03/20/2012 1:22PM

Turfway: Casse has Stealcase ready for synthetic start in Spiral

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Tom Keyser
Stealcase is one of as many as 12 3-year-olds expected for Saturday's Spiral at Turfway.

Mark Casse has become arguably the preeminent trainer at Woodbine in Canada, where the main racing surface has been Polytrack since August 2006. With more than 400 wins at Woodbine since 2007, Casse clearly knows how to prepare a horse to win over a synthetic track, and that’s just what he has been busy doing lately with a colt named Stealcase.

Stealcase is one of as many as 12 3-year-olds expected Saturday for a wide-open renewal of the $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park in northern Kentucky. The Grade 3 race goes at 1 1/8 miles on Polytrack, and although Stealcase has never raced over a synthetic track, he has trained over one, and Casse believes the colt could be a major threat Saturday.

[LIVE VIDEO: Watch Saturday's full Turfway card on DRF.com]

Stealcase, by Lawyer Ron, most recently ran sixth behind juvenile champion Hansen in the March 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. Before that, the colt won a two-turn maiden race over the Gulfstream Park dirt in the third race of his career.

From the start, the Gotham was an adventure for Stealcase, a late-striding chestnut. Leaving the gate, “he nearly fell down,” said Casse. “Aqueduct was really speed-biased that day, and our plan was to be very close to the lead, but after that break he lost all chance. I’m not saying I think he would have beaten Hansen that day, but I think we’d have given the second-place horse” – My Adonis – “a run for his money.

“So he had a serious excuse for that race, but he still has to step up. He still has to prove he can run with the big boys. He needs to be first or second in the Spiral. Then the next step would be the Blue Grass” on April 14 over the Polytrack at Keeneland.

Stealcase, with Rajiv Maragh riding for the first time, figures as one of the middling wagering choices in a field lacking a clear-cut favorite. Among the probable choices are the uncoupled Todd Pletcher duo of Heavy Breathing and Holiday Promise, and two California shippers, Handsome Mike and Russian Greek, the respective third- and fifth-place finishers in the El Camino Real Derby last month at Golden Gate Fields.

Doug O’Neill, who already has I’ll Have Another as a major candidate for the May 5 Kentucky Derby, is the trainer of Handsome Mike, while Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, a two-time Spiral winner, trains California Derby winner Russian Greek.

Other Spiral probables include Coach Royal, Ill Conceived, Mr. Prankster, Red Jack, Tizanexpense, and Went the Day Well.

The 41st Spiral is one of four stakes, all for 3-year-olds, to be run on the Saturday program. The others are the $100,000 Bourbonette, the $75,000 Rushaway, and the $50,000 Hansel. General admission is $10.

Turfway will not be hosting its annual draw luncheon Thursday but instead will have the draw in the racing office. The “Call to the Post” charity reception is scheduled for Thursday evening at the track.

The Spiral and Bourbonette will be televised live on the NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) as the first of six major prep races on its “The Road to the Derby” series.

Last year, Animal Kingdom won the Spiral in his final prep before capturing the Kentucky Derby in his next start. He became the second horse to pull that double, following Lil E. Tee in 1992.