03/31/2016 1:50PM

King: Believe in Larry Jones? Believe in Jensen!

Barbara D. Livingston
Grand Tito won the 1 3/8-mile Mac Diarmida in his last start. He must go an extra furlong in the Pan American on Saturday.

Upon examining the past performances of Saturday’s Grade 3 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, I initially turned my attention away from Jensen and toward other horses, knowing that many winners of this race have been either proven turf or synthetic performers. Jensen has made all four of his starts on dirt.

Then trainer Larry Jones talked me into supporting him. Well, not literally, but by his decision to run him there.

I have long liked the angle of supporting a horse when a trainer shows faith that he can do the unexpected, provided, of course, that the trainer is a winner. And Jones is that.

:: Spiral Stakes: Buy PPs, watch Saturday’s card live

So, as I pondered Jensen in greater detail, I kept coming back to the confidence Jones is displaying by running the colt in the Spiral and not a major race on dirt, such as the Louisiana Derby, Blue Grass, or Lexington. If he had run in the Louisiana Derby, for example, Jensen would have been racing at a track where he is a two-time winner. And the Blue Grass and Lexington are at Keeneland, where Jones trains in the spring.

So, reading between the lines, by opting for this race, Jones sure seems confident that Jensen will take to the Polytrack surface at Turfway – especially when you consider that Jones owns Jensen with his wife, Cindy.

And in a race that is a little puzzling, that was the only push I needed. Besides, it is not as if the horse hasn’t shown talent. First or second in all four of his starts, he enters the Spiral off a dominant allowance score in a route Feb. 25 at Fair Grounds, even after a somewhat awkward step right after the start.

He is also versatile, having shown that he can win on the lead or from off the pace. And as a bonus, he has a winning rider in Florent Geroux.

At 6-1 on the morning line, Jensen is more of a value play than a high-percentage winner. I view him, along with a few others, as having relatively equal chances of victory. But the others don’t offer the price he does, provided he sticks to his morning line.

His chief rivals also come with drawbacks, though of a different variety than Jensen’s lack of experience on Polytrack. Airoforce and Ralis enter the race with questionable form, and Kasseopeia and Azar haven’t run particularly fast, with both having a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 82.

So, my hope is that Jones is right about Jensen taking to the Turfway Polytrack, a surface that his grandsire, Hard Spun, handled in 2007 when he won this race when it was called the Lane’s End.

Pan American Stakes

Among the many stakes at Gulfstream on Saturday that are part of a 14-race Florida Derby card, no race is more appealing to me than the Grade 2 Pan American, where Grand Tito is my choice.

I overlooked him in the Mac Diarmida last out March 5, when he was stretching out to a three-turn grass race for the first time after running in shorter contests. And though he was a little keen early, he settled down after passing the stands for the first time and proved clearly superior over runner-up Kaigun.

Though he is now stretching out a furlong to 1 1/2 miles and picking up four pounds off his recent victory, I doubt that will stop him. If anything, he should be a little more relaxed with the experience of having now raced three turns.

:: Florida Derby: Buy PPs, watch Saturday’s card live

Perfect in two starts this winter at Gulfstream, Grand Tito is at his best on this course, where he has recorded five of his seven turf victories.

As for the rail-drawn Kaigun, he may very well get a ground-saving trip, as he did in the Mac Diarmida, though in the end, it wasn’t enough for him to catch Grand Tito.

Wake Forest is also somewhat interesting, making his first start for trainer Chad Brown. Primarily raced overseas, he last started Aug. 15, finishing sixth in the Arlington Million over a course that was hammered with rain late that afternoon.

Both Kaigun and Wake Forest have the potential to challenge, but neither holds the overall appeal of Grand Tito.