03/21/2012 12:13PM

Turfway Park: Handsome Mike has plenty to prove in Spiral Stakes

Shigeki Kikkawa
Handsome Mike will be ridden by Joel Rosario in Saturday's Grade 3 Spiral Stakes.

Doug O’Neill already has a leading candidate for the May 5 Kentucky Derby in I’ll Have Another, winner of the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes last month at Santa Anita. But it never hurts a trainer to have a little backup.

That’s a main reason O’Neill has sent Handsome Mike from Southern California to Turfway Park in northern Kentucky, where on Saturday a full gate of 3-year-olds is expected for the Grade 3, $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes. Handsome Mike, like pretty much every other horse in the Spiral field, has yet to prove himself Derby-worthy, but that all could change in less than two minutes Saturday. Interest is heightened in this 41st running of the Spiral, partly because of what transpired last year when Animal Kingdom prevailed in his final prep before capturing the Derby.

Handsome Mike, a Scat Daddy colt owned by J. Paul Reddam, finished third after forcing the pace as the 2-1 favorite in his last start, the Feb. 18 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

“We were happy with it,” O’Neill said. “We were hoping we could get him to settle more. A longshot went with him and that took a toll. He’s been progressing in his maturity since then.”

Handsome Mike was one of two California prospects scheduled to arrive Wednesday at Turfway for the Spiral, which is run at 1 1/8 miles on Polytrack. The other, Russian Greek, worked a half-mile Tuesday in 48.20 seconds before leaving Hollywood Park for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

Handsome Mike will have one of the star jockeys in North America aboard for the first time Saturday when Joel Rosario takes the call. Russian Greek will have Corey Nakatani up. Other top riders in for the day include John Velazquez, who rides Went the Day Well; Javier Castellano, aboard Heavy Breathing; and Rajiv Maragh on Stealcase. Entries were to be taken and drawn Thursday.

The Spiral is one of four stakes, all for 3-year-olds, set for Saturday at Turfway, with the others being the $100,000 Bourbonette, the $75,000 Rushaway, and the $50,000 Hansel.

The 1 1/16-mile Rushaway will have one of the more intriguing runners on the card in Flashy Dresser, who got an 89 Beyer Speed Figure in winning a Gulfstream maiden race by 6 3/4 lengths in his only career start.

“I nominated him to the Spiral, but thought it’d be too big a step up, so the Rushaway looked like a good idea,” owner-trainer Fred Seitz said. “Yes, I had quite a few people call about buying him, but after a day or two of discussions, I decided not to talk about it anymore,” adding, with a laugh: “I guess I’m foolish enough to keep him.”

The Spiral and Bourbonette will be televised live on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) as the first of six major prep races on its “The Road to the Derby” series. Laffit Pincay III will anchor the one-hour telecast (5-6 p.m. Eastern). The Bourbonette will be the ninth and the Spiral the 10th of 12 races. First post is 1:10 p.m.

As with much of the United States, the weather in the Greater Cincinnati area has been far warmer than usual in recent days, with high temperatures soaring well into the 80s early this week. Thunderstorms and a cooling trend were the forecast for Friday, however, with the raceday forecast calling for scattered showers and a high of 69.