03/25/2011 1:53PM

Rushaway has major contender in Crimson China

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FLORENCE, Ky. - Given a choice, Barry Irwin might have preferred that Animal Kingdom and Crimson China switch places on the Saturday program at Turfway Park. But due to eligibility criteria, Animal Kingdom runs in the $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes while Crimson China settles for a berth in the $100,000 Rushaway Stakes on the undercard.

Those leanings might change, of course, depending on what transpires Saturday. Going in, Irwin said he might have given a slight nod to Crimson China "because he's got more of a dirt pedigree" and therefore could make a more viable candidate for the Kentucky Derby, "but honestly, it's hard for me to separate the two."

KENTUCKY DERBY NEWS: Track all the 3-year-olds on the Triple Crown trail

Since Animal Kingdom is one of the program selections for the Spiral, it would logically follow that Crimson China, owned by the Team Valor International group headed by Irwin, is a major threat in the Rushaway, an ungraded race at 1 1/16 miles.

Crimson China, with Alan Garcia to ride, comes well drawn in post position 2 among nine 3-year-olds in the Rushaway. After two races on Polytrack in England, Crimson China, a son of Giant's Causeway, was shipped to Graham Motion in south Florida, where he raced once, winning with flair in a Feb. 16 turf allowance at Gulfstream Park.

Interestingly, four others in the Rushaway also exit Gulfstream turf races to form the core of his opposition: Swift Warrior, Disfraz, and the uncoupled Darrin Miller entry of Ocasta and Swagger Jack.

The wild card of the group seems to be The Ole Gen, a Brereton Jones homebred who suddenly came alive by easily winning an allowance race last month at Oaklawn Park in his lone start at 3.

This will be the 27th running of the Rushaway, which boasts millionaire Brass Hat (2004) and Blue Grass Stakes winner Dominican (2007) as its most accomplished recent graduates. The Rushaway directly precedes the Spiral as the ninth of 12 races, with post time set for 5:02 p.m. Eastern.

Queen: Pletcher has two contenders

Todd Pletcher, with Michael McCarthy deputizing, has reestablished a presence in Kentucky, having set up shop in Barn 34 at Churchill Downs. Stark evidence of this recent development comes with the first of five stakes on the Saturday card, the $50,000 Queen Stakes (race 6, 3:35), a six-furlong race in which Pletcher will run the daunting pair of Happy Week and Midst, who run uncoupled for wagering purposes.

"Both have come on well over the winter in Florida, and this looks like a great spot to try and add some black type to their pages," said McCarthy. "If they handle the synthetic, they should both make things interesting."

Aside from the Pletcher pair, the Queen also attracted Hyperlink, a two-time winner in Florida this winter for Ken McPeek. Seven fillies and mares go.

Hansel: Wide-open race

Undeniable depth helps to make the Hansel Stakes (race 7, 4:04) a terrific betting event, with a half-dozen or more in the full field of 3-year-olds having a rightful pre-race claim to victory. Among the top contenders in the six-furlong Hansel are Murjan, Getaway Guy, Ghost Is Clear, Philippe, Inhisglory, and Birdie Beats Par.
Murjan, unraced since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, adds blinkers following a nice series of works for Miller.

For a sleeper, Chasing Moonlight exits a better-than-looked career debut at Tampa Bay Downs and will make his first start Saturday in the care of trainer Tom Albertrani. Javier Castellano picks up the mount.