2015 Spiral Stakes Picks with Odds and Expert Betting Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 3/19/2015
The road to the Triple Crown heads to the center of the thoroughbred universe for the first time of significance this year with this weekend's biggest prep race taking place in Kentucky. It's not under the famous twin spires of Churchill Downs, though - the Spiral Stakes takes place at Turfway Park, which is actually almost in Cincinnati despite still being in Kentucky.
The Spiral Stakes has gone through some rough times in terms of prestige recently, though it got a big boost in 2011 when Animal Kingdom won here en route to his impressive Kentucky Derby victory. Back in the prime of the race, though, when it was known as the Jim Beam Stakes, this was a superhighway to Triple Crown success. Starting in 1990, four straight winners of this race - Summer Squall, Hansel, Lil E. Tee and Prairie Bayou - went on to win at least one leg of the Triple Crown.
The biggest issue standing in the way of this race being a major prep race these days is simply the surface. Turfway Park has a synthetic track. As major tracks that went synthetic have now moved back to dirt - most notably, from a prep race perspective, Santa Anita and Keeneland - owners and trainers have become less interested in prepping on a different surface than the Triple Crown races will be run on. That has led to what can best be called an eclectic field. After seeing a star horse or two in each of the recent prep races, we decidedly have a field of prospects just looking to prove that they belong in this one. That's not to say that they are bad horses by any means - just ones that still are looking to make a big statement. Imperia, the early morning-line favorite, was the class of the field, but he scratched soon after post positions were drawn. Here's the highlights of the 11-horse field he left behind (Note: These morning line odds were set when Imperia was in the field, so they will likely shift significantly in some cases by race time):
Royal Son (7/2): Trainer Todd Pletcher has about a million horses on the Triple Crown trail, so it's no surprise that he has one here. He has won this race three times already, including last year with We Miss Artie. This horse has two things going for him. First, as a son of Tiznow he certainly has stamina to burn. Second, he has already won on this track - in the John Battaglia Memorial, which is the major prep for this race - so we know that he likes the surface. His only previous graded stakes race came at Tampa Bay Downs, though, and he was outclassed. He is the definition of a lukewarm favorite, and I won't be investing in him.
Metaboss (4/1): This horse will be racing outside of California for the first time, but he does have a stakes win on a synthetic surface. Last time out he won the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields in San Francisco. His other win has come on turf, so he is multi-talented but unproven on the one surface that matters. He has proven that he can handle the distance, and the race shape sets up well for him - he'll be looking to stay off the pace early and then close late, and there is a lot of early speed to set it up for him. He's a solid pick at this price, though he won't be my first choice.
Conquest Typhoon (5/1): This is the horse I am going to put my faith in here. This is his sixth graded stakes appearance, so he will be comfortable. He was third behind Metaboss last time out in the El Camino Real, but he has won two stakes races on turf. His breeding is solid, and he should be fine with the distance. What really stands out for me, though, is jockey Mike Smith. Smith is the biggest of big-time riders, and at this point he is very selective with his mounts. For him to travel all the way from Southern California to Turfway for just this race is a real endorsement of the horse and the chance he has. If it's good enough for Smith then, in a field this wide-open, it's good enough for me.
Another Lemon Drop (6/1): I have a natural soft spot for this horse because his dad, 1999 Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid, was a long-time favorite of mine in his racing days. That's not enough to make me back him here, though. He was underwhelming without an excuse in his only graded stakes appearance, and he has not previously run on a synthetic surface. Jockey Drayden Van Dyke was the nation's top apprentice last year but has only been mediocre this year. He's not an asset. The price would have to be higher to make this attractive.
Raphael Esparza will be handicapping the Spiral Stakes this weekend. Esparza is one of the best horse racing handicappers in the nation, and he is expecting a big payday this weekend and throughout the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Get his weekend picks for the race here, or new clients can take advantage of Doc's no-hassle $60 free picks offer and get Esparza's weekend racing picks and still have a $30 credit to use for any picks from any handicapper on the site. Click here for $60 worth of free picks.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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