One year ago, Animal Kingdom used the Grade 3, $500,000 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park as a launching pad from obscurity onto Kentucky Derby glory. On Saturday, 12 aspiring Derby hopefuls aim to follow in his hoofsteps in the 1 1/8-mile prep on Polytrack. The winner will garner a graded earnings windfall, securing a spot in the starting gate in the "Run for the Roses" at Churchill Downs.
The same team that was behind Animal Kingdom, owner Team Valor International and trainer Graham Motion, hope to catch lightning in a bottle once more with Went the Day Well. Unlike the homebred Animal Kingdom, Went the Day Well was yet another shrewd private purchase by Team Valor CEO Barry Irwin.
Although bred in New York, Went the Day Well was exported as a youngster and began his racing career on the turf in England. After rallying from far back to finish a hard-charging second in his debut, he went down by just a neck to Epsom Derby candidate Thomas Chippendale.
As a son of Proud Citizen out of a Tiznow mare, Went the Day Well figured to be the type to excel on dirt, so Team Valor snapped him up as a promising recruit. His first start for his new connections didn't set up well for him, but he still closed from off a dawdling pace for fourth in a Gulfstream Park maiden. Given a better stalking trip next time at the same track, Went the Day Well powered home strongly to score an overdue maiden win on March 3.
John Velazquez, Animal Kingdom's regular rider, picks up the mount on Went the Day Well Saturday. The promising colt has drawn post 4, and rates as the co-second choice at 4-1 on the morning line. With his proficiency on turf and dirt, a switch to synthetic shouldn't be an issue.
Unbeaten Heavy Breathing, the early Spiral favorite at 3-1, will also be racing on a synthetic surface for the first time. The Todd Pletcher trainee has dominated both of his outings on the dirt at Gulfstream Park, romping in an off-the-turf event in his career bow before easily capturing an entry-level allowance at this nine-furlong distance.
A royally-bred son of Giant's Causeway, Heavy Breathing projects a ground-saving trip from post 3. Javier Castellano will try to maintain his perfect partnership with the pace tracker.
Pletcher will also send out Holiday Promise, who invades from his New York division. The maiden winner hasn't been able to follow up in an entry-level allowance, unsuccessfully chasing such useful sophomores as Speightscity and Raconteur.
Three Spiral contenders had competed in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby on the Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields -- third-place finisher Handsome Mike and the unplaced pair of Russian Greek and All Squared Away.
Handsome Mike, the 2-1 favorite in the El Camino Real Derby, argued the stiff early pace before tiring late behind photo-finishers Daddy Nose Best and Lucky Chappy. Winner Daddy Nose Best is entered in Sunday's Grade 3 Sunland Derby, while Lucky Chappy is set for the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby on Dubai World Cup night, March 31.
Two starts back in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes, Handsome Mike was a non-threatening fourth to Out of Bounds and Grade 2 Rebel hero Secret Circle. The Doug O'Neill colt gets a rider switch to Joel Rosario for the Spiral, but he will likely have to hustle to overcome post 12. Handsome Mike has been pegged alongside Went the Day Well at 4-1.
All Squared Away, Handsome Mike's pace rival in the El Camino Real, faded more dramatically to wind up seventh. Trainer Peter Miller regrouped by dropping him into a starter allowance at Santa Anita, where he finished second to the four-year-old Admission.
Russian Greek's fifth-place effort in the El Camino Real Derby halted a two-race winning streak. Trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, the Giant's Causeway colt had previously landed the Gold Rush Stakes and California Derby. He adds blinkers, and gets the services of Corey Nakatani, in hopes of waking him up. Russian Greek will break from the rail.
The well-regarded Stealcase will likewise try to rebound with first-time blinkers, and new rider Rajiv Maragh, in this spot. The Mark Casse-trained colt comes off a debacle in his stakes debut in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes. Virtually eliminated by a bad start, he checked in sixth to champion Hansen.
Stealcase boasts solid maiden form from Gulfstream. Fourth to subsequent Grade 2 Hutcheson conqueror Thunder Moccasin in a key maiden, he defeated the up-and-coming Windsurfer in his next appearance.
Mr. Prankster, from the Mike Maker barn, is the local representative. A dynamic winner of the first two legs of the track's sophomore series, the Turfway Prevue and W.E.B.N. Stakes, he was a disappointing fourth in the March 3 John Battaglia Memorial. Maker was not happy with the ride that Mr. Prankster got that day, and has opted to make a rider switch to Rosie Napravnik for the Spiral.
Mr. Prankster will be joined by stablemate Tizanexpense, who wintered at Fair Grounds. The Tiznow colt fought to two narrow wins in off-the-turf events, but was a wide-trip seventh to El Padrino and Mark Valeski in the Grade 2 Risen Star last out.
Ill Conceived, the near-miss runner-up in the Battaglia, returns from his Parx base for the Spiral. The John Servis pupil promises to flash early speed with Stewart Elliott.
D. Wayne Lukas dispatches Red Jack, who was beaten in a $50,000 claimer at Oaklawn, and Justin Sallusto sends the maiden Coach Royal from Palm Meadows.
On the undercard, eight sophomores not quite ready for the Spiral will contest the $75,000 Rushaway Stakes. Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred Gung Ho, last seen finishing seventh in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity, kicks off his 2012 campaign for Maker. The son of Kitten's Joy has fired a pair of bullets recently and appears primed to return, but will be conceding his opponents six pounds as the 124-pound highweight.
Dynamical exits a third in the Battaglia over this same 1 1/16-mile trip. Interestingly, he was also runner-up in that same Gulfstream maiden in which Went the Day Well was fourth. Dynamical is one of two from the Casse barn, along with Bluedacious, the third-place finisher from last year's Grade 3 Grey Stakes at Woodbine.
Flashy Dresser steps up off a smashing 6 3/4-length debut maiden win at Gulfstream for Fred Seitz, and Gold Megillah has been running sneakily-well on the Gulfstream turf for Motion. Last time out, Gold Megillah raced in tight quarters en route to a third behind Pletcher's promising Our Entourage.