03/21/2013 3:30PM

Weekend Warrior for March 23: Picks for Spiral, Excelsior, Tokyo City Cup

Pat Lang Photography
Mac the Man's speed may enable him to gain an uncontested lead and steal the Spiral Stakes.

Thanks to astute scheduling, Turfway Park gets center stage Saturday with a trio of stakes, led by the Grade 3, $550,000 Spiral Stakes. The other two stakes on Turfway’s card are the Grade 3, $100,000 Bourbonette Oaks and the $75,000 Rushaway. There are three other graded stakes Saturday – the Grade 2, $150,000 Pan American at Gulfstream, the Grade 3, $150,000 Excelsior at Aqueduct, and the Grade 3, $100,000 Tokyo City Cup at Santa Anita.

Spiral Stakes

Uncaptured, who lost only once in seven starts last year, is the tepid morning-line favorite. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t go off the chalk because he has several significant obstacles to overcome, and I doubt that will be lost on the betting public. Uncaptured is making his first start in four months, is returning in a two-turn, nine-furlong race, and his route form last year was suspect. His only loss came in his first attempt at two turns and was a dull fifth at 2-5 in the Grey Stakes. Uncaptured won his other route start, the Kentucky Jockey Club, but that race was painfully slow; his winning Beyer Speed Figure was only 76. Moreover, the three horses who were closest to Uncaptured at the finish of the Kentucky Jockey Club – Frac Daddy, Dewey Square, and Tesseron – were all sharp disappointments in their subsequent starts. Like many, I suspect, I will be trying to beat Uncaptured.

[DERBY WATCH: Top 20 Kentucky Derby contenders with odds and video]

Balance the Books, My Name Is Michael, and Capo Bastone figure to be popular betting alternatives. Balance the Books showed genuine ability last year winning two grass stakes and finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, My Name Is Michael hit the board in route stakes in his last two starts, and Capo Bastone finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and FrontRunner Stakes last year while bucking speed-biased tracks both times. On the other hand, these three have weaknesses in varying degrees, too. Balance the Books has been away almost five months, and I’m not sure we can expect a top effort first time back. My Name Is Michael’s third in the Sam Davis last time out looks better on paper than it really was, because he only ran in spots and was not out particularly well past the wire. And Capo Bastone was not only life and death to win his first start this year, he was able to earn a Beyer of only 69, and that is too slow for me.

One of the striking things about this race is for a 12-horse field, there is surprisingly little early speed. Uncaptured has a bit of early foot as does Giant Finish, but I don’t think either is a true front-runner. The lack of serious speed here works to the advantage of local hero Mac the Man, my pick to go gate to wire. Mac the Man has won all three of his starts on Turfway’s Polytrack in decisive fashion, including a successful stretch-out to two turns in the 96Rock Stakes most recently. Mac the Man sped right to the front in the 96Rock and was well in hand making the early pace, suggesting that he could have gone much faster if necessary to still be the controlling speed. Mac the Man must go an additional furlong Saturday and faces tougher company. Those are legitimate concerns. But I will take my chances with a hot, improving 3-year-old who likes the track, should shake loose early, and should be a square price.

Excelsior Stakes

Only seven were entered here, but I still think it’s an interesting betting race. Last Gunfighter and Ruler On Ice figure to be the first two choices in the wagering, and they are tough customers. Last Gunfighter has won four straight since moving into Chad Brown’s barn, and he overcame a track that was heavily tilted toward speed when he won the Evening Attire Stakes in his most recent start. Ruler On Ice seems a bit removed from the form that enabled him to upset the Belmont Stakes, finish second in the Pennsylvania Derby, and third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2011. However, he was game winning last time out off a four-month layoff in a race that really didn’t set up well for him. But I like Mordi’s Miracle.

After being a big disappointment early in his career, Mordi’s Miracle suddenly put it together three starts ago, blowing away a maiden field and then whipping a good allowance group, earning Beyers of 96 and 98 that automatically make him competitive here. But I was even more impressed with Mordi’s Miracle’s narrow defeat last time out. Not only was his late kick compromised by a slow pace at a point in the card when it looked like there was a speed bias, he was caught four wide on the first turn and three wide on the far turn. Despite all of that, Mordi’s Miracle was narrowly beaten by Percussion, who controlled that slow pace. It should also be noted that Percussion was making his first start that day after a massive trainer change to Todd Pletcher, who also trains Mordi’s Miracle.

