This weekend, the roads to the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks lead through Florida and Kentucky.
In a separate piece, Paul Mazur tackles the pair of prep races at Gulfstream. Mohaymen and Nyquist will have their long-awaited showdown in the Florida Derby (GI), while Off the Tracks and Gomo headline the Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII).
This piece focuses on Turfway Park’s richest race day, and the only graded stakes races on its calendar all year. The $500,000 Spiral Stakes (GIII) gives polytrack-loving Derby prospects one more try to punch their ticket to Churchill Downs, and is the last of the 50-20-10-5 point prep races. The fillies’ complement, the $100,000 Bourbonette Oaks, offers Oaks points to its top four finishers on that same fifty-point scale. Both races drew overflow fields — twelve main entries and two also-eligible horses. They should be contentious races, as well as interesting betting affairs.
These races, as with all races at Turfway Park, can be live-streamed for free on the Horse Races Now mobile app.
The morning line for the Bourbonette Oaks was not available at original publish time. Updated on March 31 to add morning lines.
Race 9: Bourbonette Oaks (GIII), three-year-old fillies, one mile on the polytrack, post time 5:07pm 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 eleventh contested over a Polytrack surface. 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. However, one of the horses in the money in last year’s edition did eventually win a Grade I: third-place Sharla Rae went on to win the Del Mar Oaks (GI) last summer. Two runners who have run well in the Bourbonette Oaks have gone on to make a mark around Chicago. 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 her mark even more in the breeding shed than on the track, by producing the Illinois-bred Lord at War mare Ioya Two. 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.
Another horse with ties to the Chicago circuit could take home the prize in this year’s Bourbonette. MARQUEE MISS has only run on a synthetic track once, but it went well for her: she made her career debut in the Arlington-Washington Lassie, and won by open lengths over eventual Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante winner Silver Lode. The rest of MARQUEE MISS’s two-year-old season went poorly, but she came back to Oaklawn ready to fire. With a new more front-running style, she rattled off wins in the Dixie Belle Stakes and the Martha Washington, showing that she could win on dirt — and, in the case of the Martha Washington, showing she could get the job done going two turns. MARQUEE MISS disappointed in the Honeybee (GIII), failing to finish — but that was her third start over a sloppy track, and all three starts in slop have been poor. It suffices to say she hates it. But, toss that Honeybee, and you have a filly with classy form at three. You have a horse who is fast enough to get the lead if she wants it, but also ratable if LOOKOUT SISTER, MISS METEOR, or AMERICAN DOLL force the issue. You have a horse with back synthetic-track form. You have everything you want to see with MARQUEE MISS, and she will be tough to beat in the Bourbonette.
If MARQUEE MISS is the proven horse, WONDERMENT is the one who has something to prove here, but enough suggestions that she can improve. She is one of two entries from trainer Ken McPeek (the other being perennial bridesmaid DORODANSA, a filly best kept to undersides once again). WONDERMENT tries a route for the first time, uses Lasix for the first time, and ventures outside of New York-bred company for the first time. Two turns should be fine for this daughter of Cosmonaut, particularly since her dam has produced a two-turn winner already. She comes in second off the lay, so she should be a bit sharper than she was last out, when she was a disappointing third behind Clipthecouponannie in the Franklin Square Stakes at Aqueduct. Her running style, a relatively close-stalking one, should suit the Turfway course well. If WONDERMENT can get her footing on the Polytrack, she looks the biggest threat to MARQUEE MISS.
Finally, LOOKOUT SISTER emerges for her fist start since finishing up the track in the Alcibiades (GI) last October. Despite the lay, this filly should be fit. She has a long string of workouts dating back to late January, and trainer Graham Motion wins at 21% with horses coming in off of three-month or longer lays. Pacewise, she has some versatility. She has shown some sharp early speed, and won the Small Wonder Stakes last September from right on a contested pace. However, her maiden win came from a few lengths off early. Though the Alcibiades was her only try at a route, that also came over slop. Give LOOKOUT SISTER another try — being by Giant’s Causeway out of a Mt. Livermore mare who has produced a two-turn winner, she should be just fine at a mile.
#3 MARQUEE MISS (3/1)
#2 WONDERMENT (8/1)
#6 LOOKOUT SISTER (6/1)
Longshot: Call #10 AMERICAN DOLL (10/1) the in-form local. Though she started her career with Todd Pletcher last summer and fall, it took the move to Turfway — and to the Ben Colebrook barn — to get her going. She broke her maiden going six and a half furlongs there in January, her fourth lifetime try, and has rattled off a pair of allowance wins since. Both of those allowance wins came at a mile, the same distance as the Bourbonette Oaks. Though she has done most of her better work on the front end, AMERICAN DOLL showed some serious guts last out. She stalked early, took the lead, was passed, but still came back to win. Orlando Mojica, who rode her in that start as well as the one before it, returns here. This Tiznow filly will have to take another step forward to make it four wins in a row here — but between her gameness and her affinity for the track, AMERICAN DOLL has the right stuff to figure for a long price.
