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Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, March 22, 2013 at 12:00 AM

All Eyes On Turfway

The chances are the proverbial slim and none that the Kentucky Derby winner will emerge from Saturday afternoon’s $550,000 Spiral Stakes at Turfway.

For my selections for the Spiral & Rushaway Stakes, click here and get ALL the remaining Derby Preps including Saturday’s races. Or call the John Piesen Hot Line at 1-888-612-2283. You can get my Daily Best Bets here.

Of course most racing folks said the same thing in 2011, but they were proven wrong when Animal Kingdom won the Spiral and the Derby. And last year Went the Day Well, from the same Team Valor people, came out of the Spiral to finish an unlucky fourth in the Derby.

So you never know.

With 50 points awarded to the winner under the new Derby eligibility system, a full field of 12 has been attracted to the Spiral, a Grade 3 at nine furlongs, the longest Derby hopefuls have been asked to go this season.

Eleven of the 12 three-year-olds are shippers. The lone home talent is Mac the Man, a two-time stakes-winner over the track, and the the main speed of the race with Norberto Arroyo, the leading whippersnapper at the Florence, Ky., oval.

Yes, that’s the same Norberto Arroyo who, years back, spent hard time in New York on drug charges. What a great story it would be if Arroyo wins this race.

And it’s possible. Turfway is a speed-favoring track, and if these world-class trainers instruct their world-class riders to rate, Mac the Man could be long gone. If nothing else, MTM is worth a small saver.

But assuming MTH doesn’t wire the Spiral field, we are looking at one of the most wide-open 3-year-old stakes in memory. A far cry from the 80s, when Pat Day seemed to win the Spiral (when it was the Jim Beam Stakes) every year on a 4-5 shot.

One of those years was 1985 when Day won the race, and two days later Villanova upset Georgetown two hours down Highway 71 in Lexington to win the NCAA basketball championship. Interesting that now, a quarter-century later, the NCAA final is three weeks later.

If you took the points and/or money line with Villanova, even if you didn’t, you might want to look for a price for the Spiral on Saturday. My selections will be up and running online and on the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283). I’ve been winning races in bunches lately, suggesting once again that this is my time of the year.

Off his solid 2-year-old lines, Uncaptured, the only horse in the Spiral who is a separate entity in pool three of Churchill Downs" Derby Future Book, will be a lukewarm favorite from trainer Casse and jockey Mena. But this is the first start since Thanksgiving for the Lion Heart colt (and grandson of Tale of the Cat) and Casse, an honest sort, fesses up to the fact that Uncaptured has had some setbacks along the Derby trail,  and that the Spiral was a last resort.

If owner Oxley’s gold and blue silks look familiar, that’s because they were worn by jockey Chavez to a 2000 Derby win on Monarchos.

With a half-mill and the points on the line,  big-name trainers and jocks are coming from all over North America to take their best shots with some talented colts.

There is Balance the Books (Chad Brown, Leparoux); Channel Isle (Lukas, Court); Fear the Kitten (Maker, Rosie); My Name Is Michael (Mott, Rosario); For Greater Glory (Hobby, Albarado); Giant Finish (Dutrow, Espinoza); Taken by the Storm (McPeek, Alan Garcia), and, on the far outside, Capo Bastone (Pletcher, Johnny V).

"That’s not the post I would have chosen," says the Toddster, "but I think Johnny will find a way."

The preceding race, the $100,000 Bourbonette, a Grade 3 for 3-year-old fillies, at a mile, also is a barnburner.

McPeek has the favorite in Pure Fun, who has been off three months since winning the Grade One Hollywood Starlet. The Pure Prize filly has been working lights-out at Gulfstream, Gomez will be in from California to ride her back, and she’s drawn well in post five in a field of 12.

But a word of warning. This is merely a prep for the Kentucky Oaks, and I for one wouldn’t be surprised if the stretch-running Pure Fun comes up a bit short over the notorious speed bias that is Turfway.

Lukas, Pletcher, Maker, Motion and Chad Brown all have contenders in the Bourbonette.

Besides Balance the Books, and Corporate Culture in the Bourbonette, trainer Brown has major players at Aqueduct and Gulfstream, venues where is sending out winners at a 24 per cent clip.

At the Big A, the Brown-trained Last Gunfighter, a wnner of four straight, will be looking for his first graded stakes in the Excelsior, a 150K Grade 3 for 3 and up at nine furlongs. Maragh will break LG from the two-hole in a field of seven that includes 2011 Belmont winner Ruler on Ice.

Seven actually is a big field these days at Aqueduct. Take a look at Saturday’s card and notice how many five and six-horse fields there are competing for 60K-plus in purse money.

I don’t get it. All that money. So few horses.

Brown has two live ones on the grass at Gulfstream -- Vita Vittoria (whose owner is Southwind Stable, named for the summer resort in Marjorie Morningstar)  in race six, a maiden-special, and Street Secret in race eight, an allowance.

For a grass specialist, it’s surprising that CB is passing up the 10th-race feature, the 150K Pan-American, a Grade 2 for 4-and-up at a mile and a half on the green.

Teaks North, the winner of last year’s United Nations at Monmouth, is the one to catch and beat with Prado, who took his Hall of Fame talents to south Florida and, like that other fella, is doing quite well.

As is Brown.

Hard to believe that it was only five years ago that Brown, a disciple of the late Bob Frankel, skipped town (Hot Springs) a month early because he couldn’t buy a winner (0-for-26).

Who woulda known?

Incidentally, old-timers would know Chad’s father-in-law -- Bill (Red) Terrill, who went from a Broadway stagehand to being a sucessful long-time trainer on the New York circuit.

Speaking of long-time successful trainers, James Iselin, who gave us Crafty Prospector, Royal Roberto and Crafty Starlet, as well as -- in a second career -- heavyweight Buster Mathis, has Willet, second in the Go For Wand Stakes last November, close to a comeback race.

Mark that name down on your Horses to Watch list. She’s a runner.

Finally, we’re still not over a tough beat last Saturday in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park.

Our top pick, Den’s Legacy at 14-1, was prepared to make the lead on the rail turning for home, but had the misfortune to get cut off by uncoupled stablemate, the backing-up favorite Super Ninety Nine, and settled for third, beaten two lengths.

Jockey Albarado should have known that the rail is not the place to be...especially wih 600K at stake.

A second hard to believe:

I watched the Rebel at a Jersey OTB, and it was so quiet during the running of the Rebel that you could hear the proverbial pin drop...and five minutes later, the place erupted in noise during race two at The Meadowlands.

What am I missing here?

Despite, his tough beat, Den’s Legacy is deserving of a spot in my latest Derby Top Ten:

Herewith:

HORSE

   TRAINER

    JOCKEY

Orb

McGaughey

Velazquez

Itsmyluckyday

Plesa

Trujillo

Verrazano

Pletcher

Velazquez

Java’s War

McPeek

Martinez

Oxbow

Lukas

Smith

Den’s Legacy

Baffert

Albarado

Code West

Baffert

M. Garcia

Flashpoint

Baffert

Gomez

Vyjack

Rodriguez

Rosario

Shanghai Bobby

Pletcher

Napravnik

Thanks for tuning in. Have a great week, don’t forget the JP Hot Line, and see you back here safe and sound next Friday.

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