A competitive field of 12 has been assembled for the only 200 point Derby Prep Race on a synthetic surface. Rich Strike was third in this race last year, prior to his improbable victory in the Kentucky Derby last year. In fact, he ran in all three legs of their three year old series in 2022. Prior to that, Animal Kingdom was the only horse to win the Derby after winning this race since Turfway has been running it on a synthetic course. Prior to that, Lil E. Tee became the first winner of this race to also capture the Run for the Roses.
I think the first two local prep races were above average compared to previous years. I believe the horses that are coming out of those races have a real shot to win this race today. The shorter priced runners are the shippers that have yet to race over this surface, so I think the value will be there for some of the locals, if they’re able to get the right trip. This loaded 13 race card is a rare day program at Turfway, which will start at 12:45 (ET). Post time for the Jeff Ruby Steaks is scheduled for 6:25 (ET).
Turfway Park, Saturday 3/25/23, Race 12: The Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks
200 Total Derby Points (100/40/30/20/10)
1 – Major Dude (2-1 ML, 175-1 Circa): Todd Pletcher sends out the morning line favorite after a strong win in the Grade 3 KIttens Joy Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream Park last month. He’s been steadily improving since his debut win at Monmouth Park last summer. He really began to take noticeable steps forward when moving to the grass in October. He was the winner of the Pilgrim Stakes at Aqueduct in his first try on turf. He struggled in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, but post 13 was no picnic for him that afternoon. His two efforts this year in South Florida were strong though. He ships North and will try a synthetic surface for the first time today. Pletcher’s horses are 26% overall on synthetic since the start of 2022. He also hits at a 26% clip with horses going from turf to synthetic (8-31), although it should be noted that half of those winners won in races that were taken off the turf at Gulfstream, as opposed to races there were intended to be run on the Tapeta course there. Pletcher followed this same pattern with Royal Spirit last year. That one, who is not as talented, was second in the Kitten’s Joy before finishing 5th in this race. Overall, I think this a solid field, and I’m not sure I want to take anything close to 2-1 (ML) on a horse that is trying something new for the time. He’d be a saver in the multi-race plays for me, but I’ll try to get value elsewhere.
2 – Scoobie Quando (SCRATCHED): He’s a lightly raced three year old son of Uncle Mo who ran a strong race to be second in the John Battaglia Stakes here three weeks ago. He was covered up along the rail that day while several rivals, including the race winner, Congruent, were making their moves. He closed well to get second once he was free, but the race winner had all of the forward momentum at that point. He obviously likes the local course, winning on debut in stakes company, and then finishing second in his next two starts. He’s a half to both Global Access and March to the Arch, both of who were graded stakes winners and horses that won on synthetic courses. Global Access was a two time Grade 3 winner on synthetic, winning twice at Woodbine. The dam, Daveron, looks to have another solid runner here. I’m not crazy about his inside draw, because I do worry about a similar trip where he might crying out for running room, however, I think he’s a live runner as he continues to progress.
3 – Event Detail (SCRATCHED): He was the wiseguy horse for a lot of people in the Rebel Stakes last month, and while he raced far behind a hot tempo early, he never was able to get himself into the race, finishing a distant 10th that wet afternoon. He was a maiden winner on this course though, winning comfortably two starts back .He’s sired by City of Light, costing his owners, OXO Equine, $600K back November of 2020. It’s a little concerning that Corrales opts to ride Funtastic Again, starting in the stall next door. However, getting Walter Rodriguez, who is the leading rider at the meet, is not a bad deal. I prefer others, but he’s certainly not impossible.
4 – Funtastic Again (6-1 ML, 175-1 Circa): Wesley Ward sends out this son of Funtastic, who has won three of five career starts. He’s been excellent in his three wins, but he’s been a non-factor in his two losses. Both races on this course were dominating victories, which certainly is a plus. He won the Leonatus Stakes in his last start, but Ward opted to skip the Battaglia, which is not an uncommon move for him. He was in control of that race from the start, and he does have inside position on the other speed. He’s at hos best when he’s leading the way, and I think he can assume command early without being pressured too much. While I think he’s a major player in this race, I do understand that frontrunners have struggled at nine furlongs since switching to the Tapeta surface here a few years back. However, as long as he breaks well, I think he’ll be able to dictate the terms of this race, which should make him very dangerous.
5 – Maker’s Candy (12-1 ML): He’s one of two potential pacesetters in this nine furlong contest. Mike Maker ships this New York bred son of Twirling Candy in from Aqueduct after his win in Gander Stakes last month. He’s never traveled two turns and never raced on a synthetic surface. Maker has won this race six times since it has been on an all-weather surface, so any runner that he brings here should be considered. His sire, Twirling Candy, was a graded stakes winner on synthetic in California, however, his runners have only connected at 11% in routes on synthetic surfaces over the last five years. While Maker’s horses always seem to show up, there’s too much uncertainty with him for my liking. I’ll be looking in another direction.
6 – Baby Billy (30-1 ML): One of the longest shots on the board is coming in from Gulfstream after a maiden breaking victory on the turf last month. He ran well sprinting at Churchill in his first two starts when racing for Norm Casse. He was transferred to Jack Sisterson’s barn where he struggled in his first two starts. The move to turf certainly helped him last time, so there’s reason to believe that he could take to the synthetic. He’s shown enough to promise to consider using him underneath in some deeper exotic plays, but I think getting a victory here feels like it could be out of reach for him.
