Kentucky Derby Prep Analysis: Looking for a Giant Payday in Turfway’s Spiral Stakes


Turfway Park | Race 10 | Post Time 5:55 p.m. (ET) | Go To The FREE TimeformUS PPs 

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Turfway Park’s Grade 3, $500,000 Spiral Stakes did produce a Kentucky Derby winner as recently as 2011, when Animal Kingdom won this race en route to his victory on the first Saturday in May. However, it has far more often drawn a field that is devoid of any serious Kentucky Derby contenders, due in large part to Turfway’s synthetic track, which tends to favor turf horses and artificial-surface specialists.

Fortunately, this race’s merits – or lack thereof – as a useful Kentucky Derby prep have rarely deterred connections from showing up to compete for those precious 85 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, with the 50 points that go to the winner ensuring a Derby berth. As is usually the case, this year’s renewal has drawn a large and intriguing field of 12 runners coming from a multitude of different venues and surfaces. As a testament to the competitive nature of this race, the entire field is situated between 4-1 and 15-1 odds on the morning line. In other words, they all have a chance.

The lukewarm favorite is turf specialist Kitten’s Cat, whose owners, Ken and Sarah Ramsey, are aiming for their third win in this race in the past five years. Kitten’s Cat is one of the few runners in this field with tactical speed, and he figures to be stalking the leaders early. The TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting that local hope En Hanse (#12) will be leading the field early and may receive pressure from stablemate Fast and Accurate (#3), who also possesses speed.

Let’s go through the entire field:

#1, BLUERIDGE TRAVELER (15-1): This colt will be stepping up from maiden special weights to graded stakes company while making his first start over a synthetic surface. The hurdles are significant, but he does possess an effective closing kick, which was on display last time at Oaklawn when he made up a massive deficit in the stretch to get up for the win. Dirt horses are usually not the best candidates to handle artificial surfaces, but Blueridge Traveler did make one start over turf last fall, and it was not quite as poor as it might appear. He was compromised on the turn when he had to steady to avoid a fallen foe, and he actually finished up well. I’ll primarily use him underneath in exotics.

#2, SOGLIO (6-1): He is one of a few proven turf horses in this race who will be attempting to transfer that grass success to Turfway’s Polytrack surface. Graham Motion shipped him out to California for the winter, and he gave a decent account of himself in three starts there. After winning his maiden, he finished a fast-closing second in the Eddie Logan Stakes. However, he disappointed when heavily favored against allowance company last time, losing to a horse he had beaten in his prior stakes start. Like many others in this race, he is a closer, but he doesn’t possess the same quick acceleration that a few others have used to success. His grinding style may make him a candidate to handle this surface and stretch-out in distance, but I prefer others in the top slot.

#3, FAST AND ACCURATE (15-1): He is one of just two horses in this race with a win at Turfway Park, having won his maiden there in December. While the $30,000 claiming tag attached to that race might suggest that he beat a weak field, there’s evidence that the race was much stronger than most at that level. He earned a respectable 96 TimeformUS Speed Figure while drawing off under a hand ride, and the two horses who finished directly behind him returned to win their next starts while validating that speed figure. Shipped to Gulfstream for his stakes debut, he took advantage of a slow pace (indicated by blue color-coding in TimeformUS PPs) to register another wire-to-wire victory. Questions still remain about his stamina, but his dam is a half-sister to stakes-winning routers Bwana Bull and My Pal Charlie. One would assume that Tyler Gaffalione will attempt to send him to the lead since the horse’s only major pace rival is stablemate En Hanse, who drew the far-outside post. Trainer Mike Maker is especially dangerous at Turfway, garnering a 99 TimeformUS Trainer Rating at the track. I’m not convinced that he can win, but I am intrigued by this speedy colt. 

#4, CONVICT PIKE (15-1): This turf horse successfully transferred his form to the Ocala Trainer Center’s Safetrack synthetic surface in the OBS Championship in January. That race varies in quality from year to year, but the 2017 edition was won by Master Plan, who was coming off a fast-closing second-place finish behind top Kentucky Derby contender Tapwrit and is in Dubai for the UAE Derby. Convict Pike was not beating the strongest Gulfstream maiden field when he won two back, but he certainly did it the right way, taking command at the eighth pole and winning with something left. While he does have some ability, running horses on synthetic tracks is not trainer Rusty Arnold’s forte, as evidenced by his 41 TimeformUS Trainer Rating over such surfaces.

#5, COLONEL SAMSEN (12-1): While he does have a win over the Tapeta synthetic surface at Golden Gate Fields, I have not been too impressed with the quality of horses contesting the 3-year-old stakes in Northern California this year. He did have a four-wide trip around both turns in the El Camino Real Derby, and his prior effort was actually decent. However, I still think it’s unlikely that he takes the necessary step forward in his 10th career start. 

