As a Kentucky Derby prep, the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks probably doesn’t mean much. In the grand scheme of things, races over synthetic surfaces have not been great predictors of success on the first Saturday in May. Accordingly, this race offers just 20 qualifying points to the winner. That said, this is still a wide-open race with 12 betting interests, making it a viable opportunity to search a value play.
The TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace with Mugaritz (#6) and Hazit (#7) likely to share the early lead. Stalkers such as Magicalmeister (#5) and Dreamer’s Point (#9) figure to be in close attendance, as they have produced their best effort when racing within close range of the early leaders. An especially spirited early tempo would benefit closers such as Pony Up (#4) and Blended Citizen (#8).
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, SKY PROMISE (12-1): Three runners in this race exit the local prep, the John Battaglia Memorial, and Sky Promise split the other two when finishing second. He’s a plodding closer who would require a total pace collapse to put forth his best effort. He got plenty of pace to close into last time, when his grinding late run proved quite effective. He comes into this race with the highest TimeformUS Late Pace Rating in the field (100), but it’s hard to endorse a horse that leaves himself with such a deficit to make up. This is a much tougher spot than the Battaglia and I get the feeling there are more talented closers in this field.
#2, CASH CALL KITTEN (12-1): He makes the turf-to-synthetic move for Mike Maker, who has had success with prices in this race, formerly known as the Spiral, over the past few years. It’s hard to draw too many conclusions from his debut, which came against a weak group of $20,000 claimers, but he stepped forwardly nicely in his subsequent start. He made a sweeping move to the lead coming off the turf in that Feb. 17 race, and it briefly appeared that he may have moved into the lead prematurely as closers threatened to run over the top of the leaders. However, he dug in resolutely under intense pressure from Jose Ortiz and turned them all back to win. His turf form should translate well to this surface, and Mike Maker gets a 97 TimeformUS Trainer Rating with horses trying synth for the first time.
#3, ARCHAGGELOS (6-1): This half-brother to Big Brown has a lot going for him. He has valuable experience winning a stakes over a synthetic surface, and is sent out by a trainer who certainly knows how to get his runners to perform at a high level coming off a layoff. That win in the Grey Stakes last October at Woodbine was visually impressive, as he sliced through a narrow opening in midstretch to get the win. His subsequent outing in the Display was a little dull, but that did come against a tougher field. I have no doubt that he’ll get the distance given his pedigree, and he possesses a running style that fits this race well. He appears to be one of the prime contenders.
#4, PONY UP (6-1): I strongly prefer this Aikenite colt of the two Todd Pletcher entrants. He tried to pick up some Kentucky Derby qualifying points in the Holy Bull last time out, but he’s really more of a turf horse, so this switch to synthetic makes sense. He put in a strong late rally against the vastly improved Flameaway in the Kitten’s Joy two back and would be a top candidate for win honors if he were to repeat that performance here. He’s on my short list of top contenders.
DRF Formulator Fact: Over the past five years, Todd Pletcher is 10 for 29 (34 percent, $2.65 ROI) with horses switching from dirt to synthetic surfaces.
#5, MAGICALMEISTER (12-1): He defeated Sky Promise and Arawak in the Battaglia, and probably ran the best race of that trio after making the first move into a relatively fast pace. He’s improved with each start, but he’s the kind of runner whom you wanted to have last time when he paid more than $80 to win. Generally, it’s not a good idea to bet back horses like that at shorter prices against tougher fields.
#6, MUGARITZ (6-1): His most recent performance in the El Camino Real Derby was better than it seems. The early pace of that race was extremely fast, as is indicated by the red color-coded pace figures in TimeformUS PPs. He was eagerly stalking the early leaders and may have inherited the lead too soon in a race dominated by closers. He’s the kind of horse that needs to be forwardly placed and is probably at his best when allowed to run freely on the front end. It seems unlikely that Hazit will let him get too far away early, and it’s also not a certainty that Mugaritz is going to improve at this 9-furlong distance. I think he’s as talented as some of the others in here, but I’m not sold on his chances to wire the field. That said, he could hang on for a piece of the pie at a generous price.
#7, HAZIT (5-1): I suppose this one will take some money, considering the human connections. He does have decent pedigree to handle the turf, and by extension, a synthetic surface. On the other hand, stamina is a real question for this son of War Front. If I were going to bet one of the speeds in this race, I’d much rather take Mugaritz at a better price.
#8, BLENDED CITIZEN (6-1): I don’t have any major knocks against this logical contender. Mugaritz may have run the better race despite finishing just behind him in the El Camino Real Derby. However, Blended Citizen figures to receive a favorable pace setup again. His prior turf form is solid, as he was hardly disgraced losing to the talented pair Pubilius Syrus and Inscom in his prior start in the Eddie Logan. I doubt you’ll get much higher than his morning-line price of 6-1, but he’s one that must be included in the exotics.
#9, DREAMER’S POINT (15-1): Ian Wilkes is just 2 for 56 on synthetic surfaces over the past five years, but this horse does have a decent pedigree to handle the surface switch. There’s some turf on the dam’s side and Shackleford has been an effective sire for artificial surfaces. On the other hand, he’s had trouble breaking through the N1X allowance level and has not shown a great affinity for passing horses. He seems better suited to one-turn distances, so this 1 1/8 miles could be a stretch.
#10, ZANESVILLE (12-1): He’s clearly improved since getting stretched out around two turns, but two of those efforts came against inferior competition at Delta Downs. He’s a grand-looking son of Tiznow who certainly has a right to continue improving. However, Tom Amoss, despite being one of the top trainers in the country, does not have particularly strong numbers on synthetic surfaces. A 97-rated trainer overall, he gets just a 55 TimeformUS Trainer Rating with horses switching from dirt to synth. Zanesville has been more forwardly placed in recent starts, but his best hope here is to drop back and try to pick some pieces.
#11, RIDE A COMET (5-1): In terms of sheer talent, he might be one of the best runners in this race. His last effort at the Fair Grounds may not have garnered a particularly flashy speed figure, but it was visually impressive. He shut the door on that field quickly and drew off to a decisive win. He’s bred to be a good one, as a half-brother to Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit. His ability to win on both dirt and turf bodes well for this switch to Turfway’s Polytrack surface. The only major negative is the post position. This is not a horse that wants to be rallying from the back of the pack, so Gabriel Saez will likely have to use some of his speed out of the gate to get into a forward position. He’s probably talented enough to overcome that kind of trip, but you’re taking a relatively short price to find out. He’s one that I’m using, but I think others project to offer better value.
#12, ARAWAK (15-1): He didn’t run quite as well as Magicalmeister when finishing third in the John Battaglia Memorial, but he was hindered by a wide run around the far turn. The problem is that he figures to work out a similar trip here from this unlucky draw. To have any chance, rider Garcia either needs to use the speed that he once possessed to get clear and over early, or he needs to drop back and make one run. Neither scenario is ideal.
The main players appear to be Archaggelos (#3), Pony Up (#4), Blended Citizen (#8), and Ride a Comet (#11). Archaggelos is probably the longest price among that group, and I just think Pony Up fits this race very well, so they are the two that I want to key on. The longshots that I’ll throw into the mix with them include Cash Call Kitten (#2) and Mugaritz (#6).
Exacta Key Box: 3,4 with 2,3,4,6,8,11
Trifecta: 3,4 with 3,4 with 2,5,6,8,10,11
Trifecta: 3,4 with 2,6,8,11 with 3,4