7 – Bluebirds Over (15-1 ML): Saffie Joseph gets this Grade 3 winner back on synthetic for his second start of 2023. He destroyed a maiden special weight field on the Tapeta at Gulfstream in his debut back in November. That race was good enough for Joseph to send this English Channel colt to Woodbine to compete in the Grade 3 Grey Stakes at the end of November. He was forwardly placed that afternoon when defeating four rivals. He made his season debut in the Colonel Liam Stakes at Gulfstream three weeks ago, where he ran well on the front end, but tired late to finish 5th. I think the presence of Maker’s Candy to his inside, hinders his chances to win this race. I like this horse a lot, but not in this race today.
8 – Congruent (5-1 ML, 95-1 Circa): He was sensational in his synthetic debut three weeks ago when going from last to first to win the John Battaglia Memorial here. He’s a well-campaigned son of Tapit, who is making his 10th career start. He has a pair of wins of the dirt to go along with his stakes win last time out. He did get a favorable set up that day as Sonny Leon pulled him to the back of the pack in order to try to save as much ground as possible on a day where he broke from the far outside stall. Leon, finished third in this race last year aboard the longshot Kentucky Derby winner, Rich Strike. He’s a confident rider, especially aboard horses that like to run on from the back of the pack. The winner of last year’s Jeff Ruby Steaks, Tiz the Bomb, was also the winner of the Battaglia. I see him being live once again in this race today.
9 – Escapologist (30-1 ML): Ken McPeek ships this son of Good Magic in from the Fair Grounds after a maiden breaking win in his turf debut on March 1st. His previous five tries in dirt routes in Kentucky and Arkansas were nothing special. He feels overmatched in this race, where he’ll be trying the Tapeta for the first time.
10 – Two Phil’s (7-2 ML, 50-1 Circa): He’s another runner trying the Tapeta surface for the first time. Larry Rivelli, who won a ton of races on the Polytrack at Arlington, decided to leave Louisiana after two in the money finishes in graded stakes company there to start his season. He was second to Instant Coffee in the Lecomte and he was third behind Angel of Empire and Sun Thunder in the Risen Star last month. He’s one of only four runners that have gone this far on the racetrack. He’s sired by Hard Spun, who was an impressive winner in this race and the Kentucky Cup Classic on the synthetic surface back in 2007. His runners have hit at a 16% clip on the synthetic, with four of them winning at this distance or longer. He definitely fits from a class perspective and he should take to the surface. It will come down to price for me with him. If his odds float up, I’d use him more prominently. However, anything near his 7-2 morning line still feels a little light for my liking.
11 – Wadsworth (8-1 ML, 300-1 Circa): He’s been a different horse for Brad Cox since shipping to Turfway. His first three starts on dirt were poor, while facing some solid competition on the main track. Cox brought him here and ran him on New Year’s Eve where he decimated a maiden special weight field by ten lengths. He followed up that effort by defeating Scoobie Quando in allowance company last month. Cox opted to skip the Battaglia in favor of this spot where he’ll face stakes company for the first time. He’s paired his first two Beyer Speed Figures on synthetic, so this is typically where I’ll look for a horse to improve. I like that he won on the front end two starts back, but he was perfectly comfortable sitting midpack when the pace was too quick for the frontrunners last time out. I’m curious to see how he’ll be bet in this race. He’s installed at 8-1 on the morning line, which feels fair. However, Cox is winning with 28% percent of his starters at this meet, and he’s been winning all kinds of Derby Prep races this season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his odds drop to closer to 5-1, which would make me look elsewhere.
12 – Point Proven (15-1 ML, 175-1 Circa): Pletcher will bookend this field but sending out this $675K son of Gun Runner on the synthetic for the first time. He was recently third in a nine furlong allowance at Gulfstream that was designed to hopefully attract some potential Florida Derby candidates. He does have a win at the distance at Churchill, where he broke his maiden. John Velasquez comes to town to ride, which is a plus. However, I think he’s a cut below the serious players in this field.
The Verdict: 4-8-10
I came back from soccer Saturday and went to put the finishes touches on this post and saw that both Scoobie Quando (#2) and Event Detail (#3) were scratched out of this race. I liked Sccobie Quando quite a bit in this spot, so I’m disappointed to see him out. I also think that Event Detail could have been bet down from his morning line figure, which could have led to getting better prices elsewhere.
I’m a believer that the local prep races on this course were strong races, and I’m going to side with the runners that are emerging from those starts. I’ll make Funtastic Again (#4) my top choice. I thought his win in the Leonatus Stakes was excellent, looking like there was plenty more in the tank that day. Wesley Ward is a proven winner with horses racing on a synthetic course, winning with ⅓ of his starters on synthetic since the start of 2022. He won this race two years ago with Like the King and I think he might be able to get his second victory with this one.
Congruent (#8) was a beast when winning the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes three weeks ago. He clearly likes the surface and he has a jockey that knows how to win with a horse that runs from off the pace. I think he has another strong effort in the tank for this race.
I do think Major Dude (#1), Two Phil’s (#10), and Wadsworth (#11) all have a shot in this race that will definitely come down to a trip. For me, I’m thinking that all three will be too short of a number when they go into the gate. If their odds float up into a more acceptable range, I’d be more inclined to play them. I’m thinking somewhere around 4-1 for Major Dude, 5-1- for Two Phil’s, and 10-1 for Wadsworth would be around fair odds for me to upgrade their chances. I feel the morning line figure is fair for my top three runners. Of the three, I think Two Phil’s might be able to get the closest to the desired number, so I’ll make him the third choice.
We’ll have coverage of every North American Derby Points Race, along with plenty of coverage leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6th, 2023. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.