Leads Closers to the Wire
By Dick Downey
Updated 10:33 am on March 18, 2018 with correct final time
The newly-named Jeff Ruby Steaks, a rebranded incarnation of the famed Spiral Stakes, was a tough betting race but yielded two of the lower-priced horses, Blended Citizen and Pony Up, in a $2 exacta that yielded $121.20.
The Mike Battaglia morning line for the Ruby showed that the race was tough to handicap and had six horses favored at 5-1 or 6-1. The two that made up the exacta were sent from the gate at 6-1, matching the morning line.
As might have been expected, the race unfolded with Mugaritz setting the pace, and late in the back stretch with six furlongs in the book in 1:12.55, he led by 3 1/2 lengths -- although it was probably more than that between calls. At that point, Blended Citizen and Kyle Frey were sitting back in fifth, five lengths off the pace, and just behind Arawak. Pony Up was ninth, behind by seven lengths.
Blended Citizen made his move in the turn, as did Pony Up and Arawak. In mid-stretch Blended Citizen and Arawak passed a tiring Mugaritz on either side. Just when it seemed those two might run first and second, Pony Up, who'd been fanned out five wide in the turn, came down the stretch well outside the other two and got up for second, beaten a neck. Arawak was a length back of Pony Up in third, followed another length by 27-1 longshot Zanesville, who was 10th of 12 after the first half-mile.
Following those four across the finish line were Mugaritz, Sky Promise, Cash Call Kitten, Ride a Comet, Dreamer's Point, Magicalmeister, Archaggelos and the 3-1 favorite, Hazit, beaten 20 1/4 lengths after stumbling at the start.
After an initial delay reporting the final time, it was set at 1:50.87 for the 1 1/18 mile.
With the win, Blended Citizen, who wasn't early-nominated to the Triple Crown, gets 20 Kentucky Derby points to make his total 22 if he's late nominated. The deadline for that is Monday, and it appears it will happen. Connections want to get this horse to the Kentucky Derby.
Pony Up got eight points. Four points in the Ruby go to third and two to fourth; however, Arawak and Zanesville weren't early-nominated to the Triple Crown.
The winner's share of the $202,400 purse is $113,000, and that goes to owners Greg Hall and Sayjay Racing. Backers of the winner with $2 tickets were paid $14.40, $7.20 and $5.00.
Doug O’Neill trains Blended Citizen, who was bred in Kentucky by Ray Hanson. A May 1 foal, he's by Proud Citizen out of Langara Lass, by Langfuhr.
Jeff Ruby himself was, in a way, the master of ceremonies in the paddock. The entrepreneur had all the jockeys outfitted in britches with his brand, Jeff Ruby‘s Steakhouses, stitched on them. Ruby wore a rhinestone studded purple suit with the word Keeneland emblazoned on the back above a likeness of a white board fence, along with a flashy white cowboy hat. He greeted Blended Citizen, Frey and jubilant connections in the winners circle.
Octavio Vergara, assistant to winning trainer Doug O'Neill: “I knew he would run good! Last time out, he should have won the El Camino Real Derby, but he got stopped twice. Doug O’Neill sent him here to win and get into the Kentucky Derby.”
Winning jockey Kyle Frey: “We broke a little quicker and we were a lot closer than I expected, and I had to steady a bit because the outside horse closed in on us early in the race. I wasn’t too worried about it. I pulled out of there and waited. About the half mile pole, it seemed like the race just started to fall apart. As things opened up, I just let Jesus take the wheel. With the way he was moving, all I needed was an opening and I got it.”
Amy Mullen, assistant to Todd Pletcher, trainer of Pony Up: “He ran great, just ran out of room. He needed one more jump. The jockey told me once he got in front, he kind of stopped, then the horse came up on the inside of him.” (NOTE: Pony Up didn't get to the front.)
Albin Jimenez, on board Pony Up: “I was happy with his effort. I was trying to get clear, and once he got room, he went through. He didn’t see the winner on the inside, but he finished real good, just came up short.”