APRIL 1 BARN NOTES: HORSESHOE CASINO CINCINNATI SPIRAL STAKES (G3)
FLORENCE, Ky. (April 1, 2016) – The fields for the Rushaway Stakes, Bourbonette Oaks (G3) and Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (G3) are ready for Saturday’s showdown at Turfway Park, with the early scratch of Lope from the Bourbonette allowing CASTIEL’S ANGEL to draw in for trainer Tom Amoss. The Rushaway now counts 11 starters with the scratch of Joy Drive. There are no changes to the field for the Spiral Stakes.
SPIRAL FAVORITE AIROFORCE LOOKS TO REBOUND FROM RISEN STAR DISAPPOINTMENT
John Oxley’s Airoforce, the 3-1 morning line favorite for Saturday’s $500,000 Spiral Stakes, is seeking to recapture the form that made him a Grade 2 winner in November against a field laden with future Derby contenders. Left in his wake in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in November were second-place finisher Mor Spirit, subsequent winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and the Bob Lewis Stakes (G3) for Bob Baffert; third-place finisher Mo Tom, the Lecomte Stakes winner (G3) who is on his way to the Derby after big efforts but bad trips in the Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2); fourth-place finisher Gun Runner, the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby hero; and eighth-place runner Tom’s Ready, the Louisiana Derby runner-up.
“You never really know how good a race is until three, four, five months later,” trainer Mark Casse said. “I thought it was a good race. I mean, with Gun Runner coming out of there and Bob’s horse, who would have thought? I thought it was a very strong race but I didn’t know it was going to be as good a race as it turned out to be.”
The company he beat then helped make Airoforce the betting favorite when he made his 3-year-old debut in the Risen Star. The Colonel John colt never made it into contention, though, and came in a distant 10th.
“We’re still not really sure what happened,” Casse said. “Julien [Leparoux] said he was running along nice, thought he was in a good spot, and at the half-mile pole he just kind of threw his head up. I think initially Julien was concerned that maybe something had gone wrong and he kind of just let him gallop along from that point on.
“We brought him to Ocala, which is home for us, and went over him from head to tail and really haven’t found a whole lot to give him an excuse. The only thing I would say after the race at the Fair Grounds, he did cough a lot. He was just choking and coughing after the race. It didn’t take him long to recover, he wasn’t really tired, but he did do a lot of choking and coughing. We don’t really know why. He’s come back, he’s trained very well and we think that the Spiral makes sense.”
The Ocala Training Center affords Casse the opportunity to work his horses over an all-weather track that, while not identical to the Polytrack at Turfway, does give reason to hope that Airoforce will take to the surface in Florence.
“Early on when I brought him back to Ocala he trained on the dirt, but his last two breezes I did take him to OBS, which is called Safetrack,” said Casse. “So his last two breezes have been on the synthetic and we were very pleased.”
With 10 “Road to the Derby” points already to his name from the Kentucky Jockey Club, even a third-place finish in the Spiral, worth another 10, could put Airoforce back in the Derby conversation.
“If they were running the Kentucky Derby at the Fair Grounds I’d say there was probably no chance we were running in the Derby,” said Casse. “I’ve told you this for 15 years or so, it’s my feeling that horses that have a turf tendency or a synthetic tendency seem to be able to handle Churchill better than the average dirt track. That’s keeping us in the game.
“A lot of people ask, ‘If he runs good this weekend would you consider the Derby again?’ and of course we would consider it, but right now we’re just looking for a good race this weekend.”
MOTION SCHOOLING KASSEOPIA FOR A BETTER START
In light of a slow start that left him with a lot to do to close into a soft pace, Team Valor International and Gary Barber’s KASSEOPIA (GB) put in an impressive run to get third in February’s El Camino Real Derby (G3) at Golden Gate Fields. The El Camino Real was his first start in the U.S. and first try as a 3-year-old.
