Trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the Spiral Stakes in 2001 with Balto Star and in 2005 with Flower Alley when it was a Grade 2, will be looking for his third win in the now Grade 3 race when he sends out the uncoupled duo of Heavy Breathing and Holiday Promise on Saturday at Turfway Park.
Heavy Breathing has been perfect thus far in his career, registering a pair of main track victories at Gulfstream Park this year, but Pletcher is eager to see the son of Giant's Causeway perform over Turfway's all-weather Polytrack surface.
"We've been pleasantly surprised by how well he's run on the dirt in his first two starts," the trainer admitted. "We felt like he was training as a horse that actually showed a bit more to us on the turf in the mornings. We entered him in a maiden turf race to begin with. That race was rained off onto the main track, and he performed well, so when he did that we entered him back in an allowance race on the dirt, and once again he handled it very well.
"That's part of the reason why we're trying the synthetic, because we've seen a lot of horses cross over from the turf to the synthetic well. We've also seen a lot of horses by Giant's Causeway do well on the synthetic."
Pletcher's other hope in the Spiral is Holiday Promise, who has one win from five starts, all on dirt. The son of Harlan's Holiday is not new to all-weather surfaces, however.
"We purchased him last year at OBS in the two-year-olds in training sale, so he performed there on the synthetic and worked well," Pletcher explained. "Then they got back to WinStar and they thought he handled that (all-weather) surface well also, so that's sort of the angle there, and we think that the mile and an eighth should help him out also."
Javier Castellano will ride Heavy Breathing. Junior Alvarado has the mount on Holiday Promise.
Holiday Promise will arrive by van from New York on Thursday morning. Heavy Breathing and Pletcher's two fillies running in the Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks -- Dancing Solo and In Lingerie -- will arrive at Turfway Thursday following a flight from Florida.
Jerry Hollendorfer also has two Spiral Stakes wins, in 1998 with Event of the Year and in 2000 with Globalize. This year he sends Russian Greek, who finished his Spiral preparations Tuesday at Hollywood Park with a :48 1/5 half-mile move that Hollendorfer termed "fine."
Russian Greek looked like a serious player on the California scene after back-to-back two-turn wins in the Gold Rush Stakes and California Derby, both at Golden Gate Fields. The Giant's Causeway three-year-old was sent off at 4-1 in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate on February 18, but could manage only a belated close for fifth in that race. Among those ahead of him that day was fellow Spiral candidate Handsome Mike, who ran third.
Hollendorfer said he had no explanation for the disappointing El Camino Real result but will try a rider change for Saturday's race. Corey Nakatani, who rode Handsome Mike in the El Camino Real, will have the mount on Russian Greek on Saturday. Nakatani has won the Spiral Stakes once, aboard the filly Serena's Song in 1995.
In addition to Hollendorfer and Pletcher, three other trainers with expected Spiral runners this year have twice won this race. Graham Motion triumphed last year with eventual Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and also won in 2008 with Adriano. Mike Maker won with With a City in 2006 and followed with Dean's Kitten in 2010. D. Wayne Lukas won the 1983 edition with Marfa before sending out Serena's Song in 1995. Serena's Song remains the only filly to have won the Spiral Stakes.
Entries for the Spiral and the rest of Turfway's Saturday card will be drawn in the Racing Office on Thursday morning according to the usual draw schedule. On Thursday evening, the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce will host the Call to the Post Reception, a happy-hour networking event, from 5-7 p.m. (EDT).
Mike Battaglia will be on hand to discuss the field, and representatives from the charities that participated in last Saturday's Charity Night at the Tables will make their Spiral Stakes picks.