Susan Moulton's Solitary Ranger will attempt to become only the second runner in history to take the local prep at Turfway Park and win the $550,000 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (gr. III) March 22 at the Florence oval.
Concerto, who won the 1997 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes and what was then the grade II Jim Beam Stakes (now the Spiral again), is the only 3-year-old to have aced both Turfway tests on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
The Spiral, to be run as the 11th on a 12-race card with an approximate post time of 6:28 p.m. EDT, is worth 50 qualifying points to the winner—enough to secure a spot in the Derby starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
Solitary Ranger, a son of first crop sire U S Ranger trained by Wayne Catalano, won the March 1 Battaglia on Turfway's Polytrack by 4 3/4 wire-to-wire lengths off a one-mile Jan. 5 turf allowance score at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. As a 2-year-old, he took the Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III) over the Polytrack at Arlington Park. Solitary Ranger, who will be ridden from post 8 by Florent Geroux, is out of Galileo's Star—a daughter of 1992 Jim Beam winner Lil E Tee, who went on to take that year's Kentucky Derby.
The Catalano trainee—the speed of the race—is in deep in the 1 1/8-mile Spiral against 11 others, all assigned 123 pounds. California shipper Tamarando, favored at 3-1 by morning-line oddsmaker Bret Battaglia, comes in for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, while John Oxley's Coastline is entered by Mark Casse with an interesting old name in the irons—2004 Kentucky Derby winning jockey Stewart Elliott.
Top local owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey have their Artie Schiller colt We Miss Artie with Hall of Famer John Velazquez to ride for Todd Pletcher, who will also send out allowance winner All Tied Up for Dogwood Stable.
Mr. and Mrs. Larry D. Williams' homebred Tamarando, by Bertrando, won the Feb. 15 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) going the Spiral distance with a five-wide steady run last time out. He also has the Real Quiet Stakes to his credit at Hollywood Park last year, and won the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I). Russell Baze rides from post 4.
"He's very good on synthetic," Hollendorfer said of the colt, who has been competitive against top California horses such as California Chrome and Candy Boy. "I wanted to keep him on a synthetic surface and run for a big purse on synthetic."
Tamarando will be making his 11th start in the Spiral. He has a 4-2-3 record and already earned 10 points on the Derby leaderboard with his El Camino Real score.
"He's never gone backwards," Hollendorfer said. "He's always been steadfastly going forward so that's why he's run as many times as he has."
Catalano will have a one-two punch in the race, as Gary and Mary West's Battaglia runner-up Poker Player will also contest the Spiral. Poker Player made a six-wide run from far back to get second behind his stablemate in the 1 1/16-mile Battaglia.
"If he runs like he did last time, the more added ground that he's going to get, a mile and an eighth, he's probably going to appreciate that," Catalano said.
The Battaglia was the first start of the season for Poker Player, a Harlan's Holiday colt who last year won the Bourbon Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland off his maiden score before fizzling in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT), in which he ran eighth. Channing Hill gets the mount from post 3 on the 5-1 third choice on the morning line.
Almost Famous, trained by Patrick Byrne for Chuck and Maribeth Sandford, looks to rebound from a dismal 11th in the Feb. 22 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) in which he was steadied after the start.
The Unbridled's Song colt hasn't won since a Nov. 9 optional claimer going 1 1/16 miles on the dirt at Churchill Downs, an impressive six-length tally that made him morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) until he scratched due to a stone bruise. He returned from that problem with a fourth in the Holy Bull (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park before running in the Fountain of Youth. Calvin Borel rides from the 9 hole; Almost Famous is 6-1.
Coastline and We Miss Artie both come off less-than-desirable performances last time out; the Casse trainee finishing fourth in the Feb. 17 Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park and the Pletcher colt was eighth in the Fountain of Youth.
We Miss Artie, however, is a grade I winner on synthetics, having taken the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. He is the 4-1 second choice and will depart post 10. Coastline, by Speightstown , broke his maiden at seven furlongs on the Keeneland Polytrack last October as well, then moved that form to dirt to win the Street Sense by three lengths at Churchill. Elliott rides from the 5 hole at 8-1.
Asserting Bear, fifth in the Feb. 1 Sam F. Davis (gr. III) at Tampa Bay Downs, returns to synthetic in this spot. The Reade Baker trainee, a son of Bear's Kid who races for Bear Stables, had a win in the Coronation Cup at Woodbine on a similar track last November.
Harry's Holiday, by Harlan's Holiday, was third in the Battaglia for trainer Mike Maker and won the 96ROCK Stakes leading into that event for Skychai Racing, Terry Raymond, and Jana Wagner.
$550,000 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (gr. III, Race 11, 6:28 p.m. EDT), 3YOs, 1 1/8 miles (Polytrack)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Trainer, Odds
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 L Romans, 20-1
7. All Tied Up, L. Saez, T A Pletcher, 12-1
8. Solitary Ranger, F. Geroux, W M Catalano, 6-1
9. Almost Famous, C. Borel, P Byrne, 6-1
10. Harry's Holiday, R. Napravnik, M J Maker, 20-1
11. We Miss Artie, J. Velazquez, T A Pletcher, 4-1
12. Arctic Slope, A. Jimenez, K G McPeek, 30-1
All assigned 123 pounds.