Spiral Stakes + Sunland Derby Day Preview and Picks

In last week's Kentucky Derby preps, we saw the emergence of a new player in Hoppertunity, who ultimately survived a very physical four-way tussle on the wet fast track at Oaklawn Park. While he ran a fantastic race, I'm not so sure I'm on board with him as a Kentucky Derby contender being that he never ran as a juvenile and would likely be making his sixth start of the season in the Derby, assuming he runs in one more prep. Tapiture, on the other hand, stole the show for me in the Rebel. I had previously mentioned that although he had shown to be physically talented, I wanted to see more mental strength from him. Ultimately, Tapiture settled nicely behind horses before having to force his way through what was perhaps a non-existent opening down the stretch and he showed an incredible ability to manage chaos in doing so. That's a trait that I look for in all of my Derby candidates who aren't front runners. None of the others overly impressed me, Ride on Curlin did well riding the rail on a wet track that I think he enjoyed and Strong Mandate showed once again that he wants no part of ten furlongs, but on to this week. 

3/22/2014: Turfway Park Race 11 -- G3 Spiral Stakes (9f, polytrack):
El Camino Real Derby winner Tamarando highlights a solid field of twelve in what will be one of the final two fifty point Kentucky Derby preps. The aforementioned son of Bertrando has been one of the most consistent performers on this year's Derby trail. In ten career starts, seven of which have come on synthetic tracks, he's only finished outside of the top three once (finished fourth in his debut). He's never going to be the flashy type, but he's a deep closing grinder who always seems to find a way to get himself into the mix when it matters. The Todd Pletcher-trained, Ramsey-owned We Miss Artie returns to the synthetic after finishing a disappointing eighth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. He did make a nice middle move in that race although it did not make much of an impression on that day's biased track at Gulfstream. It's worth noting he won his only race on synthetic, the Breeders' Futurity, as a juvenile at Keeneland last October. The last of the "big names" in this race is Almost Famous, a son of Unbridled's Song, who will likely be the pace setter in this race. He ran very well to finish fourth despite being forced to set a solid pace in the Holy Bull and his last run can be excused, as he was steadied at the start. Personally, I'm intrigued by Solitary Ranger, who ran big in victory locally last time out when beating Poker Player and Harry's Holiday in the Battaglia. I am slightly concerned about him and Almost Famous being drawn next to each other, as that makes for a realistic possibility of a duel, but if that is avoided, he should be a major player at a decent price. Despite having not run in a major prep to this point, he did finish second behind highly touted juveniles Pablo Del Monte and No Nay Never last year and he easily won a G3 at Arlington over Whyruawesome. If he runs back to his form last time out, that should be enough to seal the victory.

Pick: Solitary Ranger to Win

Bankroll Play: $10 on Solitary Ranger to Show

Weekend Quick Picks:

3/23/2014: Sunland Park Race 3 -- Allowance Optional Claiming (OC 50000b): Forest Mouse has won two straight, the most recent of which was going 6.5f locally. He's eligible to improve in his second start off the layoff and given his form, he should relish stretching back out to a route. Last year, he finished just two lengths behind Suggestive Boy in the G1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile and he's won locally going further. Jaycito being in the field all but ensures him from getting bet down any further. (ML 2/1)

3/24/2014: Sunland Park Race 4 -- Allowance Optional Claiming (OC 12500n1x): Last year, this track was souped up for speed, so it will be important to pay attention to the earlier races to see if that will be the case again this year. Unbridled Giant looks to be the lone speed in this one and although he hasn't won in a while, he was pressured early up front in nearly all of his recent starts. If he's let go on an easy lead here, watch out and if the track is speed favoring, he's your single. (ML 7/2)

3/24/2014: Sunland Park Race 5 -- New Mexico Breeder's Derby: Another horse who appears to have an inherent speed advantage D E Lover lines up here. He most recently won over 6f locally and does step up in class here, but he's ran in tough company having faced the undefeated multiple stakes winner Proceed on more than one occasion. (ML 5/2)

3/24/2014: Sunland Park Race 8 -- Sunland Park Oaks: While all of the hype surrounds the Baffert-trained Awesome Baby, I quite like Empress of Midway in this spot. She's only run twice in her career and could very well improve in what will be her third start and first time routing. Although Mike Smith chose to stay on the Baffert runner, she does get Velazquez aboard and her speed figures to suggest she fits. (ML 7/2)

3/24/2014: Sunland Park Race 11 -- Sunland Derby: Baffert trainees Midnight Hawk and Chitu have shipped in from California and will surely be major players in this official Kentucky Derby prep race. Of the two, I prefer Chitu who finished second to Candy Boy in the Robert B. Lewis last time out, although I'm not completely convinced of his ability to get the distance. I'm instead going to take a flier with Rebranded, who finished third in the Strong Mandate/Tapiture MSW in what was his juvenile debut. He's been bet heavily in all of his starts and appears to be getting better with time. He most recently finished second to the undefeated Proceed over 8.5f locally and he enters this after having posted a bullet local 5f work. (ML 12/1)

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