The Road to the Kentucky Derby comes to Kentucky on Saturday for the Grade 3 $550,000 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Racing Spiral Stakes. Mark Casse’s Kentucky Juvenile Cup winner, Uncaptured, heads a field of 12 in Turfway Park’s premiere event at the Florence, Ky. racetrack.
Uncaptured has six wins in seven starts, including victories in the Grade 3 Iroquois and Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Cup, both run at Churchill Downs. Regular rider Miguel Mena will be in the irons Saturday when Uncaptured makes his three-year-old debut and, if he returns to the form he showed last year, he should be the one to beat. So many of this year’s three-year-olds have returned to provide less than stellar performances in their first starts for the year, e.g., Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Shanghai Bobby’s second place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes, Normandy Invasion’s fifth place finish in the Risen Star, and Overanalyze’s fifth place in the Gotham Stakes. Maybe Uncaptured will be the one that doesn’t miss a beat, but at a morning line of 3-1, there’s more value to be had by others in this race.
Balance the Books is second choice on the morning line at odds of 7-2. This Chad Brown runner will also make his three-year-old debut on Saturday. He finished third, beaten 1 ½ lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, in his last out. Additionally, he has two wins and a second place finish in his four lifetime starts, all over the turf course. Since the turf runners generally perform well over the Polytrack surface, Balance the Books may fare well on the Turfway track, assuming the long layoff is not an issue. Jockey Julien Leparoux will be aboard for the ride.
Jeff Greenhill’s 10-1 Mac the Man is the local favorite. He’s undefeated at Turfway Park and won the one mile 96 Rocks Stakes in his last start, his first attempt at a route. He’s shown a versatility to run on the lead or rate just off the leaders and will retain Turfway’s leading rider, Norberto Arroyo, Jr., as his pilot. Whether he’ll become a Kentucky Derby contender or not, this may be a horse for the course with the potential to take down his more experienced rivals.
“His races at Turfway have been visually impressive,” said Greenhill in a national conference call earlier this week. “He's laid down some pretty impressive speed figures. The big question is what has he beaten, and the other thing is he's won—I think he won the two six-and-a-half furlong races without ever essentially being hit, and then Norberto said he essentially tapped him on the shoulder twice in the long race to remind him he was going two turns. So what I would say about the Turfway races are they looked good and he came out of them great; not really spent, bounced around the shed row the next day. And so I'm like everybody else, ‘Is Mac the Man for real, or has he just managed to win three at Turfway Park and just be another three-year-old?’ And I'm anxious to find out the answer to that question.”
The deep Spiral field offers plenty of longshots worthy of consideration, including My Name Is Michael and Black Onyx. My Name Is Michael, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, was third behind Falling Sky and Dynamic Sky in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 2. He earned a Brisnet speed figure of 89 for that race, which doesn’t sound too impressive. However, that race was over the dirt and in his prior two synthetic starts he earned numbers in the high 90s. Going back to a synthetic surface may be what this Macho Uno colt needs to get a win.
After watching the eighth race at Turfway Park on Saturday, it will be clearer to know what to make of Black Onyx. This Kelly Breen runner closed sharply and beat Crop Report in an allowance race in his last start at Gulfstream Park Feb. 23. Crop Report, who overcame a gate issue to close well, losing by only 1 ¾ lengths, is running in Turfway’s 8th race—the Team Valor Rushaway Stakes. Assuming Crop Report does well against a talented field, it would certainly bode well for Black Onyx, making that allowance win much more meaningful.
The field for the Spiral from the rail out with morning line odds is: Balance the Books 7-2, Channel Isle 15-1, Uncaptured 3-1, Fear the Kitten 15-1, My Name Is Michael 10-1, For Greater Glory 20-1, Mac the Man 10-1, General Election 12-1, Black Onyx 10-1, Giant Finish 15-1, Taken by the Storm 12-1, Capo Bastone 9-2.
The race is the 10th on the Turfway Park Saturday card with a schedule post time of 5:50 EDT. It can be seen on the NBC Sports Network, HRTV, and TVG. Click here  for free PPs from Brisent on the Spiral and the Sunland Derby, the other Road to the Kentucky Derby point race running Sunday.
Photo: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography