We are back on the Triple Crown Trail with the Grade 3, $500,000 Spiral, which has a full field of 12 horses (plus two on the also-eligible list) going a mile and 1/8 on Polytrack. The field is led by Airoforce, a Grade 3 and Grade 2 winner who is trying to rebound from a curious non-effort in the Risen Star.
According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the Spiral will have a fast pace, and the early leaders will be Jensen and Don’t Be So Salty. Ralis is third, to their outside. Then there’s a gap back to Airoforce.
The fastest TimeformUS Late Pace rating in the field, a 114, belongs to #8 Kasseopia, and it is not close. On our ratings, he towers over this field in terms of late ability, though he is not without problems.
Here is the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:
That Makes Sense (30-1): He is too slow on dirt and poorly bred for synthetic.
Worked his way up to a turf top of 94 as a two-year-old. Nearly paired it in his synthetic debut, which came at 6.5F. Then he stretched out to a mile and 1 1/16 over this surface and ran the best race of his career while winning the John Battaglia in an eye-catching performance. He raced three-to-four wide around the far turn, went something like eight-wide entering the stretch, and powered away in style, earning a speed figure of 102. His trainer gets a 100 rating when attempting repeat victories. He should be able to save ground around the first turn from this post. Pace Projector shows him getting the setup he would need. He is 12-1 on the morning line. Although he is not the most talented horse in here, or anything like it, he might just be in a position that allows him to outrun his more-talented opponents today. Interesting horse.
Jensen (6-1): Lightly raced Larry Jones colt has a lovely (though not yet fast) pattern of speed figures: 87 89 91 96. Today he makes his synthetic debut. His breeding ratings suggest that synthetic will not be his best surface. Moreover, on admittedly sparse samples, Jones gets ratings of only 35 and 38 going dirt to synthetic and first-time synthetic. This is in sharp contrast to his overall rating of 92. Pace Projector shows Jensen engaged for the early lead on a fast pace. He controlled a tame pace when winning a bottom-level allowance at Fair Grounds five weeks ago. He has never been farther than a mile and 70 yards. Playing against young Jones horses gives one pause because Jones can get big numbers out of nowhere, and this colt has a figure pattern that promises more near-term improvement. But we see enough negatives here to want to play against this one given relatively short odds.
Don’t Be So Salty (8-1): He paired his two-year-old top in his second start at age three. That is a promising development. And he’s fast. Indeed, he has the fastest last-out speed figure in the field. And he is undefeated on synthetic. His recent 9th-place finish in the Grade 3 Palm Beach on GP grass was much better than it looks. He stalked a fast pace, raced three-wide around the first turn, stalked from the outside down the backstretch, and then made a four-wide run around the far turn, coming under an early ride and feeling the stick late in the turn. Then, no surprise, he hit a wall in mid-stretch. We believe this gelding can contend if he gets a softer trip.
Oscar Nominated (10-1): One of four going for Michael Maker, to date he has raced exclusively on grass. Although his synthetic breeding (86 rating) is comparable to his grass breeding (84 rating), and his trainer gets a 90 rating first-time synthetic, his grass figures are flat and on the slow side. What is more, we felt he benefited from an excellent ride and trip to win the Black Gold against lesser at Fair Grounds. We are looking elsewhere.
Two Step Time (15-1): He has been improving of late for Maker, and his lone synthetic try (a 93) was in line with his surrounding grass tries. He has come quite a distance since breaking his maiden in a maiden claimer. However, he is way up in class for this and will need to improve further.
Strike Up the Band (20-1): The horse we want out of the John Battaglia is Surgical Strike, though Strike Up the Band did improve on synthetic for Maker and has the right style to find his way into the superfecta at a huge price if the pace is fast, as expected.
Ran a top of 100 as a two-year-old while running second in a Grade 3 at Woodbine. That was a good launching pad. Came back four months later, over Tapeta at Golden Gate, and ran a new top of 105 at today’s distance. That number by itself stamps him as a contender. But he ran the 105 despite receiving a punitive trip. He was left at the gate. He was steered three-wide by his rider on the first turn. (That is not always a great sign. It can signal more than one negative factor at work.) He was something like five-wide for much of the far turn, as he made a run that was impressive in the extreme. He ended up finishing 3rd to Frank Conversation and Tusk, but we have a hard time shaking the impression that he was best. He has the best Late Pace rating in a race expected to have a fast pace. Trainer Graham Motion has a bunch of stats in his favor here. But there are also plenty of reasons to be wary. Among them is the danger that he has a severe gate problem. And at the least, he seems to be a difficult horse to ride. But this colt has gone forward in every start and run well in three countries. We believe there is genuine talent here. At odds of 6-1, we will take our chances.
Swagger Jagger (20-1): Soundly beaten in the Battaglia. We would want to see him get back to his two-year-old top before we entertain the possibility of the sort of big jump he’d need here.
The most accomplished horse in the field, he won a Grade 3 on grass in his second start and fell a neck shy of winning the BC Juvenile Turf in his third start. Then he ran a lifetime top of 110 in the slop while winning a Grade 2 at Churchill. On class and on speed figures he is the best horse in here—provided one is willing to look past his non-effort in the Risen Star. Should one look past it? Well, he returns to take a regular turn for a top trainer, and he has apparently trained well. Certainly, a return to form today would be no surprise. In addition, his breeding for his synthetic debut is simply terrific. He gets an 82 Breeding Rating on synthetic as opposed to a 56 on dirt and a 60 on grass. Plus his proven affinity for grass bodes well for his chances of handling synthetic. And trainer Mark Casse gets an 81 rating with first-time synthetic and a 95 going from dirt to synthetic. Airoforce projects to get good early position behind the fast pace, and his best effort would be exceedingly hard for the others to match. So where does that leave us? We’ll call Airoforce the most likely winner, but given the expected short odds, in this atmosphere of mystery, our inclination is to use him defensively and key a different horse.
Ralis (6-1): Doug O’Neill colt showed big talent as a two-year-old, winning the Hopeful with a 103. He came undone after that. Now he’s working his way back toward it. This is a pattern that we really do not want to play at unexciting odds, and the odds on these types are usually unexciting. As a rule, we don’t want to see young horses cycling back to strong efforts. We want to see them taking strong efforts in stride and then surpassing them. So after giving a nod to Ralis’s talent, we are going to pass at ML odds as he makes his synthetic debut.
Azar (5-1): Makes his synthetic debut for Pletcher. A Grade 2 winner on grass, Azar, like Ralis, has a lifetime top that is four races old and that was run as a two-year-old. His synthetic breeding is neither encouraging nor disqualifying. Pletcher gets a 100 rating going first-time synthetic. This colt plainly has ability, but he draws poorly, and he figures to take money. He is a contender, but we want to try to beat him on top.
A/E Crescent Drive (12-1): Has an interesting speed figure pattern, having run a healthy looking new top in his three-year-old debut. Handles synthetic and is one we could use underneath if he is neglected on the tote board.
A/E Diplodocus (20-1): Has improved in every start for ace trainer Richard Baltas. Fits with these off his lone synthetic try. In the unlikely event that he gets to go, he figures to drop back from the outside post and hope the pace is destructive enough to flatter his late run. He is another we could use underneath.
Win bet on Kasseopia. Use both Kasseopia and Surgical Strike in multi-race wagers and underneath in verticals, protecting under Airoforce.