At last count, the list of hopefuls for Saturday's Grade 3 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park stood at 16. With Kentucky Derby qualifying points on the line, the 12 starters will be determined by earnings in graded stakes, then by earnings in stakes, and finally by career earnings.
Turfway Park Stakes Coordinator Tia Murphy has the Spiral hopefuls list in order of preference as follows:
Uncaptured (trainer Mark Casse); Balance the Books (Chad Brown); Mac the Man (Jeff Greenhill); General Election (Kellyn Gorder); Capo Bastone (Todd Pletcher); Fear the Kitten (Mike Maker); Channel Isle (D. Wayne Lukas); My Name is Michael (Bill Mott); Black Onyx (Kelly Breen); Giant Finish (Tony Dutrow); Taken by the Storm (Ken McPeek); and For Greater Glory (Steve Hobby).
Needing defections are Cerro (Graham Motion); Red Wings (Lukas); Divine Ambition (Darrin Miller); and Crop Report (Motion).
Mac the Man has two stakes wins, both coming in Turfway preps. The Greenhill trainee won the Turfway Prevue at 6 1/2 furlongs in January and the 96ROCK Stakes at a mile in February. But after reviewing the colt's seven starts, Greenhill decided to sit out the third prep, the John Battaglia Memorial on March 2, and train up to the Spiral. Daily training has kept the stable's star fit for the 1 1/8-mile Spiral.
"The Battaglia would have been four races in 2 1/2 months, so that would have made the Spiral five races in about three months," the trainer explained. "I wanted to give him a little break.
"We breezed him twice since the 96ROCK. The second breeze, last Friday, he went in company. The other horse broke off in front and then Mac the Man caught him about the eighth-pole and drew off. The other horse was trying to win, but I told the rider, 'If your horse beats Mac the Man, just keep on riding.'
"That was his last breeze before the Spiral, but he gallops a mile and a half and jogs a mile every day, so he's fit and ready."
Mac the Man went five furlongs in 1:02 2/5 for the breeze on Friday at Turfway, tying for the second fastest of 11 at the distance.
Norberto Arroyo Jr., top rider for the holiday meet and currently the winter/spring meet leader, was aboard for Mac the Man's last three races -- all wins -- and will have the mount on Saturday. Greenhill trains Mac the Man for his wife, Sherri Greenhill. The colt is stabled at Turfway.
McPeek always figured to have a strong hand for the Spiral. He still does, though his Spiral representative has changed during the course of the past couple of weeks.
Frac Daddy was originally slated to contest the Spiral, but the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club runner-up has been battling an ulcer, so McPeek will reroute the son of Scat Daddy to the Grade 1 Florida Derby to give him an extra week to recuperate.
The McPeek barn has a more than adequate substitute, though, in Taken by the Storm, an allowance winner on the grass last out at Gulfstream Park March 9. Taken by the Storm has already won at the Spiral distance of 1 1/8 miles, taking a maiden special on the Keeneland grass October 27. He also was first in an October 7 maiden over Keeneland's Polytrack but was disqualified to second.
"Frac Daddy's slight ulcer that we're dealing with is 90 percent there, but it's not all the way there, so we made the decision to wait the extra week," McPeek revealed. "Taken by the Storm is coming off a nice win, and it is fortuitous that we can bring him back quickly for the Spiral."
Alan Garcia, winner of the 2011 Spiral aboard Animal Kingdom, will have the riding assignment on Taken by the Storm. Garcia rode Taken by the Storm for the first time in the March 9 allowance tally at Gulfstream.
Taken by the Storm is 11th on the probables list with $73,385 in earnings.
McPeek also intends to run Pure Fun in the Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks on the Spiral undercard. Both McPeek horses will fly to Lexington, Kentucky, Thursday and stable at Keeneland before vanning to Turfway Saturday morning.
While Mac the Man skipped the Battaglia Memorial on March 2, Giant Finish made his first foray into open company in that race. The New York-bred son of Frost Giant rewarded trainer Tony Dutrow's confidence with a strong second-place finish despite breaking from the far outside in the 11-horse field and dealing with a rapid early pace.
"I was very happy and a little surprised that he ran so well in the Battaglia given that he is still so mentally immature," Dutrow said. "He's a young horse. He's learning and improving. I don't know what we're going to see on Saturday. I'm thinking we will see better horses in against him. I'm just anxious to see if he'll improve."
Dutrow's confidence is buoyed by his experience to date with offspring of the young sire Frost Giant.
"I have a handful of them," he said. "Some have performed well as two-year-olds, but it's always been my opinion that they're going to be better as three-year-olds."
The Southern California-based Victor Espinoza will ride Giant Finish for the first time on Saturday.
Giant Finish currently stands 10th on the Spiral Stakes list by virtue of career earnings of $81,900. Stabled at Keeneland, he will van to Turfway on the morning of the Spiral and be saddled by Mark Hubley, a longtime friend of Dutrow's from their days competing against each other at Delaware Park.
Gorder believed that two subpar performances at Fair Grounds did not tell the truth about General Election, and the colt proved him right in the Battaglia Memorial, closing to win by a half-length over Giant Finish and For Greater Glory, both also on track for the Spiral Stakes.
"He didn't like the surface at Fair Grounds, but he's already won on dirt, and he's already won at Churchill. He broke his maiden at Churchill, and he trained there last summer. And then he won the Battaglia on the Polytrack," Gorder said. "He came out of the Battaglia in really good shape. We gave him an easy breeze Saturday at Keeneland (four furlongs in :51 4/5), and we're looking forward to the race on Saturday."
Gorder believes as well in his jockey, Albin Jimenez, who was aboard for the Battaglia and will be back up Saturday. Jimenez is currently second in the Turfway standings behind Arroyo.
"Albin rode the horse really well," Gorder said. "He's an up-and-coming rider. I was telling someone the other day, this is a kid you're going to hear about in the future."
The Spiral Stakes is the 10th of 12 races carded Saturday. The race offers 50 Kentucky Derby points to the winner, 20 to the runner-up, 10 for third, and five for fourth. First post Saturday is 1:10 p.m. (EDT).