Updated on 03/22/2017 2:09PM

Spiral Stakes contenders don't have Derby fever – yet

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Barbara D. Livingston
Spiral Stakes contender Kitten's Cat wins the Kitten's Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February.

FLORENCE, Ky. – Not a single one of the 3-year-olds entered in the Spiral Stakes had blipped the Kentucky Derby radar before this week. Still, a victory in the Turfway Park showcase on Saturday equates to a spot in the Derby starting gate, although most horsemen this side of Ken Ramsey aren’t quite ready to fully commit to proceeding that way in case they win.

“We’ll take it one step at a time, I suppose,” said trainer Eddie Kenneally, who will send out a dark bay colt named Parlor as one of the top contenders in the Grade 3, $500,000 Spiral. “We’ll evaluate our situation after he runs.”

Parlor has never raced on dirt, which calls into serious question his legitimacy as a Derby threat, even if he happens to romp in the Spiral. For that matter, neither has Kitten’s Cat, who likely will be favored in the 1 1/8-mile race for Ramsey – who needs not even be asked his intentions in regard to the Derby – and trainer Joe Sharp.

Parlor, owned by Ohio businessman Brad Anderson, has shown real promise in three career starts, all on turf, which has led Kenneally to send him north from his winter base at the Palm Meadows training center in south Florida. Turf horses have been known to run well over the Polytrack surface that has been in use at Turfway since 2005.

Parlor was sired by the Australian stallion Lonhro, whose top North American progeny, Shakhimat and Isotherm, have done their best on turf and synthetics.

Parlor is “a pretty good grass horse,” said Kenneally. “You hope that will translate to him liking the Poly. All that aside, this is a nice purse that you don’t want to pass up. He’s a solid horse. It’s just a question of who’s going to love the track. Some have never run on that kind of track.”

One of the late Triple Crown nominees announced Wednesday, Parlor easily defeated a solid field of allowance horses in his last start Feb. 22 at Tampa Bay Downs. Jesus Castanon was aboard that day and retains the mount Saturday.

“He’s a very talented horse,” said Castanon, best known for his 2011 Preakness win aboard Shackleford. “I’m excited to be riding him back again.”

The Spiral and the Sunland Derby on Sunday are the last 85-point qualifying races for the May 6 Derby, with 50 points going to the winners. The remaining Derby preps escalate to 100 points for the winner, except for the April 15 Lexington Stakes (10 points).

Animal Kingdom the benchmark

Animal Kingdom, who used the Spiral as his final prep before winning the 2011 Kentucky Derby, remains the exception to the rule about how Turfway’s signature event has impacted the Derby in recent years.

Two of the last five Spiral winners, Black Onyx (2013) and Dubai Sky (2015), missed the Derby because of injury. Went the Day Well (2012) was fourth at 30-1, We Miss Artie (2014) was 10th at 27-1, and Oscar Nominated (2016) was 17th at 42-1.

After the Spiral, the last five winners have combined for a 3-for-29 record, with the only victory on dirt coming from Went the Day Well in a New York-bred allowance on the Aqueduct inner track in January 2015.

Oscar Nominated and We Miss Artie were two of three Spiral winners for Ramsey and his wife, Sarah. The other was Dean’s Kitten (2010), who ran 14th at 25-1 in the Derby.

Sweezey going on his own

Kent Sweezey is coming home. Sweezey has been allotted six stalls at the Trackside training center in Louisville, where he will embark on a solo training career using his home state of Kentucky as his primary base.

Sweezey, 31, has worked the last seven years in California and New York as a stable hand and assistant for Eoin Harty, Christophe Clement, and, most recently, Jimmy Jerkens. For Jerkens, he worked closely with such stars as Wicked Strong, Effinex, Unified, and Shaman Ghost.

“Jimmy’s the best,” said Sweezey, who spent his youth in both Lexington and Louisville. “It’s been great to learn under him. The horse always comes first.”

Sweezey said he hopes to run his first starter, Lela’s Gift, on April 9 at Keeneland. The 3-year-old filly is owned in partnership by Sweezey’s father, Wayne, a principal owner of Timber Town Stable in Lexington.

◗ Weather-wise, the bad news for Saturday in northern Kentucky is that periodic rain is in the forecast. The good news: The high temperature is expected to reach 70, and, more importantly, there’s not supposed to be the kind of conditions that ruined the afternoon for many racegoers last year on Spiral Day, when gale-force winds forced the evacuation of the huge party tent midway through the card.

It was the second time Spiral Day had been adversely affected by wind. In 1998, the race was postponed until the next day after wind knocked out electrical power.

◗ With no Sunday racing at Turfway, only three days (March 30 to April 1) will remain at the winter-spring meet following the Spiral card. The Kentucky circuit will then go dark for five days before the 15-day Keeneland spring meet starts April 7.