Tokyo City Cup

Calidoscopio was very impressive winning the Breeders’ Cup Marathon last fall and though this will be his first start since, that shouldn’t be a concern because he won the Marathon off a similar layoff. But the way I look at this race, it’s last chance for Richard’s Kid. Maybe I’m being too forgiving, but I can make excuses for all of Richard’s Kid’s recent races, and he hasn’t been in this favorable a spot since he won the Cougar II at this distance last summer at 2-5.

Last fall, Richard’s Kid was compromised by speed-favoring tracks when third in the Awesome Again and a creditable fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and by a slow pace when fourth in the Native Diver. His San Marcos flop in his first start this year can be dismissed as it was on turf, the wrong surface for him. And when he was sixth in the Santa Anita Handicap last time out, Richard’s Kid was without his familiar blinkers, which are back on Saturday, and was up against a freak performance from Game On Dude. Yet, Richard’s Kid was beaten only four lengths for second money.

Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
I just hope my insight persuaded some of you to go with Black Onyx. I admit the rest of the field was difficult in trying to hit an exotic wager, but he definitely stood out as the winner. If you're curious, I only bet $22 total on the race wasting $6 on the exotics. I had $16 flat bet to win for a total $267.20. I am not a huge horse bettor...and I don't have to bet to enjoy racing. Let's see what's on tap for next week....
Judy W Lauer Santilli More than 1 year ago
charles sakach..you were right on the money with your pick,,Black Onyx.. was my pick also..
Geral John Pinault More than 1 year ago
Uncaptured will step up. His class shows as he's won stakes on poly at Woodbine and on dirt at Churchill. Speed figures be damned, give me a horse that likes to win big races! Uncaptured is that horse!!!
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
North American trainers have forgotten how to train for distance races on dirt. And it is as much training as it is pedigree in such races. Luhuk has been a sire of primarily sprinters and milers, both here and in Argentina. But through proper conditioning, Calidoscopio has the bottom to canter around behind the field most of the way and then unleash a sprinter-like 5f to finish off. Hope the new North American trainer hasn't messed up the successful South American methods.
Kevin Potts More than 1 year ago
I may be wrong, as has been the case multiple times at the track, but I was at the Iraquis and the KJC last fall and I saw Uncaptured show a dogged tenacity that proved to ke that he likes to win. I know he grabbed a quarter in the race and assumed that was the reason he stayed out of the races for so long. He may have people trying to beat him on paper thus giving pretty decent odds for a proven winner.
Cory Casebier More than 1 year ago
Mac The Man wins for fun an trainer Jeff L Greenhill gets his biggest victory of his life an a Derby starter
Kim Lee More than 1 year ago
Catch Uncaptured for the $$$...have FUN like me
FLASHBACK More than 1 year ago
Fear The Kitten baby!
Eric More than 1 year ago
Hey Mike, regarding Richard's Kid.....I usually will only be willing to forgive 4 consecutive races. If I have to forgive 5 in a row, I start getting nervous:)
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
Spiral Balance the Books: (2) 9.2, (2) 9.3, (2) 10.0, (2) 11.2 Total: 79.4 Prev: (2) 9.5, (2) 10.4, (2) 7.1, (2.5) 10.0 Total: 79.2 Analysis: Making first start of the year; should have been racing. Don’t like the late running style; he’s not Secretariat. Channel Isle: (2) 11.2, (2) 10.9, (2) 8.8, (2.5) 5.0 Total: 74.2 Prev: (2) 10.2, (2) 12.4, (2) 8.9, (2) 6.3 Total: 75.7 Analysis: Flopped in the slop just like a few good ones in the Southwest. However, as a whole does not look like a real threat except that Lukas has been hot of late and he does have a bullet work going into this. Uncaptured: (2) 9.8, (2) 9.2, (2) 9.2, (2.5) 9.3 Total: 79.8 Prev: (2) 13.1, (2) 13.2, (2) 7.5, (2) 9.1 Total: 85.8 Analysis: Don’t like the fact he is just now coming off the bench. His most recent start does not equal his overpowering Iroquois win; he looked as if he won the Ky JC on heart alone. It could explain why he hasn’t been seen since. Looks like this is just a prep for him for the Bluegrass at