Major Dude And Two Phil’s Gird For Battle, And For A Berth At Churchill Come May

Jeff Ruby, the gregarious proprietor-founder of the eponymous chain of steak houses, is most famous for his brilliant innovation at putting his “print” advertising on the fastest moving surface in athletics, namely, down the legs of pretty much every leading jockey’s blazing white trousers. At first the placement was ridiculed, but it’s now a celebrated fixture at racetracks nationwide.

Much in that same trajectory, Mr. Ruby’s eponymous race at Kentucky’s “lesser” track, Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky, has grown to become a standard hundred-point win-and-you’re-in prep for the Kentucky Derby. Formerly the historic Spiral Stakes before Ruby took over the sponsorship, this afternoon’s showdown is highly regarded as a bellweather for the ultimate May showdown in Louisville. It’s called the Jeff Ruby “Steaks” after the name of the formidable sponsor’s restaurant chain, but, amusingly, the Daily Racing Form refuses to admit Mr. Ruby’s pun and simply calls it “the Ruby.”

The “Ruby,” then, is officially classified as a Grade 3, but its 2023 running is a wolf masquerading in sheep’s clothing because it contains such an interesting array of talent. But before we get into that, early in the week no less an oddsmaker than Mike Battaglia has issued this morning line, so, with a salute to the eagle-eyed Mr. Battaglia, herewith, the draw for the Jeff Ruby “Steaks.”

(Post Position, Horse, Jockey, Morning Line)

1) Major Dude, Irad Ortiz Jr., 2-1

2) Scoobie Quando, Luan Machado, 15-1

3) Event Detail, Walter Rodriguez, 20-1

4) Funtastic Again, Gerardo Corrales, 6-1

5) Maker’s Candy, Umberto Rispoli, 12-1

6) Baby Billy, Joe Talamo, 30-1

7) Bluebirds Over, Edgard Zayas, 12-1

8) Congruent, Sonny Leon, 5-1

9) Escapologist, Alex Achard, 30-1

10) Two Phil’s, Jareth Loveberry, 7-2

11) Wadsworth, Chris Landeros, 8-1

12) Point Proven, John Velazquez, 15-1.

(Source: Turfway Park, 3/25/2023)

Not far behind Mr. Battaglia’s favored Major Dude, who drew the rail for the one-and-one-eighth-mile run, is the up-and-comer Two Phil’s (whose name sports the cryptic and ungrammatical apostrophe that perhaps his owners will some day explain, but never mind that). This horse can run and has been exhibiting that sort of percussive rhythm of the steady improver, taking on and taking down plenty of talent that comes up against him, a second to Instant Coffee in the Lecomte, third behind Sun Thunder in the Risen Star.

That’s a good mark to have on your forehead if you are a Thoroughbred pointing at the Kentucky Derby, because: All of these horses are growing into themselves at different rates. Often the best Triple Crown candidates are simply the horses who mature early enough to finesse the brutal three-races-within-six-calendar-weeks pounding that the Triple Crown brings. In fact, there’s a deep, decades long debate within the sport about whether we should space the Triple Crown races further apart.

Be that as it may, not a soul is changing anything about the Triple Crown at the moment, and Two Phil’s looks like he is going to ring up a few points toward a Kentucky Derby berth later this afternoon. It’s important to remember that it’s not just points that get a horse to the Derby — its he exigencies of his or her condition, the willingness of his or her trainers and owners, and a host of other factors.

At this relatively late point, the trainers and owners who are pointing their horses to the Derby are looking for big chunks of points, and the prep races are constructed to pressurize and enhance that. The theory is that something like 30-40 points will earn an invitation this year — whether this or that consortium of connections decides to run is up to them.

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