J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
here, folks! After a long winter of anticipation, we are now just six weeks away
from the Kentucky Derby, which means that the final round of prep races is
about to begin. First up is the UAE Derby (UAE-II) on Saturday at Meydan,
followed later in the day by the $500,000 Jack Cincinnati Casino Spiral Stakes
(gr. III) at Turfway Park, with the $800,000 Sunland Derby (gr. III) closing
out the weekend on Sunday.
focus our attention on the Spiral Stakes, which has drawn a full field of
twelve talented three-year-old colts and geldings. Let's start handicapping!
Spiral Stakes (gr. III)
one of just two Kentucky Derby prep races still conducted over a synthetic
track, the Spiral Stakes can be a tricky race to handicap. At first glance, it
seems like horses with experience at Turfway Park or other synthetic tracks
would have an advantage, but this hasn't been the case. No local runner has
prevailed in the Spiral since With a City in 2006, the first year that the race
was held over the Polytrack surface, and shippers from Golden Gate Fields and
Woodbine haven't fared much better.
the Spiral Stakes has been absolutely dominated by horses shipping in from
Gulfstream Park, particularly horses that prepped on turf. Eight of the last
ten Spiral winners entered off a race at Gulfstream, and five of the last seven
prepped in a turf race.
these trends in mind, it appears that the horse to beat is Kitten's Cat, a two-time stakes-winning son of Kitten's Joy that is
owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who have won the Spiral Stakes on three
occasions (twice with horses sired by Kitten's Joy). Kitten's Cat has been in
great form at Gulfstream Park this winter, winning the Kitten's Joy Stakes by a
head (running the final quarter-mile in a blazing :22 1/5 seconds) and
finishing second in the Palm Beach Stakes (gr. III), beaten just a length by
the very talented Ticonderoga.
his blend of tactical speed and a powerful finish, Kitten's Cat should be able
to work out a great trip and avoid traffic trouble. I hope to see him settle a
couple lengths off the early pace, which will presumably be set by the speedy
pair of Fast and Accurate and En Hanse. A pace-tracking trip would be
particularly suitable since no front-runner has won the Spiral since the race
was first run on Polytrack in 2006; in fact, only Hard Spun has won the Spiral
after racing closer than fourth during the first quarter-mile.
his credentials and proven experience in graded stakes company, Kitten's Cat
looks like a deserving favorite and a tough horse to beat. He has a lot in his
favor, and if he goes off at anywhere near his morning line odds of 4-1, I think
that would be fantastic value on a horse that I rate as more of a 2-1 shot.
Kitten's Cat could face a stiff challenge from Parlor, who is also shipping in from Florida. Trained by Eddie
Keneally, the son of Lonhro won his debut at Ellis Park with an impressive late
rally, running the final quarter of the one-mile race in about :23 flat to
defeat a quality field that included Kitten's Cat, who finished 3 ¾ lengths
impressive debut led to a start in the seven-furlong Kentucky Downs Juvenile
Stakes, in which Parlor broke slowly, got jostled around in traffic, and
steadied sharply about halfway through the race before rallying to finish
second by just a neck. He was 4 ½ lengths clear of the rest of the field, which
included the future stakes-placed runners Hot Dad, Prados Way, and Han Sense.
that point, Parlor looked like one of the best two-year-old turf horses in
training, but he went to the sidelines and did not run again until February 22nd,
when he turned in an eye-catching effort at Tampa Bay Downs. Sent off as the
favorite in a one-mile turf race, Parlor once again broke slowly (something he
has done in all three of his starts) and settled at the back of the pack
through modest fractions of :24.78, :49.20, and 1:12.23. But when the field
turned for home, Parlor shifted out a couple paths and absolutely swallowed the
field, effortlessly running down the leaders under a very confident ride to win
geared down by 1 ¾ lengths while running the final furlong two furlongs in
:11.57 and :11.55 seconds-and this over a turf course labeled "good" rather
that prep race under his belt, and with a pedigree that suggests the switch to
Polytrack won't be an issue (Lonhro's progeny have won at a 34% rate on
synthetic tracks), Parlor appears to be the most likely candidate to upset
Kitten's Cat in the Spiral Stakes. Notably, Parlor was nominated to the Triple
Crown by the late deadline of March 20th, suggesting that his
connections are thinking ahead to the possibility that Parlor could stamp
himself as a Kentucky Derby candidate with a strong effort in the Spiral.
Giant Payday is
another that has shown excellent form on turf, including a late-running maiden
win going 8.5 furlongs at Keeneland last October. Last time out, Giant Payday
finished fifth in the Palm Beach Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park, beaten
two lengths by Kitten's Cat while trying to close into strong finishing
fractions. With a better setup, it might not be impossible for Giant Payday to
turn the tables on Kitten's Cat, and at the very least he figures to have a
strong chance to hit the board at a good price.
would also like to briefly mention Fast
and Accurate, who seems like the probable pacesetter after scoring two
impressive gate-to-wire wins in his last two starts. Those victories included a
4 ½-length win in a one-mile maiden claiming race over the Turfway Polytrack
and a 2 ¾-length triumph in the Sage of Monticello Stakes going 7 ½ furlongs on
the Gulfstream turf. Notably, Fast and Accurate's improvement has coincided
with racing on Lasix, and while it could be difficult for him to win the Spiral
Stakes in gate-to-wire fashion, he does have a lot going for him. Trainer Mike
Maker is winning at a 34% rate at Turfway this winter, and jockey Tyler
Gaffalione enjoyed strong success with Maker last year, as they teamed to win
at a 24% rate with a profitable $2.46 ROI. At 15-1 on the morning line, I think
Fast and Accurate is worth including for the possibility that he might hang on
to finish in the trifecta or superfecta.
with a large field of lightly-raced horses, it can be hard to predict the
post-time odds and determine who offers the best potential for value. On my
personal "value line" of fair odds for each contender, I rank Kitten's Cat and Parlor as by far the most likely winners and have assigned them
odds of 2-1 and 3-1. If I were to make a win bet, I would watch the tote board
and see which horse offers better value compared to my value line (I suspect
that will be Parlor), but the best possibility for making a significant
wagering score might come with the exacta and trifecta, as I view Kitten's Cat
and Parlor as standouts, with Giant
Payday and Fast and Accurate the
others that interest me most for the vertical wagers.
it's your turn! Who do you like in the Spiral Stakes?
The Unlocking Winners Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge is back for a third consecutive year! Please be sure to post all entries, prime horses, and stable additions on the official contest page. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.