show up again and again in New York graded stakes and hit the board in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, in the Battaglia. They're usually the kind who invade in the Jeff Ruby (or the Spiral, or whatever it's called that year). SOMELIKEITHOTBROWN is that quality of horse. He proved last time that he can handle the Turfway footing. Through his career he has run well on the front end, in a stalking spot, or rallying from the clouds. (Expect an outside stalking trip today.) He is the only horse in the field who has even tried a mile and an eighth; he broke his maiden at that distance over the Saratoga lawn. It would be even better if Rafael Hernandez were hopping the plane to ride, but it's not alarming that Tyler Gaffalione gets the call -- not only is he a perfectly good rider, but SOMELIKEITHOTBROWN is trained by Mike Maker, who has been giving more and more of his big horses to Gaffalione in recent years. All in all, this is one of those cases where it seems too cute to try and beat the chalk.
There are a few in here who can show speed at times, but only one in this field who absolutely, positively will jet to the front: FIVE STAR GENERAL. And, even though he is one-way speed, he is at least of good enough quality to be able to handle some horses trying to fight him, as he showed in his maiden race. Yes, he is coming off a pretty bad sixth in the Sam F. Davis -- but the start wasn't perfect, and he was outjumped by a very fast horse in Well Defined. There's no horse here with that much early speed, and drawn in the three hole, FIVE STAR GENERAL should be in a good place to get the trip he needs. It's another positive that FIVE STAR GENERAL comes second off a layoff; trainer Arnaud Delacour wins at 23% in that circumstance, suggesting this colt will be cranked to go today.
It's hard to get excited about SKYWIRE at a short price, but between the talent he has shown and the fact that this field isn't the deepest in the world, there's still an argument to make. He remains undefeated in two starts, a sprint maiden win over the Woodbine Tapeta and a route allowance win over the Gulfstream slop. Tapeta form is no guarantee that he'll like Turfway's polytrack, but at least he has shown some versatility as to footing. And, it's also good to see that the horse who straggled home a well-beaten second behind him in that Gulfstream allowance, Art G Is Back, ran a credible fourth behind the talented A Thread of Blue in the Palm Beach Stakes (G3) on Holy Bull day. The stretch run in the allowance race suggests he will need to get his head together to take a step forward against stakes company, but with this being only his third start, he still has room to learn.
#10 SOMELIKEITHOTBROWN (8/5)
#3 FIVE STAR GENERAL (6/1)
#6 SKYWIRE (3/1)
Longshot: I'd love to talk about the (formerly) home team here -- DABO -- since the Illinois-bred has perfect synthetic-track breeding and local form. But, I don't see a complete pace collapse this time around, making him more likely to close for third or fourth instead of taking down the whole thing. For a price horse who is a bit more intriguing on the win end, look at another one coming out of the Battaglia: #1 DYNAMIC RACER (12/1), who finished second in the local prep. DYNAMIC RACER is unlikely to set the pace over FIVE STAR GENERAL, even from the fence, but should be able to get a ground-saving trip close enough to the front. He keeps regular rider Euclyn Prentice: someone who not only has done a good job with him in both races at Turfway, but is one who tends to slip under the radar on big race days because people who don't follow the bigger circuits don't know just how good he is. (If you followed him the time he rode at Hawthorne for a while in the fall of 2017 and the spring of 2018? You know.) The question with DYNAMIC RACER Is whether he will be able to run his best at a mile and an eighth. That's a big "if", but between the local form and the favourable running style, it gives him the most to like among the longshots.
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