“I think he did everything he could have possibly done considering the start he got off to,” three-time Spiral-winning trainer Graham Motion said from Keeneland this morning. “The frustrating part of it is that he actually had to run very hard to do what he did. What ended up as being a fairly inconsequential race because of the way he started, he had a pretty hard race that day.”
Kasseopia didn’t stumble or get bumped; he just wasn’t focused on the task at hand.
“This horse is extremely laid back, very kind, very relaxed, and that’s what you want in a horse,” Motion said. “But it’s almost like he went to sleep and it surprised him when the gates opened.”
To remedy the lackadaisical behavior, Motion has taken the English-bred son of Showcasing to the starting gate multiple times in recent mornings for extra schooling.
“He was pretty forward,” Motion said. “I wouldn’t say he breaks like a sprinter or anything like that but I certainly expect him to break better on Saturday, and he needs to, otherwise it’s going to compromise him again.”
With seven weeks since the El Camino Real, the muscular chestnut Kasseopia has had plenty of time to recover and prepare for a final shot at qualifying for the Kentucky Derby.
“This was the race that was obvious to us,” Motion said. “We’ve had luck in this race and the timing was great.”
Motion and Team Valor have teamed up to win this race twice before, in 2011 with Animal Kingdom, the last Spiral winner to go on to Kentucky Derby glory, and in 2012 with Went the Day Well, campaigned in partnership with Mark Ford. Motion’s first Spiral win came in 2008 with Courtlandt Farm’s Adriano.
CONTESSA SEES ADVANTAGE IN ALL-WEATHER EXPERIENCE
With two wins over all-weather surfaces already to his credit, DON’T BE SO SALTY has a definite advantage in the Spiral Stakes, said Gary Contessa, who trains the Tiz Wonderful gelding for Joseph Rallo’s Platinum Seven LLC, Dan Guarino and Julia C. Boutelle.
“I like everything about this race,” said Contessa. “Most of the field has never been on Polytrack. I think it creates a major question mark for those horses. It’s not unlike running on turf for the first time or on mud for the first time. You don’t know until they try it. To our advantage, we know our horse likes it. He’s run twice over it and won both times.”
Don’t Be So Salty’s first win over an all-weather surface came in a September allowance race at Presque Isle Downs in his third career start, when he dominated by nearly 10 lengths. His second win came on the Polytrack at Woodbine in the Display Stakes in November, when he led all the way and held on by a neck.
Don’t Be So Salty’s speed is the second consideration for Contessa, and the trainer finds another advantage in the post draw. Don’t Be So Salty and jockey Cornelio Velasquez drew post four in the field of 12.
“The horse we have to beat, because he’s the only other speed horse, is Jensen, and he’s to our inside, so my horse will be able to get a good look at him. I really think the race will set up depending on what Jensen does at the break. My horse likes to be in front but he doesn’t have to be in front. We’ll expect to break as if he’s going to lead, but if Jensen goes, we’ll sit back. If he doesn’t, we’ll be on the lead. It’s really a jockey’s decision.”
The Display Stakes covered 1-1/16 miles; the Spiral is half a furlong farther. Of the Spiral field, only Kasseopia has run nine furlongs, finishing third in the El Camino Real after the aforementioned slow break. As a frontrunner going that distance, Don’t Be So Salty’s performance on Saturday depends on the pace, Contessa said.
“If the pace is soft he should be able to get that extra half furlong. If he’s on the lead and gets tested early, that last half-furlong could be tough. I do believe he has it in him to get the distance.
JONES LOOKS FOR WIN 1,000 ON SATURDAY
Should Jensen get the best of Don’t Be So Salty and the rest, the win would mark win 1,000 or 1,001 for trainer Larry Jones. Coming into Saturday, Jones has 999 career wins. In addition to Jensen in the Spiral, he also has HE’LL PAY in the Rushaway, the eighth race, and JAZZ MAN in the 11th race.
The Spiral Stakes is the 10th of 12 races on Saturday’s card and goes off at 5:43 p.m. ET. First post is 1:10 p.m.