Is There an Animal Kingdom in the Field?
Leading up to last year, the Spiral Stakes from Turfway Park produced zero Kentucky Derby winners since 1992 when Pat Day and Lil E. Tee swept the two events. The race lost its stature, its sponsorships several times, and ultimately became a second hand race for connections to earn graded earnings for a possibly entry in the Kentucky Derby. But time heals all wounds and the derby gods are always watching. Despite the fact that Turfway opted to install a Polytrack surface instead of a traditional dirt track in 2005 , a Spiral winner was due to win the big one. Last year, Animal Kingdom finally broke the spell and stormed to a thrilling victory in the Spiral Stakes and later repeated that effort in the Kentucky Derby.
Animal Kingdom’s victory not only vindicated the theory that a Polytrack horse could win on dirt, but it also launched Turfway Park’s reemergence on the road to the derby. The 53-yr. old track has many roots in the Bluegrass State and the track’s premiere race looks to add to the state’s racing lore. The G.2 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes will be run on Saturday with a 5:45 pm ET post-time. The race has returned some legitimacy to Turfway Park, but it remains to be seen if a horse or possibly two can use the Spiral as a springboard to the Kentucky Derby in six weeks. 12 horses are entered for the 1 1/8 mile event.
Although there are a few stakes winners in the field, there are no graded stakes winners. With a $500,000 purse, the winner should secure a spot in the derby. However, there is no real standout in the field. Former derby winning trainers D. Wayne Lukas, Todd Pletcher, John Servis, and Graham Motion send starters as do well-known trainers of the trade Jerry Hollendorfer, Mike Maker, and Doug O’Neill. So the star power is there, but winning takes place on the track.
Installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite, Heavy Breathing starts for two-time winning Spiral trainer Todd Pletcher. Heaving Breathing was originally pointed for a career on turf, but his first race was moved to the main track due to rain. He won easily prompting Pletcher to run him on dirt a second time. Pletcher’s intuition paid off with a 4 ¼ length victory in an optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park. Turf horses have typically run well over Polytrack surfaces, so this race may set up beautifully for Heavy Breathing and his jockey Javier Castellano.
California based horses Handsome Mike and Russian Greek along with All Squared Away have made the long journey from out west to take a shot at Heavy Breathing and local favorite Mr. Prankster. Mr. Prankster won the WEBN Stakes in February. His trainer Mike Maker has an outstanding track record at Turfway and won the Spiral Stakes in 2006 with With a City.
Went the Day Well is another contender for the Spiral crown, and the colt is a potential headliner as well. Owned by Team Valor, trained by Graham Motion, and ridden by John Velazquez, Went the Day Well is utilizing the same winning connections of Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby. This threesome proved to be very successful on the first Saturday in May, and they look to repeat history one year later.
$500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III, Race 10, 5:45 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/8 Miles (Polytrack)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Russian Greek (KY), C S Nakatani, 123, J Hollendorfer 10-1
2. Red Jack (KY), M Pedroza, 123, D W Lukas 30-1
3. Heavy Breathing (KY), J Castellano, 123, T A Pletcher 3-1
4. Went the Day Well (NY), J R Velazquez, 123, H G Motion 4-1
5. Holiday Promise (KY), J Alvarado, 123, T A Pletcher 12-1
6. All Squared Away (KY), L Contreras, 123, P Miller 30-1
7. Ill Conceived (PA), S Elliott, 123, J C Servis 8-1
8. Coach Royal (KY), F Jara, 123, J Sallusto 15-1
9. Tizanexpense (KY), V Lebron, 123, M J Maker 15-1
10. Mr. Prankster (KY), R Napravnik, 123, M J Maker 12-1
11. Stealcase (KY), R Maragh, 123, M E Casse 10-1
12. Handsome Mike (KY), J Rosario, 123, D F O’Neill 4-1
Many of the horses in the field are untested and today will be the biggest test for each and every one of them. If their connections hope to run in the Kentucky Derby, today is the day to prove they belong. Heavy Breathing has the pedigree and promise but I like Handsome Mike to pull the upset and stamp his card for a post in the derby. The outside post may be the perfect spot to let the rabbits run free and sit tight for a charge in the last quarter-mile.
If Animal Kingdom can do it, why can’t one of these horses? Racing is alive and well at Turfway Park and today marks a momentous occasion. Good luck to all of the racing connections.
Written by Big Brink