Big Purse on Synthetic A Rare Opportunity
A contingent of established trainers are going the Spiral Stakes route on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
A strong runner-up finish in the Colts and Geldings Division of the OBS Championship Stakes at Ocala Training Center in January gave George “Rusty” Arnold II confidence to enter Convict Pike in the JACK Cincinnati Casino Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on Saturday.
A son of Broken Vow, Convict Pike was beaten just 2 1/2 lengths in the OBS Championship division by Master Plan, who will represent the United States in the UAE Derby in Dubai earlier in the day..
“We figured this would be a good spot for him,” Arnold said. “I thought he ran a good race on the Poly over in Ocala. We took him to Ocala and ran him on an artificial track to see if he would run well and he did.”
The Ocala race is Convict Pike’s lone start on an all-weather surface. He broke his maiden over the Gulfstream Park turf in his fifth start after two strong efforts on grass, a second at Keeneland and a third at Churchill Downs. On conventional dirt in his first two starts, however, including a mile in the mud at Churchill, he finished off the board.
“I’m not sure he won’t run well on the dirt,” Arnold said. “One of them was a sprint and one was a route. It took him a bit to get going, so I’m not going to say he didn’t like the dirt. I think he’ll see another start on dirt in his future.”
Convict Pike will break from post 4 under Angel Cruz, who was aboard for the Ocala test.
With nine starts in the books, Colonel Samsen is one of the most experienced horses in the Spiral Stakes field. He has two wins, breaking his maiden on the Del Mar turf in November and following with a half-length score three weeks later in the Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate. In his most recent outing, the El Camino Real Derby, he finished off the board.
“He was on the outside, which didn’t help,” said trainer Eoin Harty. “He broke aggressively and was fanned wide. The kid (jockey Ricardo Gonzalez) couldn’t do anything about it. He stayed wide and flattened out.”
Colonel Samsen will race without blinkers in the Spiral. Regarding the change, Harty said, “He’s a big horse. He was very unfocused when he was younger. Without blinkers he was all over the place. But the more racing he got, the more aggressive he became. He wasn’t relaxing at all. So I decided to take the blinkers off, and he’s relaxed a lot more.
“It has always been on my radar,” Harty continued. “There’s not much opportunity to run a 3-year-old for a big purse on the synthetic surfaces and a $500,000 purse made it attractive. And he’s always shown the ability to handle the synthetic surface.”
Colonel Samsen is by multiple graded stakes winner Colonel John. Harty trained Colonel John as well and notes the son’s resemblance to his millionaire father. “Both are big, scopy horses and are attractive. Both have similarities in determination,” he said.
Colonel Samsen will break from post 5 in the Spiral Stakes, with Jose Lezcano named to ride.
Todd Pletcher is no stranger to success in Kentucky Derby prep races. This year, he has dominated the Derby trail with horses such as One Liner in the Southwest at Oaklawn Park, Tapwrit in the Tampa Bay Derby and Malagacy in the Rebel Stakes, also at Oaklawn. Pletcher hopes to continue his dominance Saturday when he sends Bronson to the Spiral.
A son of Medaglia d’Oro, Bronson won at first asking and most recently won the first time he was asked to go two turns, the latter a 1 1/16-mile optional allowance taken off the turf at Gulfstream Jan. 29 and run over a sloppy sealed track.
“We’re looking for a good opportunity for him,” Pletcher said. “He’s an interesting horse from a pedigree standpoint. He has a blend of turf to his pedigree and has run well on fast tracks and wet tracks, and his turf race was pretty good, even though it was a bit short for him. So we felt like with that history, taking to the synthetic was a possibility so we want to take a shot at a meaningful race.”
A versatile runner, Bronson will break from post 10 in the Spiral with Manny Franco aboard. The colt arrived at Turfway Wednesday evening.
Mark Casse is looking to get King and His Court back on track in the Spiral after a lackluster performance in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs. In his last two races as a 2 year old, King and His Court won the Coronation Futurity Stakes and the Display Stakes, both at Woodbine.
“The last race was a throw out. He’s a synthetic type of horse,” said Casse’s son and chief assistant Norman Casse. “We’ve had this race penciled in all along.”
The disappointing Tampa Bay effort was King and His Court’s only start on a conventional dirt track, but a big performance in the Spiral would not rule out a start in the Kentucky Derby.
“We’ve always thought that Churchill is very forgiving to Polytrack horses,” Casse said. “It seems to play fair to all kinds of horses, so the Derby would be something we would look at. We’ll wait to see how he runs on Saturday.”
King and His Court can come from well off the pace, a benefit given his post 11 draw. Gary Boulanger has the mount.
The 46th running of the Spiral Stakes is the 10th of 12 races at Turfway Park Saturday. The winner of the race earns 50 points toward a start in the Kentucky Derby, with 20, 10 and five points going to the next three finishers, respectively.
The Spiral undercard is highlighted by the Bourbonette Oaks, a one-mile race for 3-year-old fillies that offers the same set of points toward the Kentucky Oaks, and the black type Rushaway Stakes, 1 1/16 miles for 3 year olds.
Saturday’s first post is 1:10 p.m. ET. The Rushaway runs at 4:33 p.m., followed by the Bourbonette Oaks at 5:09 p.m. Post time for the Spiral Stakes is 5:55 p.m.
Edited Turfway Park release with additional content by Dick Downey