#6, GIANT PAYDAY (8-1): This colt woke up on turf in his second start at Churchill Downs, only to be disqualified for veering inward down the stretch. Yet he wasted no time getting that diploma, returning in his next start to defeat an even tougher 12-horse field of maidens at Keeneland, making a prolonged run from the back of the pack to get up and win. Rather than sticking to turf, his connections decided to give him another chance on dirt in his first two attempts against winners. He actually didn’t run badly in either race, finishing behind Lecomte Stake swinner Guest Suite in November before just missing in an allowance at Tampa Bay Downs.


Back on turf last time, he stepped up to face graded stakes company in the Palm Beach at Gulfstream. Despite the class hike and being dismissed at 31-1 odds, he actually gave a good account of himself. He raced wide around the far turn while the eventual winner snuck through inside. He was carried out farther into the stretch but closed with determination to get within two lengths of Kitten’s Cat at the wire. While this colt has never tried a synthetic surface, I find it encouraging that he has run successfully over both turf and dirt – usually a good sign for those making this switch. Furthermore, I get the sense that this nine-furlong distance should be right up his alley. He seems like one of a few who could get overlooked here, but I think he’s one of the top contenders.

#7, SHIRAZ (15-1): You have to respect Mike Maker’s success at Turfway Park, but this colt appears to have his work cut out for him. He was no match for Convict Pike in the OBS Championship two starts back, and I have some doubts about how far he really wants to go. In such a competitive field, I have to pass on this one.

#8, KITTEN’S CAT (4-1): This son of Kitten’s Joy is clearly the horse to beat. He has yet to put in a poor effort through his seven career starts while handling a variety of distances and turf surfaces. He appeared to be on his way to victory in the Palm Beach last time before Ticonderoga kicked it into gear in the final furlong. That was probably one of the tougher turf stakes races for 3-year-olds anywhere in the country this year, so he deserves credit for his strong showing.


There is not a great deal of speed in this race, so his stalking style should be well suited to the projected flow. He will be stretching out to 1 1/8 miles for the first time, but he does have some stamina influences in his pedigree. Chief among those is his second dam, Manistique, who was a multiple graded stakes winner and a four-time winner at today’s distance. The only knock is that he is likely to go off at a short price in race where there is good value to be found elsewhere. Nevertheless, he is definitely on my tickets.

 #9, PARLOR (5-1): This lightly raced colt is one of the more exciting participants in the Spiral. He easily defeated Kitten’s Cat to take his debut last summer – though that rival did have a tough trip – by slicing through the pack at the top of the stretch. After a tough loss at Kentucky Downs in September, he was given some time off to prepare for his 3-year-old campaign. He returned with a dazzling effort at Tampa, again showing push-button acceleration to register a victory that was far more dominant than the 1 3/4-length margin would suggest.

This colt’s only serious flaw is that he has major gate issues. He has broken very slowly in all of his races. As a deep closer, it hasn’t negatively affected him yet. However, he’s been able to overcome that adversity against softer competition. Can he afford to give away ground at the start against this deep field? Eddie Kenneally does well overall, but he has poor numbers with runners moving from allowance races into stakes company (50 Trainer Rating). Like Kitten’s Cat, this colt is assuredly going to take money, and I find it unlikely that he’ll offer much value.

#10, BRONSON (10-1): He has yet to run a particularly fast race, and he beat an awful field in his only start around two turns. Trainer Todd Pletcher certainly knows how to get a 3-year-old to the Kentucky Derby, but I’ll be surprised if he finds himself there with this colt.

#11, KING AND HIS COURT (5-1): This gelding was one of the best 2-year-olds in Canada last year. He defeated the talented State of Honor in the Coronation Futurity and followed that up with a visually impressive score in the Display Stakes. He had terrible position heading into the stretch of that race but bulled his way through traffic, showing an impressive turn of foot over the last eighth of a mile. He has clearly thrived since being transferred to Mark Casse’s barn, and we already know that he relished the Polytrack surface at Woodbine.


He didn’t lift a hoof in the Sam F. Davis Stakes last time, but it’s possible that he’s just not a dirt horse. Furthermore, Casse gets a stellar 98 Trainer Rating with runners switching from dirt to synthetic surfaces. He’s a top contender and could go off at a fair price.

#12, EN HANSE (15-1): He and stablemate Fast and Accurate are the only runners in this race with a win at Turfway Park. He was impressive when winning the WEBN Stakes in wire-to-wire fashion two back. In fact, all three of his wins have come on the lead. They tried rating tactics last time in the John Battaglia Memorial, the traditional prep for this race, and he was no match for the winner. Mike Maker knows what he’s doing, but this horse has been most successful sprinting, and the mile and an eighth really seems like a stretch. He’s a pace factor, but I doubt he’s around late.


I believe that the most likely winners are Giant Payday (#6), Kitten’s Cat (#8), Parlor (#9), and King and His Court (#11). Of those, Giant Payday figures to offer the best value, and he is my top pick. I would bet him to win at or above his morning-line 8-1 odds. I would also elevate King and His Court if he, too, is going off at a square price.

Win/Place: 6

Exacta Key Box: 6,11 with 6,8,9,11

Exacta Key Box: 6 with 1,2,3,4

Trifecta: 6,11 with 6,11 with 1,2,3,4,8,9

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