We really shouldn't care about the Spiral Stakes. It's a Kentucky Derby prep race run on a synthetic surface at a third-tier track. The chances are very good it won't be particularly relevant. There are, though, two reasons we have to pay attention. First, it offers 50 points to the winners, so the horse that wins this race will be able to start in the Derby of they choose to. Second, it is the race that gave us Animal Kingdom in 2001. That impressive Derby winner was proof that the classic prep races aren't always the path to Louisville. We have to watch this race so we can see the next Animal Kingdom when he comes along - though at first glance he sure doesn't seem to be in this field.
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Here's how the highlights of the field set up for this race, which takes place Saturday afternoon at Turfway Park in Kentucky. It's a full 12-horse field, but not nearly that many horses are worth talking about. If you don't want to read the whole preview, here's a summary - I hate this field, I think synthetic tracks produce meaningless results as preps for dirt races, and I seriously doubt we'll see the Derby winner here on Saturday. (Odds are track morning line):
Kitten's Cat, Luis Saez, 4/1: Any time you come across a horse named Kitten you almost certainly know a whole lot about it. It's very likely an offspring of the great Kitten's Joy. Ken and Sarah Ramsey own that horse, and they own and race most of his offspring - including this one. The Ramsey's have been hot in this race, winning three times in the last seven editions, including last year with Oscar Nominated. All three winners have gone on to the Derby, and all have been irrelevant once they got there. This colt is trained by Joe Sharp, a rising trainer who is best known because his wife and assistant trainer is Rosie Napravnik, arguably the best female jockey of all time before she left the sort early to raise a child and work with Sharp. Kitten's Cat has won three times and been in the money in six of seven races. He won a stakes race in November at Santa Anita and, fittingly, the Kitten's Joy Stakes at Gulfstream in February. He was second last time out in his first graded stakes action. The big asterisk here, though, is that he has only run on turf. So, the potential favorite in the Spiral Stakes has never run on the synthetic surface the race is being run on, nor on the dirt surface that the Derby is on. Now you see why I am not too excited about this race this year. Can he win? Sure. Will he win? I'm not nearly confident enough in that to bet him at this price. I'll risk letting him beat me.
Parlor, Jesus Castanon, 5/1: The most interesting thing about this colt is his breeding - he's a son of Lonhro, a wildly-successful Australian runner in his day. You don't see a lot of Australian blood up here. It's blended with some American royalty - his damsire is the great Pulpit, sire of red-hot stud Tapit and grandsire of California Chrome, among many others. Sadly, his breeding is far more interesting than his career to date. He has won two of three but is making his graded stakes debut. I really liked how he worked leading into his last race, but he has been far less sharp this time around. I'm skeptical, but I like the breeding and I don't love this field, so this one is a contender by default.
King and his Court, Gary Boulanger, 5/1: This is an odd one. After making nine starts at Woodbine, this horse made his American debut in the Sam F. Davis in Tampa Bay last time out. The description of his effort on the race chart says it all - 'King and his Court was outrun'. He was ninth by almost 23 lengths in a nine-horse field that was top-heavy but far from deep. Ugly. I like trainer Mark Casse a whole lot, but his spring with two year old champ Classic Empire has been snakebitten, and I don't see this as the spot he turns his luck around. I hate this price.
Soglio, Trevor McCarthy, 6/1: Again, the biggest thing this horse has going for it is the trainer - Graham Motion -- has won this race three times, including with Animal Kingdom. That and his damsire is Triple Crown-winner Seattle Slew. This horse has spent the winter in California, breaking his maiden in his fourth try at Del Mar and then finishing in the money in an ungraded stakes and an allowance. He was going to run in another allowance at Santa Anita, but a minor foot injury foiled that plan - and so here he is. He makes no less sense than the rest of the field, I guess, but I am willing to skip him in my betting.
Bronson, Manuel Franco, 10/1: The biggest thing this horse has going for it is that it is trained by Todd Pletcher. Pletcher has had a lot of luck winning prep races this year with horses that aren't at the top of bettor's minds heading into the race. This colt broke his maiden in June then flopped in his graded stakes debut a month later. They rebooted his career, and he didn't run again until Dec. 30. He was second in an allowance at Gulfstream, and he won the same type of race a month later - though that was on a very sloppy track, so it might not be relevant. I don't love this horse, but Pletcher makes him relevant. Pletcher has won this race three times already - including once for the Ramsey's.
Blueridge Traveler, Channing Hill, 12/1: This horse broke his maiden last time out in his fourth try. And yet we are considering him among the top contenders in this race. Again, you see why I'm not that excited about this race? His win was at Oaklawn, and he made a huge move from the back, so he could be ready for a strong effort here. Trainer Ken McPeek, who is actually in Dubai for the UAE Derby, another Derby prep, says that the extra distance of this race will suit the horse. I'm certainly not going to rule it out in this field, and the price could be right. At the least he needs to be a factor in the exotics.
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