West Coast-based horses have dominated the Kentucky Derby (G1) since 2012 with four of the past five winners having been based with Southern California outfits, but for a short period (2009-11) two of three winners last prepped for America’s most famous race at Sunland and Turfway Parks.
Those outposts more known for bread-and-butter/day-to-day racing will have their turn in the Kentucky Derby spotlight this weekend with Turfway playing host to the $500,000 Spiral (G3) on Saturday and Sunland offering the $800,000 Sunland Park Derby (G3) on Sunday.
On paper, the Spiral does not appear to have any threats for the Kentucky Derby six weeks later, but things really haven’t gone according to plan “on paper” during this year’s Triple Crown trail with champion Classic Empire losing his three-year-old debut at odds-on, Irish War Cry losing his next start after beating Classic Empire, Mastery sustaining an injury after winning the San Felipe (G2), and a training setback to undefeated McCraken.
With all these twists and turns it’s no surprise that some would consider a detour to Florence Y’All, Kentucky, where Animal Kingdom won the 2011 Spiral before adding the Kentucky Derby. And while questions will swirl around the Spiral winner’s ability to be competitive in the Kentucky Derby, regardless of what happens six weeks later, the winner will have earned those 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points in the Spiral by beating a full field going 1 1/8 miles.
Mike Battaglia made Kitten’s Cat the morning-line favorite off his runner-up effort to Ticonderoga in the Palm Beach (G3). Kitten’s Cat is one of five stakes winners in the field, having won the Juvenile Turf Sprint on the Breeders’ Cup undercard last year down the hill at Santa Anita.
Kendall Hansen, who campaigned 2011 champion two-year-old male Hansen, owns two of the field’s stakes winners in Fast and Accurate and En Hanse, the latter earning his black type at Turfway in the WEBN on February 11.
Interestingly, Hansen’s pair, who both race for trainer Mike Maker, are the likely pace in the race with En Hanse especially expected to gun from post 12. Maker won this race last year with Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Oscar Nominated, and the Ramsey’s own Kitten’s Cat, but with trainer Joe Sharp.
Other familiar names to those familiar with Spiral winners include trainers Todd Pletcher and Graham Motion, who have won the race three times each. Pletcher sends out Bronson and Motion has Soglio.
The Spiral is part of an 11-race special Saturday afternoon card at Turfway, and TwinSpires.com will offer a promotion for playing the races there.