The beginning of the more notable synthetic Derby preps invariably brings out the viewpoints that these races mean nothing because of the surface over which they are run. And while the manner in which we look at the winner of races like the Spiral, Blue Grass, and Lexington has changed with the introduction of Polytrack at Turfway and Keeneland, the races themselves, in my view, are not meaningless. (At least not any more than runaway winner like Sinister Minister on the old Keeneland dirt highway,)
The impact of the synthetic preps really comes down to specifically which horse wins the race - is it a colt that's shown some signs of ability on dirt, or is it one that's pretty clearly only going to run well on synthetics (or perhaps turf)?
In this year's Spiral, most of the field falls into packs of "dirt averse" and "possible dirt performers" or "unknown":
Big Bazinga: Dirt Averse. Two starts on dirt... finished 33 and 12 lengths behind the winners.
- Asserting Bear: Possible Dirt Performer. Spent his whole career on synthetics until he finished 5th, beaten 3 3/4 lengths, in the G3-Sam F. Davis.
- Poker Player: Unknown. Has never run a race on dirt in his career (his "off the turf" race came at Keeneland).
- Tamarando: Dirt Performer. I think he's clearly better on synthetics but he's never embarrassed himself on dirt and his running style might work in the Derby.
- Coastline: Dirt Performer. His best race was on the Poly at Keeneland, but he's run five times on dirt with a win, second and third. His only disaster was the Delta Jackpot.
- Smart Cover: Dirt Performer. It occurred a while ago but his second by a neck to Cleburne in the Iroquois lets us know that he can run on dirt and at Churchill. His issue will be whether he's simply at the same talent level as his rivals (which is a big "if" at this point).
- All Tied Up: Unknown. Never once raced on dirt in seven career starts.
- Solitary Ranger: Unknown. Never raced on dirt in six career starts.
- Almost Famous: Dirt Performer. The Spiral is his first start on a synthetic surface.
- Harry's Holiday: Dirt Performer. He's won on both dirt and synthetics over his six race career.
- We Miss Artie: Dirt Performer. I put this guy in the Tamarando category; he's run okay on dirt but I feel he's better on turf or synthetics.
- Arctic Slope: Eh. Not sure how to categorize him. He broke his maiden on the Churchill dirt but his last two dirt tries were u-g-l-y while his one turf race and one synthetic race were okay. Could go either way.
Below are the entries, post positions and morning line odds for the Spiral Stakes:
|1||Big Bazinga||L. Contreras||K. Vassilieva||30/1|
|2||Asserting Bear||J. Rocco, Jr.||R. Baker||12/1|
|3||Poker Player||C. Hill||W. Catalano||5/1|
|4||Tamarando||R. Baze||J. Hollendorfer||3/1|
|5||Coastline||S. Elliott||M. Casse||8/1|
|6||Smart Cover||C. Lanerie||D. Romans||20/1|
|7||All Tied Up||L. Saez||T. Pletcher||12/1|
|8||Solitary Ranger||F. Geroux||W. Catalano||6/1|
|9||Almost Famous||C. Borel||P. Byrne||6/1|
|10||Harry's Holiday||R. Napravnik||M. Maker||20/1|
|11||We Miss Artie||J. Velazquez||T. Pletcher||4/1|
|12||Arctic Stone||A. Jimenez||K. McPeek||30/1|