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.

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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.