A full field of 12 3-year-olds seeking a spot in the Kentucky Derby is expected Saturday at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., where the Grade 3, $500,000 Spiral Stakes will be run for the 46th time.
Kitten's Cat, a Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred, could be favored in the 1 1/8-mile Polytrack race after having competed exclusively in turf races. Another turf horse, Parlor, also could be among the favorites. He is exiting an impressive allowance victory at Tampa Bay Downs.
The Spiral is worth 85 qualifying points toward the May 6 Derby, with 50 points to the winner, essentially making it a Win and You're In event. After this weekend, all Derby preps escalate to 100 points for the winner, except for the April 15 Lexington Stakes (10 points) at Keeneland.
The Ramseys have been down this road plenty of times before, and, in fact, three of their seven Derby starters have been Spiral winners: Dean's Kitten (2010), We Miss Artie (2014), and Oscar Nominated (2016). All were dismissed at long prices in the Derby and failed to contend.
Kitten's Cat, trained by Joe Sharp, is a two-time ungraded stakes winner. He won the 6 1/2-furlong Juvenile Turf Sprint on the Nov. 5 Breeders' Cup undercard last fall at Santa Anita and the Kitten's Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February before being defeated a length by Ticonderoga in the March 4 Palm Beach at Gulfstream in his most recent start.
Parlor, trained by Eddie Kenneally, has won 2 of 3 starts, with his lone defeat coming by a neck last fall in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile.
Entries for the Spiral were to be drawn Wednesday at the race's sponsor, Jack Cincinnati Casino. As many as 14 horses can be listed on the program, including two also-eligibles.
As of Monday, these were the probable Spiral entries, according to Turfway stakes coordinator Randy Wehrman: Blueridge Traveler, Bronson, Colonel Samsen, Convict Pike, En Hanse, Fast and Accurate, Giant Payday, Hot Dad, Impressive Edge, Kitten's Cat, Parlor, Sailing Home, Soglio, and Star Empire.
Those who fail to draw into the race are sometimes diverted to the $100,000 Rushaway, a 1 1/16-mile alternative on the Spiral undercard.
Three trainers who have won the Spiral three times apiece all are expected to be represented this year. They are Todd Pletcher with Bronson, Graham Motion with Soglio, and Mike Maker with the trio of En Hanse, Fast and Accurate, and Hot Dad.
Motion was the last trainer to impact the Derby with a Spiral starter, Animal Kingdom, who won both races in 2011. Animal Kingdom and Lil E. Tee (1992) are the only two Spiral winners to go on to win the Derby. The Spiral, known under a variety of names since its 1972 inaugural, has been run on Polytrack since 2006.
Besides the Spiral and Rushaway, the Saturday card also will include the Grade 3, $100,000 Bourbonette Oaks, which is worth 50 points to the winner toward the May 5 Kentucky Oaks.
Among the likely favorites in the one-mile Bourbonette are Darkwingsoverdubai, a recent arrival from Golden Gate for Jerry Hollendorfer; Delphinia, a seven-length winner of the local prep, the Cincinnati Trophy, for Wesley Ward; and the Ken McPeek duo of Awesome Boss and Purely a Dream.
* As the Turfway winter-spring meet nears its April 1 close, Alonso Quinonez holds a 45-41 lead over Albin Jimenez in the jockey standings going into the Thursday card, which begins at 6:15 p.m. Eastern. This is Quinonez's first winter at Turfway since he was an apprentice in 2006-07.
Mike Maker, as usual, leads all trainers despite having his best horses stabled elsewhere. Maker enters this week with 23 wins, nine more than Ward and Kim Hammond.
* Attendance on Spiral Day, Turfway's biggest day, sometimes is affected by local interest in the NCAA basketball tournament, but most conflicts have been averted this year. Louisville and Cincinnati both were ousted Sunday. Kentucky plays Friday and would play Sunday if it wins. Only a Thursday win by Xavier would create a possible conflict for some local fans Saturday.
* Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., opened its stable area Monday following the usual winter break for cleaning and renovations. The track had been closed since Dec. 31.