Kitten’s Cat, Parlor Stand Out in Spiral Stakes

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

We're 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.

We'll 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)

As 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.

Instead, 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.

Keeping 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.

With 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.

Given 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.

Still, 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 behind Parlor.

That 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.

At 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 than "firm."

With 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.

I 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.

Still, 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.

Now 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

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