Field Pass Poised for Victory in Jeff Ruby Steaks

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

If it seems like trainer Mike Maker wins the $250,000 Jeff Ruby Stakes (G3) every time he turns around, that's because—well—he pretty much does.

Held at 1 1/8 miles of the synthetic Polytrack at Turfway Park, the Jeff Ruby has carved out its own little niche on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, awarding 20 qualification points to the winner. You won't find many tried-and-true dirt runners tackling the Jeff Ruby, but even still, the race tosses up an occasional Kentucky Derby contender. In 2011, Animal Kingdom pulled off the Jeff Ruby/Kentucky Derby double, and in 2012 Went the Day Well parlayed a victory at Turfway into a solid fourth-place effort at Churchill Downs.

But mostly, the Jeff Ruby has been an opportunity for Mike Maker to showcase the depth of his stable. In 2006, the first year the Jeff Ruby was conducted over a synthetic track, Mike Maker sprung a 48-1 upset courtesy of With a City. Maker subsequently returned to the Jeff Ruby winner's circle with Dean's Kitten (6-1 in 2010), Oscar Nominated (23-1 in 2016), Fast and Accurate (24-1 in 2017), and Somelikeithotbrown (3-5 in 2019).

What's interesting is that all five of Maker's Jeff Ruby winners had demonstrated strong form on turf prior to their successes over the Turfway Polytrack. This is actually part of a greater trend; you have to go back to 2009 to find a Jeff Ruby winner (the synthetic specialist Hold Me Back) who hadn't shown at least some degree of promise on grass prior to winning Turfway's signature race.

Maker will saddle a trio of runners in Saturday's renewal of the Jeff Ruby, and one of them—#12 Field Pass—could be tough to beat. A stoutly-bred son of Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Lemon Drop Kid, Field Pass showed plenty of potential as a juvenile. In his maiden victory at Saratoga, Field Pass held off a late charge from Decorated Invader, who went on to win the Summer Stakes (G1) at Woodbine. Field Pass similarly went on to compete with aplomb against stakes company, hitting the board in the With Anticipation Stakes (G3), Laurel Futurity, and Bourbon Stakes (G3).

Field Pass looked better than ever in his 2020 debut. Somehow overlooked at 12-1 in the 1-mile Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park, Field Pass saved ground throughout, waited behind runners on the far turn, and then courageously sliced his way between horses to rally and win by a neck. His margin of victory was narrow, but with an unencumbered run, Field Pass might have won by more.

Judging from his pedigree, stretching out to 1 1/8 miles should be no obstacle for Field Pass. Drawing wide should keep him out of traffic, especially since Field Pass has the tactical speed to be involved from the outset, and it helps that two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz has accepted the mount. In short, I view Field Pass as the horse to beat.

Maker will also be represented by #3 Fancy Liquor and #7 Victory Boulevard. The latter, a former claimer, could be in deep while stepping up in class off a series of dirt sprints, but Fancy Liquor could get involved for the exotics at a big price. The son of Lookin At Lucky debuted on Feb. 2 in a 1-mile maiden race over the Gulfstream turf course, leading all the way to win by a head. His speed figures weren't remarkable, but the caliber of competition Fancy Liquor defeated was noteworthy. Third-place finisher Proven Strategies had finished fourth in the Summer Stakes (G1) and sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), and one start after losing to Fancy Liquor, he won a similar maiden race against Florida-breds by 3 1/4 lengths.

Beyond the Maker trio, #8 Finnick the Fierce and #11 Invader are the two to fear. Finnick the Fierce fired off a big effort in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs last fall, rallying over a sloppy track to finish second against a tough field. The victorious Silver Prospector later won the Southwest Stakes (G3), while third-place finisher Tiz the Law returned to win the Holy Bull (G3) and fourth-place runner Enforceable claimed the Lecomte (G3) in his next start.

I would normally hesitate to back a horse like Finnick the Fierce in the Jeff Ruby, since he's never run over a turf or synthetic track, but a blazing half-mile workout in :46 3/5 on Feb. 27 at Turfway suggests this son of Dialed In has a good chance to handle the surface switch.

The Polytrack certainly won't be any issue for Invader, a beautifully-bred son of War Front out of the Group 3-winning Galileo mare Say. Conditioned by Turfway's leading trainer Wesley Ward, Invader has gone 2-for-2 over the local Polytrack, breaking his maiden by 12 3/4 lengths on Fec. 4 before powering to a 6 1/4-length score in the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes on Feb. 14.

Invader's affinity for Turfway is appealing, and he has the tactical speed to be right up on the pace under Turfway's leading jockey Albin Jimenez. He'll have every chance to follow in the footsteps of Somelikeithotbrown and sweep the John Battaglia/Jeff Ruby double.

#5 Myamanoi, who finished less than a length behind Field Pass in the Dania Beach, is another runner I'll consider for exotic wagers, along with #6 Halo Again, who won the 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity over the synthetic track at Woodbine last fall.

So how do we turn all these opinions into winning tickets? I suggest spreading deep in the trifecta, emphasizing Field Pass and Invader while hoping to catch a longshot or two to boost the payoff:

$0.50 trifecta: 11,12 with 3,5,6,8,11,12 with 3,5,6,8,11,12 ($20)
$0.50 trifecta: 3,5,6,8,11,12 with 11,12 with 3,5,6,8,11,12 ($20)

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Jeff Ruby Steaks?


Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!


The Road to the Kentucky Derby handicapping challenge is back for the sixth straight year! Check out the Road to the Kentucky Derby contest page for more details.

J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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

Recent Posts

More Blogs