Race 10: Spiral Stakes, three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the polytrack, post time 5:43pm 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 runners with local connections. Western Playboy (1989) was bred in Illinois by Harvey and Nancy Vanier, trained by Harvey Vanier, and remains the most recent Illinois-bred horse to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Illinois-bred Polar Expedition (1994), winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity (GII) and the Breeders’ Futurity (GII) the previous year, won for trainer Hugh Robertson.
This year’s Spiral will be a fantastic betting race. Part of that owes to the huge field — but part of that also owes to the fact that it has a vulnerable morning-line favourite in AIROFORCE. After an excellent two-year-old season, he did nothing in the Risen Star (GII), and finished a distant tenth behind Gun Runner. Sure, the move to synthetic is a positive sign — it may serve AIROFORCE, who is probably a turf horse, better. But, we don’t know. He has never tried a synthetic before. Furthermore, trainer Mark Casse has been ice cold on the three-year-old trails this year. And, with so many other better betting opportunities in the Spiral, why take chalk?
Though the 12/1 morning line on Battaglia Stakes winner SURGICAL STRIKE may end up being a bit of a Battaglia Special, this space would gladly take more like 7/1 on him. Though the race did not draw a plethora of speed, SURGICAL STRIKE is the sort who can rally from either a little off the pace, or a lot off. He has also shown that he can handle the Turfway polytrack particularly — and showed that he can close on it. He was a closing third behind Shogood in the WEBN at one turn, and then won the two-turn Battaglia last out with authority. His late pace is strong for the field, and the fractions he closed into in the Battaglia were honest but not blazing fast. SURGICAL STRIKE keeps rider Orlando Mojica from his two races at Turfway — and chances look good that they can defend their [metaphorical] turf from the shippers.
The race did not look to draw a huge ration of speed. Among it, DON’T BE SO SALTY looks the likely speed of it. He has done most of his work on the front end, and will likely be there today, though his maiden win suggests some ability to rate as well. Particularly interesting is DON’T BE SO SALTY’s synthetic track resume. Though he has never run at Turfway, he manhandled an allowance field at Presque Isle last September, and also won the Display Stakes over the Woodbine polytrack last December. It suggests he can handle different synthetic footings. Combine this with the fact that Turfway can be kind to frontrunning types, and DON’T BE SO SALTY looks well placed at a square price. Another horse who should figure on or near the front end is JENSEN. He wired an allowance at Fair Grounds last out, though he also showed ratability when he rallied from off the pace to break his maiden. His speeds are in range with what he needs to compete with the better among the entries here, as well. Surface remains the biggest question. This will be JENSEN’s first try on a synthetic surface, but damsire Hard Spun won the 2007 Spiral for Larry Jones, who also conditions JENSEN. Speaking of connections, it also stands out that Florent Geroux is shipping out to ride. He was aboard JENSEN for all four of his starts at Fair Grounds, and though he has picked up a few other mounts that day, this colt looks to be the reason for his travels.
#2 SURGICAL STRIKE (12/1)
#4 DON’T BE SO SALTY (8/1)
#3 JENSEN (6/1)
Longshot: If #13 CRESCENT DRIVE (12/1) draws in off of the also-eligible list, prepare to put him on your tickets. Tom Amoss does not fool around when he hits the road with a horse, judging by his 34% win rate with shippers. He has not run at Turfway, but does have proven synthetic form elsewhere: a maiden win over the Woodbine poly, as well as a late-running third in the Display Stakes behind DON’T BE SO SALTY. He closed for third behind TWO STEP TIME in the Texas Heritage Stakes in February, but that was his first start since November. He may also show a bit more speed here, going blinkers on for the first time. And, that’s another dynamite stat for Amoss: 26% winners with first-time blinkers, 68% in the money. Finally, the mile and an eighth should be no problem: he is by 2005 Spiral Stakes winner Flower Alley (a sire who produced a dual Classic winner in I’ll Have Another), out of a Pulpit mare who won at two turns. CRESCENT DRIVE needs a scratch, but he has more than a punter’s chance should he draw in.
Should CRESCENT DRIVE remain on the sidelines, consider #5 OSCAR NOMINATED (10/1) as a longer shot. He is one of four entries from the Mike Maker barn, but has the best resume among those stablemates by far. He has never gone nine furlongs before, but the pedigree (Kitten’s Joy out of a Theatrical mare who won a stakes at two turns on a synthetic) suggests the distance will be no problem. In terms of pace, his stalking to midpack style should be just fine. He gets Robby Albarado back in the irons from a stakes win at Fair Grounds last out, so there is already some rapport there. Maker and Albarado have also been a hot pair: in their last ten starts they have won four, with two more money finishes. This race will be OSCAR NOMINATED’s stiffest class test yet, which is why he will need to be at or above his morning line to really like. But, assuming he can handle the poly, he could get a piece here.
You can take “Picks & Ponderings” with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Hawthorne Race Course. And you can get “Picks and Ponderings” in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking “Create Subscription.” It’s a FREE service, and you’ll never get any unwanted spam.