By Gene Kershner
This weekend's major prep race is the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky just outside of Cincinnati proper which has attracted 12 hopeful colts. The 1 1/8 mile race is one of the last two races of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series worth 50-20-10-5 points to the top four finishers. The other final prep at this point level is the Sunland Derby in New Mexico on Sunday.
The Spiral is run on the polytrack at Turfway and produced 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, breaking a drought of 18 years between Derby winners. Lil E. Tee won the 1992 version of the Spiral with Pat Day aboard. The race has produced some well known victors aside from those two including Hard Spun (2007), Flower Alley (2005), Stephen Got Even (1999), and Summer Squall (1990).
Let's take a look at the field (jockey, trainer, odds in parenthesis)…
1 - Big Bazinga (Contreras, Vassilieva, 30-1). Long shot who faltered badly in the Holy Bull but redeemed himself in an optional claimer at Gulfstream returns to the friendly confines of polytrack. Sports a couple decent efforts at Woodbine last fall and could outrun his odds.
2 - Asserting Bear (Rocco, Jr., Baker, 12-1). Another Woodbine shipper threatened momentarily at Tampa in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis finishing 3 3/4-lengths behind Vinceremos. The Ontario-bred colt has a win at the distance in the Coronation Futurity at Woodbine in November and could be a nice price on Saturday afternoon.
3 - Poker Player (Hill, Catalano, 5-1). The son of Harlan's Holiday ran second in the local prep as the favorite after finishing eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita. Has a graded stake win coming from off the pace at Keeneland on the polytrack last fall in the Grade 3 Bourbon. Contender.
4 - Tamarando (Baze, Hollendorfer, 3-1). Morning line favorite won the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate on a Tapeta surface and ships in for jockey/trainer connections winning at a 44 percent clip over the past 60 days. The Bertrando colt will be looking to add to his current Derby point total of 12 on Saturday. The colt to beat.
5 - Coastline (Stewart, Casse, 8-1). Ships over from Oaklawn where he fared poorly in the Southwest Stakes after a third place performance in the Smarty Jones. Appears to be more of a miler based on his pedigree, has a sharp workout for Casse who is winning at a 24 percent clip going dirt to synthetic. Sometimes milers can steal a 9-furlong race. He broke his maiden on poly at Keeneland. Would be a minor upset.
6 - Smart Cover (Lanerie, Romans, 20-1). Son of Any Given Saturday will try and go turf to synthetic for the first time. Past efforts include a second place finish ahead of the highly regarded Tapiture in the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill. Stranger things have happened and Romans is capable of big wins in Kentucky.
7 - All Tied Up (Saez, Pletcher, 12-1). A Pletcher colt that's 12-1 on the Derby trail? Pedigree doesn't exactly scream router, but Todd Terrific knows how to have them ready and is a whopping 31 percent turf to all-weather surfaces. This colt has not run on any surface other than turf in his seven race career. Will swallow hard and pass.
8 - Solitary Ranger (Geroux, Catalano, 6-1). Won the local prep over the surface and has only missed the board once in five tries on the fake stuff. He won the prep handily by four lengths and could continue to improve for trainer Wayne Catalano who worked him six furlongs last time out so he's likely very tight and ready to roll. Win threat.
9 - Almost Famous (Borel, Byrne, 6-1). His past performance lines read like a rollercoaster, so not sure which colt is going to show up on Saturday. I'm going to bet against on Saturday due to his lack of consistency and first try on the polytrack.
10 - Harry's Holiday (Napranik, Maker, 20-1). Rosie ships in the ride for Maker's horse that finished third in the local prep. He would need to take a big step forward in this company to make any noise. There are others more likely and thinking he'd be more successful at shorter distances off first glance.
11 - We Miss Artie (Velazquez, Pletcher, 4-1). Pletcher hopeful desperate for Derby points takes the polytrack route. Absolutely has a shot in here coming in third off the layoff and returning to a surface that may be kinder to him than dirt. The Ramseys won the 2010 Spiral with a similar horse, and Johnny V comes in to ride. Should hit the board.
12 - Arctic Slope (Jimenez, McPeek, 30-1). Chestnut colt comes off a long layoff and jumps right into the fire. Has only one win in five tries and speed figures don't indicate he'll threaten the classier horses. Sitting this one out.
Post Time Outlook: 1-We Miss Artie; 2 - Solitary Ranger; 3 - Tamarando
Long shot play: Asserting Bear