best. Fear the Kitten: (2) 10.1, (2) 10.7, (2) 9.6, (2.5) 6.3 Total: 76.6 Prev: (2) 7.8, (2) 12.1, (2) 9.0, (2.3) 6.1 Total: 71.8 Analysis: Another one that flopped in the slop in the Southwest, only he at least took the place money. Appears to be improving, but I don’t like the $40k claim when the stud fee was $50k; hasn’t worked since 3/10/13. Doesn’t do a whole lot for me. My Name is Michael: (2) 8.7, (2) 10.8, (2) 9.5,(2) 7.9 Total: 77.8 Prev: (2) 8.7, (2) 10.1, (2) 9.5, (2) 9.8 Total: 81.1 Analysis: The fact that Mott now has him is a big plus. He could get a slice, but because he started too far back in his last race tells me that he is not winning this. For Greater Glory: (2) 7.4, (2) 12.4, (2) 10.3,(2.5) 7.7 Total: 79.5 Prev: (2) 9.5, (2) 12.6, (2) 8.4, (2.5) 6.8 Total: 78.2 Analysis: Good middle move in last, but all out after his Maiden score; not sure what is left in the tank being rushed back after only 3 weeks. Mac the Man: (2) 11.8, (2) 13.0, (2) 9.0, (2) 6.8 Total: 81.2 Prev: (2) 14.7, (2) 13.3, (2) 8.9, (0.5) 5.1 Total: 76.2 Analysis: Bargain pony for $23k at the Keeneland September sale. Speedy sort; well rested. Will be tested today. Don’t count out. General Election: (2) 8.8, (2) 11.7, (2) 10.1, (2.5) 7.7 Total: 80.6 Prev: (2) 7.9, (2) 10.3, (2) 8.1, (2.3) 6.4 Total: 67.3 Analysis: Just beat out For Greater Glory. Appears that this was his “shot” and don’t expect him to fire at all today. Black Onyx: (2) 7.9, (2) 9.7, (2) 10.7, (2.5) 9.2 Total: 79.9 Prev: (2) 10.9, (2) 12.6, (2) 8.8, (2.5) 3.1 Total: 72.5 Third back: (2) 11.3, (2) 12.3, (2) 8.6, (2) 8.0 Total: 80.9 Analysis: I wanted to go back to his Maiden win at Belmont just to see how good this one might really be. His race on 1/1/13 was only for exercise; he was up close in the early stages. Last race seemed to feature a slow pace (based on the variant) and he still came from off the pace to win handily. Having the full 4 weeks off since then leaves this one with plenty of energy to muscle this bunch. Giant Finish: (2) 10.9, (2) 12.1, (2) 9.6, (2.5) 6.2 Total: 80.6 Prev: (2) 9.9, (2) 7.6, (2) 9.3, (2.3) 8.7 Total: 74.0 Analysis: Had a pretty good run in last; might be better today. However, I think this one is in over his head with this bunch. Taken by the Storm: (2) 8.7, (2) 9.2, (2) 9.8, (2) 9.7 Total: 74.7 Prev: (2) 13.2, (2) 12.5, (2) 7.8, (2.5) 2.0 Total: 72.0 Analysis: Not impressed really and not fond of the 2-week break since his last. I think to win this one, 2 weeks is not enough. Capo Bastone: (2) 13.9, (2) 12.3, (2) 7.7, (2.5) 4.1 Total: 78.0 Prev: (2) 11.2, (2) 12.5, (2) 10.0, (2.5) 4.9 Total: 79.7 Analysis: Huffing and puffing in the late stages of the slop; even his previous race shows that he wasn’t moving very fast in the late stages of the BC Juvenile, only passing tired horses. Don’t like the drop-back running style he shows in most of his races. Doubtful he’ll be close at the wire. Summary: Black Onyx to win. Use My Name is Michael and Mac the Man in the exotics. Roll the dice on the rest.
Randy Atkins More than 1 year ago
lookin for Mac the Man to go wire to wire
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
I do think Mac is a tough guy. I am definitlely going to use him. As a dear departed friend of mine (who was the most knowledgeable handicapper I ever knew) used to say, "Horses for courses..." Mac is definitely a horse for this course.
alba herzberg More than 1 year ago
what are those #'s you are using.
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
I parse the race in segments, according to the points of call and fractional times. The length of each segment in furlongs is the value in parentheses. The number following that is the "feet-per-second" adjusted for track variant minus 44 FPS. It basically lets me see how the horse runs his race. You can multiply the length of each segment times the FPS and derive a "total" that to me, is pretty much worthless. I added it as a way to equate distance.
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
Three weeks is 'rushing back?' Five days is rushing back. Three weeks is plenty of time to recover from any soreness and soon enough to benefit from muscle/bone remodeling.
Judy W Lauer Santilli More than 1 year ago
right on Charles..great pick..I also had him picked....
Don Passidomo More than 1 year ago
Nice call Michael on the winner, I had the runnerup but got the exacta, do you think BO will move up?