(WHAS11)-- A half a million dollar purse and a chance to run on synthetic turf has brought together a competitive, but second tier group of Derby contenders for the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park. And as mediocre as this field might seem, it will probably produce a Derby runner.
The Spiral is the annual spring highlight for Turfway, a race track that is a leading example of thoroughbred racing without income from alternative sources.
Churchill has the Derby. Keeneland has the horse sales, and even Kentucky Downs has instant racing machines. Turfway has trouble.
First the Kentucky Cup races were cancelled and then the entire September meet went to Churchill. Now, Turfway struggles through the winter with a procession of $5,000 claiming races but still maintains a Polytrack road to the Derby.
The Spiral is ironically, the original name for this Derby prep but it was the Jim Beam Stakes from 1982 to 1998 when whiskey was the sponsor.
Now the race is sponsored by part owner Horseshoe Casino of Cincinnati. Ironically, it is competition from nearby casinos that has battered the old race track financially.
And although Turfway has experienced tough times recently, its signature race has a tradition of producing runners and winners. Lil E. Tee won both the Jim Beam and the Derby. Other memorable winners include, Summer Squall, Hansel, Serena's Song, Perfect Drift, Flower Alley and of course, Animal Kingdom in 2011.
Is there another Kentucky Derby winner lurking in the field of 12 at Turfway? It doesn't seem likely but it's always possible.
Perhaps the best known entry is Tamarando a multiple graded stakes winner from trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Tamarando is the 3-1 morning line favorite and won the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate. He has four wins on synthetic race tracks.
Solitary Ranger will try to make it two in a row at Turfway after winning the John Battaglia Stakes in wire to wire fashion. But this time, the Ranger draws the 8 hole and may be pressed to make the lead.
We Miss Artie won the Grade (I) Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last fall. That was his only race on Polytrack and Todd Pletcher returns this horse to synthetic and brings in John Velazquez to ride. The 4-1 morning line seems about right.
Mark Casse continues to look for a breakout race from the gray Coastline.
The son of Speightstown has a fourth in the Southwest Stakes and a third in the Smarty Jones. But he broke his maiden on Poly at Keeneland.
It may depend on how the Turfway track is playing that day, but if it favors a closer then Poker Player, who is Solitary Ranger's stablemate, could be the one running at the wire. The son of Harlan's Holiday was second in the Battaglia although five lengths back.
And if you're looking for a long shot (and who isn't) Big Bazinga posted a nice speed figure while winning a 7 1/2 furlong grass race at Gulfstream. He also had two nice races on synthetic at Woodbine last year.
Harry's Holiday is back for another try after a third in the Battaglia and a front running win in a small Turfway Stakes race on February first.
And we probably shouldn't forget the other Pletcher entry, All Tied Up, from Dogwood Stables. The horse has two wins in seven races, all on grass. He's never run on Poly but the numbers are trending the right way.
And finally Pat Byrne brings in Almost Famous, who has almost been a stakes contender since last fall, but his last race was an eleventh place clunker in the Fountain of Youth.
If you look through all the numbers, the Spiral has a few luke warm favorites and any number of horses that could win with a breakout performance. I think the betting public will have a hard time deciding who to back.
It sizes up as a good betting race, a race where the "all button" might provide a big number in return.