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Post Time: Spiral offers valuable Derby points

Azar won the With Anticipation at Saratoga last summer. Photo Credit: NYRA

Azar won the With Anticipation at Saratoga Race Course last summer.
Photo Credit: NYRA

Welcome to the April Fools Day edition of the Post Time weekly column. I’m a big fan of Cincinnati, home of this weekend’s Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. It’s not really in Cincinnati, but just outside the city proper in Florence, Ky. where 12 sophomores will attempt to corral valuable Kentucky Derby points.

The 1 1/16-mile race over Turfway Park’s synthetic Polytrack surface will offer the top four finishers 50-20-10-5 qualifying points for the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on May 7. It is the lone remaining prep race to be run on an all-weather surface and last provided a Derby winner in 2011, when Animal Kingdom used the race as a springboard to the First Saturday in May.

The tepid morning line favorite is Airoforce (3-1), a son of Colonel John, who drew post No. 10 for trainer Mark Casse. The field looks wide open and it should be a decent betting race with any number of horses having a chance to cross the wire first.

Let’s take a closer look at the field (post position, horse, trainer, jockey, morning line odds in parenthesis):

1 – That Makes Sense (Lukas, Hernandez, 30-1). It could be the first time in several years that DWL doesn’t have a horse in the Derby. The leading trainer in Triple Crown race victories is hoping the son of 2007 Derby winner Street Sense can propel him into the gate in five weeks. His pedigree says yes, but his past performances say no. Passing.

2 – Surgical Strike (Colebrook, Mojica, 12-1). The winner of the local prep at Turfway Park, has connections familiar with the racetrack make this an intriguing prospect. He handled a 12-horse field in the Battaglia and warrants a hard look at 12-1 or higher. Interesting.

3 – Jensen (Jones, Geroux, 6-1). He has never missed the exacta in four races, but steps up in class in his first stakes race. The son of Haynesfield out of a Hard Spun mare surely has the pedigree to contend and who wouldn’t want to see Larry Jones train a Derby horse. Contender.

4 – Don’t Be So Salty (Contessa, Velasquez, 8-1). The Gary Contessa-trained gelding has won twice on the all-weather (Woodbine, Presque Isle) so there is no reason to question him over the surface. His two efforts this year so far were on the turf and he sports a solid work effort on Mar. 29. Consider using underneath in the exotics.

5 – Oscar Nominated (Maker, Albarado, 10-1). Son of Kitten’s Joy comes out of a non-graded stakes win on the turf at the Fair Grounds for the Ramseys. Mike Maker is 27 percent third off the layoff and 25 percent winning his last race. Has the stamina to stay, the question is he fast enough? Not sold.

6 – Two Step Time (Maker, Murrill, 15-1). Maker’s second of four colts he has entered in the race and Albarado rode both in their last efforts. Albarado is on Oscar Nominated; that should tell you all you need to know.

7 – Strike Up the Band (Maker, Lanerie, 20-1).Three Makers in a row. A fourth-place finish, where he was beaten six lengths in the Battaglia, comes after back-to-back wins at Gulfstream for the son of Smart Strike. Not sure any of the Makers will hit the board tomorrow, but of the three this won has the best chance for improvement over his last.

8 – Kasseopia (Motion, Garcia, 6-1). Graham Motion trained Animal Kingdom to victory here in 2011 on his way to wearing the roses. After breaking terribly in the El Camino Real at Golden Gate on the Tapeta all-weather surface there, he rallied to finish a strong third behind Frank Conversation. Add to that effort a second-place finish to Riker in the Grey Stakes at Woodbine last fall, he comes into the Spiral with six Derby points needing more to qualify for a gate in Louisville.  Looks live.

9 – Swagger Jagger (Maker, Torres, 20-1). This late running son of Crown of Thorns has only had one solid effort after breaking his maiden in his fifth career race. He faltered badly in the Battaglia and seems to be liking the turf more than the synthetic racing surface.

10 – Airoforce (Casse, Jimenez, 3-1). The morning line favorite took a lot of dirt in the Risen Star and was never a factor. With only 10 Derby points on his ledger, he’ll need a top-two finish to lock up a spot in five weeks. He has won at Churchill, so it is a calculated gamble by Casse to run him in here versus tougher spots in the coming weeks in Arkansas or Lexington. The one to beat, but I’m not feeling it.

11 – Ralis (O’Neill, Nakatani, 6-1). The Hopeful winner at Saratoga on closing day last summer has done little to back it up since then. He was squarely beaten in the Risen Star and BC Juvenile and would be a huge surprise if he won in his first effort on the Poly. He has solid connections going for him, but that appears to be it.

12 – Azar (Pletcher, Franco, 5-1). Beat a stakes-worthy field in his last effort at Gulfstream, including a horse named Kelly Tough named after the Bills great. The son of Scat Daddy won a Grade 2 at Saratoga on the turf as a 2-year-old, so he has the heart to compete. Looking for a big effort in his third off the layoff even though he placed on the far outside. My pick.

Post Time Outlook: 1 – Azar; 2 – Kasseopia; 3 – Jensen; 4 – Surgical Strike

Good luck!

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

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