Turfway Park in Kentucky offers it biggest race of the year, the $500,000 Spiral Stakes, this Saturday and it features 12 horses (14 including also-eligibles) vying for important Kentucky Derby points (50 to the winner, 20 to second, 10 to third and 5 to fourth).
#10 AIROFORCE will be among the favorites (3-1 morning-line), but will not be on my tickets. He has never raced over synthetic dirt, albeit he is 2-for-3 on turf including a Grade III stakes win. My biggest qualm with AIROFORCE is that he exits an extremely poor effort in the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds. It’s also not encouraging that regular rider Julien Leparoux opted to stay at Gulfstream and not make the trip to ride this horse.
#8 KASSEOPIA (6-1) seems like the best alternative to beat the favorite with. He had a great deal of trouble in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate on synthetic last time out, but ran admirably to be third beaten just three lengths. In that race, KASSEOPIA broke slow and suffered a wide trip around both turns. He’ll be reunited with Alan Garcia, who rode him to a runner-up finish in his first stateside try in the Grey Stakes at Woodbine last autumn, and his last two works leading up to this are strong. KASSEOPIA also has the upper hand on many of these in regards to proven stamina, as his last race came at this distance (1 & 1/8th miles) while most of his rivals have yet to go this far. It’s worth noting trainer H. Graham Motion took a similar road to the Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom in 2011.
#4 DON’T BE SO SALTY (8-1) could be dangerous if left unchecked up front; on paper he should be able to make a fairly easy lead, and his best-ever performance came over the synth at Woodbine in the Display Stakes last fall. Cornelio Velasquez, one of trainer Gary Contessa’s go-to riders in New York, makes the trip down to pilot this contender.
#5 OSCAR NOMINATED (10-1) rounds out the list of logical contenders; he has yet to race over synthetic dirt but progeny of Kitten’s Joy usually appreciate the surface. OSCAR NOMINATED comes in off a stakes race victory at the Fair Grounds at 7.5 furlongs, and has already won a route race (his maiden at 1 & 1/16th miles).
KASSEOPIA and DON’T BE SO SALTY are the two horses I am most confident in, but I will forego placing win bets in favor of trying to make a more sizeable score in the exacta pool.
The play: $6 exacta box 4/8, $4 exacta 4,8/5 ($20)
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