We Miss Artie may have finished more than 17 lengths behind the winner in last month's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, but the story could be different Saturday with the Grade 3 Spiral on the Polytrack. A Grade 1 winner over Keeneland's Polytrack last fall, the Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred by Artie Schiller was installed as the 4-1 morning-line second choice for Saturday's $550,000 race at Turfway Park.
"I'm only 78 years old so I only have about 20 or 25 more Kentucky Derbys ahead of me and I'm trying to take every opportunity to get one there," Ken Ramsey said.
If We Miss Artie is going to step up to the Derby, he will have to show an affinity for the Churchill Downs main track that has yet to emerge over other dirt surfaces.
"Stranger things have happened," Ramsey mused. "The track at Churchill Downs is more forgiving so far as Polytrack horses. Animal Kingdom went over there after the Spiral and won it. This horse might just like the dirt over there more than he did the dirt down at Gulfstream; it's two different types of dirt. And if it turns up sloppy that might help him."
We Miss Artie did range into contention during the Fountain of Youth but could not sustain that run against some of Florida's top three-year-olds.
"He didn't really have any excuse that we could find out," Ramsey admitted. "He came out of the race OK."
While Ramsey noted that We Miss Artie may not be a Derby -- that is, dirt -- horse, he noted his colt's success on all-weather surfaces.
"He's good enough to be a Grade 1 winner on the Polytrack down at Keeneland (in the Breeders' Futurity last year)," said Ramsey, who also has a likely contender in Bobby's Kitten for the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass on April 12 at Keeneland.
"I didn't want to run them against each other until we get to the Derby. At this stage of the game we're just trying to get enough points to get in and if we get enough points to get in we'll go. The horse has got the quality, I just don't know if he's a dirt horse or not."
Ramsey hopes to have three horses in the Derby starting gate: his two Polytrack stars as well as Louisiana-bred Vicar's in Trouble, who will run in next weekend's Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.
"If we qualify all three of them that means there'll only be room for 17 others because Ramsey's going to take all three of his spots!" the owner vowed.
Ramsey isn't the only one hoping for a Spiral/classic repeat. The Spiral helped propel Summer Squall to a classic win in the 1990 Preakness for Dogwood Stable, and this year the yellow polka dots of Cot Campbell and his partners will be carried by All Tied Up, a Gulfstream Park allowance winner making both his stakes and Polytrack debut in the 1 1/8-mile race.
"Being a good turf horse and a horse that's on the improve and seeking the distance, we thought he deserved a shot in the Spiral," Campbell explained. "He galloped nicely on the racetrack yesterday and we hope all of our strategy is well-founded."
Although it took a while for the gray son of Even the Score to break his maiden in New York last fall, every effort since has been good enough to keep dreams of the Kentucky Derby alive.
"The last four races he's run he's won two of them and was in a position to win the other two if he could get through," Campbell described. "We think he's crying for a mile-and-an-eighth. It's a shot worth taking. We'd love to win it but we'd be delighted to get a piece of it. He does come from far back and as a result oftentimes in the shorter races he's been unable to get up because he has nowhere to go."
Campbell will not be at Turfway Saturday as he has a starter in the prestigious Aiken Spring Steeplechase in South Carolina the same afternoon. The hope, though, is that he will see All Tied Up in person later this spring at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
"The dream is at least shimmering in the distance," Campbell said.
Smart Cover comes in to the Spiral off an 11th-place finish in the Grade 3 Palm Beach at Gulfstream on March 1, an effort marred by a stumble out of the gate. More telling than the stumble, however, is that the Palm Beach was the dark bay colt's first start since September, when he injured a shin coming out of a close runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Iroquois under the Twin Spires. His previous races give owner Donegal Racing plenty of reason to look for a good effort Saturday.
"We believe Smart Cover is a very live long shot," Donegal managing partner Jerry Crawford stated. "The last race was designed exclusively to leg him up and get him back into shape. We had zero expectations in the last race but thought a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf was a good prep for this race.
"We know he's trained very forwardly since that race. He may be a race away from peaking. Whether he does it or not, who knows, but I firmly believe him capable of winning on Saturday."
Smart Cover broke his maiden on the turf at Ellis Park in his second start, a gritty performance that saw him get up by a nose after repeated bumps. In his third start, he made a huge late run in the Iroquois on the Churchill dirt to finish a quarter-length behind undefeated stablemate Cleburne and a quarter-length ahead of the highly regarded Tapiture. But he has never raced on Polytrack.
"You never know, right?" Crawford said. "He is eligible to do just fine on it, particularly given the influence of (dam sire) Smart Strike. The longer the horses go, the better Smart Cover is going to be.
"We have very high hopes for him. He's very much in the same mold as Donegal horses that have finished third in the Kentucky Derby two of the last four years (Paddy O'Prado in 2010 and Dullahan in 2012) in that he's bred to run a mile-and-a-quarter. We know he loves Churchill Downs so if we can just get him eligible by finishing first or second on Saturday then we'll have to decide if we run in the Blue Grass or just train up to the Derby, like Animal Kingdom. If we don't get him eligible on Saturday then we go on to the Blue Grass.
"A fair amount of my confidence comes from the fact that he seems to have moved forward," Crawford continued. "Corey Lanerie was on him for his last breeze and rode him in the Palm Beach and he says he's a different horse now."