2016 Spiral Stakes Preview: Airoforce looks to bounce back
As March Madness winds down and the excitement of the college basketball season comes to an end, April means one thing; Kentucky Derby Preps. Just like an NCAA basketball team looks to secure their place in the "Big Dance" by winning a conference tournament, Kentucky Derby hopefuls look to secure their spot in the starting gate for the "First Saturday in May" by winning a 2016 Kentucky Derby Prep and gaining the needed points.
Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky is home to the $500,000 Spiral Stakes on Saturday, with 50 BIG Kentucky Derby points going to the winner, virtually ensuring the victor a spot in the Derby. This year's field is highly contentious, practically every horse in the race looks to have a puncher's chance.
The John Oxley owned, Mark Casse trained, son of Colonel John, Airoforce was one of the most impressive two-year-old's of 2015. He captured wins in two of his first three starts while boasting an impressive second place finish to Hit it a Bomb in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Airoforce would close from 8th to take the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs, defeating Derby hopefuls Mor Spirit, Mo Tom, and Gun Runner.
Airoforce's sophomore debut in the Grade 2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds was a disaster from the start, he never looked comfortable, he was bumped, was wide and he never seemed to handle the track, eventually losing by some 39 1/2 lengths to Gun Runner, who went on to win the Louisiana Derby. Airoforce draws the #10 post and will try synthetic for the first time. He boasts two strong works over a synthetic training track and looks to regain his strong closing kick. Turfway Park leading jockey Albin Jiminez will be in the irons.
Graham Motion looks to channel his inner Animal Kingdom as he sends out #8 Kasseopia. The son of Showcasing has done little wrong in his short 5 race career. He lacks the seasoning of an Airoforce but he does look like the type that will improve. He's already shown class in running 2nd to Riker in the Grade 3 Grey Stakes at Woodbine. He's coming into the Spiral off an impressive 3rd place finish in the Grade 3, El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. He broke slow, but went on to show a strong turn of foot into pedestrian fractions in his 3-year-old debut. Alan Garcia gets the mount and looks to guide this colt straight to Louisville.
Larry Jones owns and trains #3 Jensen. Jensen will make his first start against stakes company. He's coming in off an impressive 6 3/4 length victory in an Optional Claiming event at the Fair Grounds. He has tactical speed and has a great pedigree for a synthetic surface. He's a son of Haynesfield, out of a Hard Spun mare. Hard Spun won the Spiral (Lane's End) before finishing second in the Kentucky Derby to Street Sense. Florent Geroux will be in the saddle and will hope to break sharp and get a good position near the pace early in the race.
The Ken and Sarah Ramsey owned, Oscar Nominated draws the #5 post and is one of five entrants to the Spiral for trainer Mike Maker. The son of Kitten's Joy was claimed by the Ramseys and Maker for a $75,000 tag in a Maiden Claiming event at Belmont Park last October. He went on to run second in an Allowance at Churchill Downs on the turf. In his two starts as a 3-year-old at the Fair Grounds, he's shown a strong closing kick, finishing with a second and a win in back-to-back stakes. For the first time, he'll be running on a surface other than turf. He'll need to step it up a bit if he wants an Oscar worthy performance, but he has a chance with Robby Albarado coming in for the mount.
Gary Contessa sends out #4 Don't Be So Salty. The son of Tiz Wonderful out of the Unbridled song mare, Unbridled Salt has shown some signs of brilliance. He ran a game 2nd in the Kitten's Joy Stakes before being taken down for veering out, and interfering with another competitor. He's 2 for 2 on a synthetic surface, and has good gate speed. He could definitely be a major player if jockey Cornelio Velazquez can keep his mind on racing and steer clear of trouble late in the race. He has 3 wins from 8 starts and does have a bit of seasoning to him; could be a live player at a price.
Todd Pletcher invades Turfway Park with one of his talented 3-year-old colts. He sends out #12 Azar with jockey Manuel Franco in the irons. Azar has been stellar in his two starts as a 3 year old. In his seasonal debut in the Kitten's Joy stakes, he was one of those horses fellow Spiral participant Don't Be So Salty impeded deep in the stretch, eventually costing him a chance of winning the race, he was moved up to second. He's coming into the Spiral off a win in an Allowance Optional Claimer. He has talent but will need to avoid a wide trip breaking from the far outside.