Entering the Homestretch of the Derby Trail

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") @J_Keelerman

At long last, we’ve entered the homestretch! After months of poring over entries and results and pedigrees and speed figures, trying to project which horses are serious Kentucky Derby contenders and which are not, we have finally reached the beginning of the end of our journey. On Saturday, the $550,000 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (gr. III) will be held at Turfway Park, a milestone event because its timing in regard to the Derby—being held six weeks before the first Saturday in May—means that the Spiral is the first of the "final" Kentucky Derby prep races. In other words, for many of the colts in this race, this is their last chance to qualify for the Derby. For one or two colts, the race will go well, and they will secure enough points to earn a spot in the "Run for the Roses." For the others, this race may mark the end of their journey.

So with the importance of this race in mind, let’s charge down the homestretch and start handicapping!

# Horse Jockey Trainer Last race
1 Royal Son R. Prescott Todd Pletcher 1st John Battaglia Memorial Stakes (VIDEO)
2 Big Family A. Jimenez Gustavo Delgado 2nd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
3 Watchyourownbobber Rajiv Maragh Mike Maker 1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
4 Wireless Future F. Geroux Tom Amoss 1st Allowance (VIDEO)
5 Another Lemon Drop Drayden Van Dyke Philip Bauer 2nd Black Gold Stakes (VIDEO)
6 Imperia (scratched) Joel Rosario Kiaran McLaughlin 5th Risen Star Stakes (gr. II)
7 Magic of Believing B. Laviolette Kenny McPeek 1st Allowance (VIDEO)
8 Task Force Glory R. Hernandez Mike Maker 6th John Battaglia Memorial Stakes (VIDEO)
9 Conquest Typhoon Mike Smith Mark Casse 3rd El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) (VIDEO)
10 Firespike Miguel Mena Mike Maker 5th John Battalia Memorial Stakes (VIDEO)
11 Metaboss Alex Solis Jeff Bonde 1st El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) (VIDEO)
12 Dubai Sky Jose Lezcano Bill Mott 1st Kitten’s Joy Stakes (VIDEO)

The morning line favorite at 7-2 is Royal Son, who prepped for this race with a convincing victory over the Turfway Polytrack in the 8.5-furlong John Battaglia Memorial Stakes last month. In that race, Royal Son went straight to the lead while setting modest fractions of :24.80, :49.58, and 1:13.79, then drew off in the homestretch to win by 5 ¼ lengths while earning a career-best 97 Beyer speed figure. On the surface, Royal Son appears poised for another strong effort on Saturday. He has drawn the rail, which should allow him to easily secure the early lead, and his proven affinity for the track—coupled with a speed figure that towers over those of his rivals—suggests that he will be difficult to beat.

But upon closer examination, I think there are a few legitimate reasons to take a stand against Royal Son. For one, his impressive margin of victory in the John Battaglia was due in part to the fact that his main rival—odds-on favorite The Great War—bled during the race and faded badly in the homestretch, making the race considerably easier for Royal Son to win. Additionally, the presence of the front-running allowance winner Watchyourownbobber should ensure that the early pace is honest, pushing Royal Son through faster fractions than he experienced in the John Battaglia and possibly leaving him vulnerable to a stretch-runner in the final furlongs. Also, despite the fact that Royal Son set a modest pace in the John Battaglia, he didn’t finish particularly well, running the final five-sixteenths in just :33.05 seconds. Going nine furlongs in the Spiral, I think Royal Son is vulnerable to an upset, especially if he regresses off his career-best effort last time out.

My selection to pull off a mild upset is Metaboss, the second choice on the morning line at 4-1. Last time out, Metaboss unleashed a simply spectacular turn-of-foot to win the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Golden Gate Fields by 2 ½ lengths. Really, words can’t do justice to how visually impressive his burst of speed was, as he seemed to be in complete control of the race from the time the field turned for home, and it was just a matter of pointing him in the right direction and letting him swallow up the field. The fractional splits reveal that he ran the final three furlongs in about :35 flat, a remarkable time, and it looked like he was just getting warmed up at the finish. If he can duplicate that performance over the Turfway Polytrack, I believe we will see him in the winner’s circle on Saturday.

I would also like to mention Conquest Typhoon, who finished third in the El Camino Real Derby after an aggressive ride that saw him pressing the pace while racing wide. Normally a deep closer, Conquest Typhoon has shown a very strong burst of speed in the past, and while nine furlongs might be a bit beyond his best distance—he may be more of a miler—with the right trip, I think he could be in the mix for the exotics. And if you’re looking for a real longshot to finish in the superfecta, you might want to take a look at the above-mentioned Watchyourownbobber, who has won two straight races on the Gulfstream turf, including an 8.5-furlong allowance optional claiming race. He has decent early speed, a respectable finishing kick, and a strong pedigree for success on synthetic tracks. He may be 20-1 on the morning line, but you can never count out the Ramseys and Mike Maker, who won this race last year with We Miss Artie. I expect to see Watchyourownbobber show speed from post three, probably dueling with Royal Son for the early lead, and he might just hang around for a better finish than most expect.

Who do you like in the Spiral Stakes?


In order to aid in keeping track of all the Kentucky Derby prep races and results, I will be posting links to the Kentucky Derby prep race schedule and the Kentucky Derby point standings at the bottom of each Unlocking Winners blog post from now until the Derby. Also, here is the link to the complete entries and current standings for our "Road to the Kentucky Derby" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing!

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