Turf Horses Could Have an Edge in Jeff Ruby Steaks

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

March 15th, 2018

It seems logical that a race held over a synthetic track should favor horses with previous experience over synthetic tracks, right?

That might seem like a sound assumption, but it really hasn’t applied to the $200,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (gr. III) at Turfway Park. Although the nine-furlong Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race is held over Turfway’s Polytrack surface, the race has been dominated in recent years not by horses with synthetic-track experience, but by tried-and-true turf horses shipping in from Gulfstream Park.

Two horses in the 2018 Jeff Ruby Steaks fit this profile, and I like the chances of both. The more accomplished of the pair is #4 Pony Up, who ran well when second in both the Pulpit Stakes and the Kitten’s Joy Stakes over the turf at Gulfstream this winter. In the latter race, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt was beaten just a neck by Flameaway, who has since put his name on the Kentucky Derby trail with a win in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) and a runner-up effort in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II).

Pony Up subsequently finished fifth on dirt in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream and will now be switching surfaces again, though Pletcher successfully pulled off the same dirt-to-synthetic move with We Miss Artie in the 2014 Jeff Ruby. Furthermore, Pony Up’s sire—Aikenite—was a multiple stakes winner over the old synthetic track at Keeneland, suggesting that Pony Up has the pedigree to handle the switch.

But although I view Pony Up as the horse to beat, I’m just as interested in #2 Cash Call Kitten. Trained by Mike Maker, who has won the last two editions of the Jeff Ruby with horses that started at 24-1 and 23-1, Cash Call Kitten has yet to run particularly fast in terms of speed figures, but is 2-for-2 following a couple of eye-catching victories over the Gulfstream Park turf course. He wasn’t facing the toughest competition—he debuted in a maiden claiming race and subsequently won the Sage of Monticello Stakes, an event restricted to horses that have started for a claiming price of $35,000 or less—but his Sage of Monticello effort was noteworthy because he appeared to be part of a solid pace (fractions were not recorded) yet still managed to hold off the late-running pair of King Angelus and Seattle Treasure, a couple of horses that have been reasonably competitive in unrestricted stakes races.

I’ll make Pony Up and Cash Call Kitten the focus of my wagers:

$12 to win on #4 Pony Up at 4-1 or higher $6 to win on #2 Cash Call Kitten at 10-1 or higher $2 exacta: 2,4 with 2,4,5,11 ($12)

Good luck!