The field for Saturday's Grade 3 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park is expected to fill or nearly fill the gate as trainers solidify plans for their Kentucky Derby hopefuls. The race's $500,000 purse virtually assures the winner a spot in the Derby gate, as proved true for the 2011 Spiral Stakes and Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom.
Mr. Prankster won the first two local preps for this year's Spiral, racing first at 6 1/2 furlongs and then at a mile, but he finished fourth in the third prep, the 1 1/16-mile John Battaglia Memorial on March 3. Trainer Mike Maker looks for him to rebound this Saturday.
"He broke well (in the Battaglia) but the pace wasn't quick, and John (McKee) should have taken control of the race," Maker said. "He spent half the race trying to talk him out of running and the other half trying to talk him into it. So I'm throwing that one out."
Maker has tapped Rosie Napravnik to ride Mr. Prankster, her first race aboard the colt. Saturday's races also will be the jockey's first at Turfway.
"She's been riding for us in New Orleans this winter and doing well," said Maker, who co-owns Mr. Prankster with Thomas Conway.
Maker's other probable for the Spiral Stakes is Tizanexpense, who debuted on Keeneland's Polytrack but has since run on grass and on dirt. After finishing ninth at Keeneland he was fourth on the Churchill Downs turf in his second start, won two straight at Fair Grounds in races taken off the turf, and then was seventh in his most recent start, the Grade 2 Risen Star.
"His post position in the Risen Star didn't help him and he was really wide around the first turn," Maker said. "He also almost dropped (jockey) Miguel (Mena). He's run well on the turf and dirt, and now we're anxious to get him back on Polytrack."
Garrett Gomez will be aboard Tizanexpense on Saturday. The colt is owned by George and Tiffany Veloudis.
Tizanexpense and Mr. Prankster both worked five furlongs at Trackside Louisville on Saturday. Tizanexpense had the bullet of five at that distance, breezing in :58 4/5. Mr. Prankster was fourth-fastest at 1:02 3/5.
Maker's entire contingent will ship to Turfway on raceday. In addition to his two in the feature, the trainer intends to send Original Kitten to the Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks, Gung Ho to the Rushaway and Magical Season to the Hansel.
Having trained Smarty Jones in 2004, John Servis knows a good three-year-old when he sees one. And he thinks he has a good one in Ill Conceived, who ran a game second in the Battaglia Memorial at Turfway, losing by only a head.
"I was very happy with the race," said Servis of the Battaglia effort. "He was getting out a little bit on the turn, lost the lead through the stretch and battled back very gamely to just miss. It was so close. I actually thought he won the race until I saw the photo. For a young horse to do that, I was very happy."
In the Battaglia, Ill Conceived made all the early pace, engaging in a veritable match race with eventual winner State of Play. Servis, however, envisions different tactics come Saturday.
"He's better coming from off the pace," Servis said. "However, he was very sharp coming in to that last race and there wasn't a lot of pace. That's one of the reasons he started getting out because Stew (jockey Stewart Elliott) cranked him down so much. I don't expect him to be in front in this race."
Elliott will be back aboard Ill Conceived on Saturday. The 47-year-old nearly won a Triple Crown for Servis as the regular rider of Smarty Jones.
Owned by S.M.D. Ltd, Ill Conceived will travel by van from Philadelphia to Turfway Park and is expected to arrive in Florence, Kentucky, sometime Thursday morning. Servis also will arrive at Turfway on Thursday.
Trainer Mark Casse will send Stealcase to the Spiral Stakes after tossing out the colt's sixth-place finish in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes March 3.
"The chart caller's notes say he broke awkwardly in the Gotham," Casse said. "It was more than awkward; he nearly fell down. You can see it on the head-on (replay). Aqueduct was really speed-biased that day and our plan was to be very close to the lead, but after that break he lost all chance. I'm not saying I think he would have beaten Hansen that day, but I think we'd have given the second-place horse (My Adonis) a run for his money.
"So he had a serious excuse for that race, but he still has to step up. He still has to prove he can run with the big boys. He needs to be first or second in the Spiral. Then the next step would be the Blue Grass (at Keeneland)."
Although the Spiral Stakes will be Stealcase's first start on an all-weather surface, he had trained on it in Ocala.
In his most recent work, five furlongs over the dirt at Palm Meadows Training Center, Stealcase breezed a best-of-22 1:00 2/5.
Rajiv Maragh will ride Stealcase Saturday for the first time.
Stealcase and the rest of Casse's Spiral Stakes day contingent shipped from Palm Meadows to Churchill Downs on Monday and will ship to Turfway on raceday. In addition to his Spiral Stakes hopeful, Casse also plans to send Dynamical and Bluedacious to the Rushaway and Lockout to the Hansel.