Grade III Spiral Stakes Analysis, Turfway Park – 3/22/2014

Break from Gate Editorial_659x378The Grade III Spiral Stakes will be run at Turfway Park on Saturday, with post time set for 6:28 ET. The Spiral has yielded some winners in the past that ultimately became very talented runners, including Animal Kingdom, Hard Spun and Flower Alley. Will there be another Animal Kingdom that comes out of this race and goes on to win the Kentucky Derby? Time will tell. Let’s take a quick look at some of the contenders for this year’s running of the Spiral Stakes.

Tamarando will likely be the favorite for this edition of the Spiral, and based off of his synthetic track record, he should be. Shipping in from Northern California for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Tamarando is the only multiple graded stakes winner in the field and has the benefit of having top jockey Russell Baze aboard. His closing running style means he’ll be at the mercy of pace and trip, but on his best day he’s a definite contender in this spot.

Almost Famous is a runner out of the Patrick Byrne barn that did no running at all in the Fountain of Youth last month at Gulfstream, mainly due to an early issue just out of the starting gate. He’s a horse that should be forwardly placed in this race, and on his best day has every right to be considered a player. He won’t be my selection, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this son of Unbridled’s Song run a big one.

Solitary Ranger is a horse coming off of a nice score in the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway last month, done so in front running fashion. He’ll face pressure early from Almost Famous on his outside, but I’d imagine jockey Florent Geroux makes sure that this son of U S Ranger clears the field and gets to the lead. I love the fact that he’s won over three different tracks – Arlington’s polytrack, Fair Grounds’ yielding turf course, and Turfway’s polytrack. This horse has to be looked at as a gate-to-wire threat in this race.

We Miss Artie comes into the Spiral Stakes off a really poor effort in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream last month, and I truly believe it’s because this horse wants no part of a dirt surface. Luckily for this son of Artie Schiller, the Spiral is run on polytrack – which is much more comparable to turf than dirt. He should relish the synthetic surface at Turfway, and it never hurts when you’ve got John Velazquez aboard. This Pletcher entrant is sure to take quite a bit of money on Saturday, and I’d expect him to bounce back in a big way.

I love Coastline in this spot, and he’s going to be my selection to win the Spiral Stakes on Saturday. His race in the Southwest Stakes last month at Oaklawn was rather disappointing when you look at the beautiful trip he got, but I’ll attribute that to a horse that is still improving and the competition he was running against – the Southwest has come back to be a relatively live race with runners like Tapiture and Ride On Curlin running big in the Rebel Stakes last week. Coastline figures to sit within a length or two of the horses on the front end and get first run on the likes of We Miss Artie, Tamarando and Poker Player. This horse won impressively in his only start over a synthetic surface (Oct. 5, MSW @ Keeneland) and the notable workouts he’s had at the Ocala Training Center (all-weather track) recently suggest to me that he’s ready to flourish on Saturday. I like Coastline to win the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park.

SELECTION: 5 – Coastline, Stewart Elliott; ML 8-1

Matt Bernier picMatt Bernier was the youngest qualifier to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) this past year and he is one of the stars of the Esquire TV series Horseplayers. is pleased to offer his educational and expert analysis of major stakes races.

Grade III Gotham Stakes Analysis, Aqueduct Racetrack – 3/1/2014

The Grade III Gotham Stakes will be run tomorrow at Aqueduct, with post time set for 4:17 ET. After breaking this race down, I’m not sure that there are any true Kentucky Derby prospects in the field. That said – I feel like this could be “leg two” of what could be a truly great racing rivalry between two solid New York breds.

When looking at incremental splits, you’d have to believe Joe Rocco, Jr. will be sending In Trouble to the front. The Tony Dutrow entrant hasn’t been seen since winning the Grade II Futurity at Belmont in September, but there’s no denying that the colt has talent. After sitting close to the pace in each of his two victories as a two year old sprinting, I’d expect him to be the pacemaker while stretching out to two turns for the first time in his career. Dutrow is solid when it comes to having horses ready off reasonably long layoffs, but I’m still going to take a wait and see approach with this son of Tiz Wonderful.

 “Call me pessimistic, call me what you will – I don’t like to play horses that have a penchant for coming up short time and time again. “

Whenever Todd Pletcher has a three year old entered in a Kentucky Derby prep, you can be sure people will be talking about him. Pletcher will send out a Tapit colt named Harpoon in the Gotham, and he’s sure to attract plenty of attention at the windows. After a less-than-stellar trip in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa which resulted in a nosed out second, many said he was the horse that you should take out of that race. I’m not sold just yet…whether he was unlucky or not in the Grade III Davis, facts are facts – this horse has run second in four of his five career starts. Call me pessimistic, call me what you will – I don’t like to play horses that have a penchant for coming up short time and time again. I’ll pass on Harpoon.

Extrasexyhippzster is an interesting entrant that is shipping into Long Island from his home in Maryland, and he could very well prove to be a formidable foe in the Gotham. The Michael Trombetta trained runner has won back-t0-back  listed stakes by open lengths, and the real positive about this colt is the fact that he’s won said races over both the Aqueduct inner dirt and the main track at Laurel Park. The water is considerably deeper in this spot, but he should sit a very nice, stalking trip and could be the main threat to two horses I think are the class of the field.

Just because I don’t think there are any Kentucky Derby prospects doesn’t mean there aren’t any nice horses in this year’s Gotham. Uncle Sigh and Samraat each ran a race for the ages in the Grade III Withers at the beginning of February, and I expect each of them to run similar races here in this spot, as well. I don’t like either of their pedigrees when it comes to the ten furlongs of the Kentucky Derby, mainly because they each have Indian Charlie influences – and Indian Charlie’s best runners excel between six and eight and a half furlongs. Lucky for all of us, the Gotham is run at eight and a half furlongs. Samraat got the better of Uncle Sigh in the Withers, but I expect Uncle Sigh to turn the tables tomorrow for one major reason – the weight break. In the Withers, Uncle Sigh carried 116 pounds and Samraat carried 118 pounds, with Samraat’s final margin of victory being a length. Tomorrow’s scenario is different – Samraat will carry 123 pounds to Uncle Sigh’s 116. I’m not huge on the whole “carrying more weight” angle…at the end of the day I’m not convinced a 1,200 pound animal is going to be able to tell the difference between 126 pounds and 123 pounds. That said, when there is a seven pound weight break between two horses that were so close in their prior race, I can’t help but think the weight difference is beneficial to Uncle Sigh. I like Uncle Sigh to win the Grade III Gotham at Aqueduct.

SELECTION: #4 – Uncle Sigh, Corey Nakatani; ML 3-1

Matt Bernier picMatt Bernier was the youngest qualifier to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) this past year and he is one of the stars of the Esquire series Horseplayers.  This is his first guest post for