Of the dozen horses entered in
the $500,000 JACK Cincinnati Casino Spiral Stakes (G3) March 25 on the
Polytrack at Turfway
Park, nine had never won a race on dirt.
That group included winner Fast
and Accurate, who entered off a maiden-claiming race win at Turfway Park and a
win in a turf sprint stakes race at Gulfstream Park. After securing his third
win in a row in the Spiral, and securing 50 qualifying points to the Kentucky
Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), owner Kendall Hansen, who picked up a
minority partner in Skychai Racing after the Spiral win, plans to supplement the
son of Hansen to the Kentucky Derby.
In Fast and Accurate’s lone start
on dirt, an October 2016 maiden special weight race at Parx Racing, he finished
fifth. Is he a horse who doesn’t like dirt or a horse who had not yet hit his
stride—after all he finished second in his maiden debut and fourth in a stakes
in his first two starts, both on the synthetic surface at Presque Isle. Nothing
like starting in the Derby to begin to find answers to some of these questions.
Fast and Accurate - Coady Photography
Because the Derby is conducted on
dirt, some might find the Spiral an odd choice as a Derby points race
(50-20-10-5) but it makes sense for Churchill Downs to keep the 1 1/8-mile
Polytrack test as an option for connections who have a top turf or synthetic
surface runner that they're interested in qualifying for the Derby without
being forced to try dirt.
The large 20-horse Derby field
allows Churchill to provide an avenue to the Louisville classic to a
horse who has raced well on synthetic surfaces or turf.
This fits Churchill’s approach of
providing some different options for reaching the Derby. The UAE Derby
Sponsored by the Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2) at Meydan Racecourse offers international
runners opportunity. This year runners in Japan were offered a separate qualifying
Churchill does not offer such an
option for fillies. I think it would make sense to designate one or two filly
races as a separate category—similar to the Japan points system—that would
allow a filly a route to the Derby other than facing males.
"I think different horses
need different spots and this time of year you don't always know where you
belong and how your horse will respond," said owner Brad Anderson, who
started Parlor in the Spiral. "When we started considering this race, I
looked back and saw that Animal Kingdom won it
before his Derby win. So it can come together that way."
Animal Kingdom won the 2011
Spiral, then claimed victory in the Kentucky Derby in his first dirt start. Hard Spun won a grade 3 race on dirt before
winning the 2007 Spiral, then went on to earn placings in the Derby and
Preakness Stakes (G1).
With Meydan, the Southern
California tracks, and Keeneland all replacing their synthetic surfaces
with dirt in recent years, the Spiral and El Camino Real Derby (G3)
at Golden Gate
Fields (10-4-2-1) are the lone remaining Derby points races
conducted on synthetic.
Keeping the points status for the
Spiral (as well as grade 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks qualifying points for
the grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks) also helps maintain interest in Turfway Park's
biggest day of racing, which is important for the Kentucky circuit.
This year’s Spiral proved to be
an on-track success as it looked like more than 10,000 fans turned out. The
weather agreed with temperatures in the low 70s—always important for a March
race in Northern Kentucky. Beyond that though, Turfway was ready for the crowd
with a bevy of extra workers and volunteers who welcomed fans in the parking
lot, at the entrance, and in the facility’s elevators.
Turfway officials are well aware
of needs for an improved front side, but some first-rate customer service went
a long way in delivering a big-event feel on the track’s biggest day; a day in
which many first-time fans or once-a-year fans turn out.
The track also continues to
present a first-rate draw for its signature race. The Spiral draw has been
conducted the past few years during a lunch at JACK Cincinnati Casino, the race
sponsor. JACK Entertainment, chaired by Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, is
the majority owner of Turfway and owns the Cincinnati casino.
A quick handicapping note out of the race ... Spiral runner-up Blueridge Traveler deserves extra credit as one of the few horses on the day's card to make a big closing move. The track appeared to be favoring horses on or near the lead.