While the $1million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park will be getting most of the attention on Saturday, there is another 100-40-20-10 Kentucky Derby prep race taking place. The $250,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky, while getting less attention, will still send at least one horse to Churchill Downs on May 1.
Synthetic surface at Turfway
Turfway Park is owned and operated by Churchill Downs, Inc. and employs one of the few synthetic tracks in the United States. That racing surface is the primary reason why the fields at the prep races that are held at Turfway lack some of the star power that is possessed by races like the Louisiana Derby, the Florida Derby, the Wood Memorial and the Arkansas Derby.
The racing facility located in the greater Cincinnati area, about 10 miles south of the city center, switched away from dirt in 2005. The original surface was replaced in time for the Holiday meet in December. Turfway made the change for a couple of reasons, both of equal importance.
Turfway is located fairly far north yet holds meets primarily in the winter months. The freezing and thawing cycles played havoc with the dirt surface and created challenges to keep the track in good racing condition. The synthetic track has a better drainage system and is in the same, or at least very similar, condition for every race.
The good track condition translates into a safer racing surface for the horses, resulting in far fewer injuries and, in some cases, deaths to these treasured animals. With so much pressure on the industry to improve safety measures for thoroughbreds, the synthetic track surface goes a long way to help the situation.
Less than stellar field
Five horses entered in the 100-40-20-10 Jeff Ruby Steaks have earned qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, but none has more than 11. With the exception of Hush of a Storm, the winner of the 10-4-2-1 John Battaglia Memorial on February 6 at Turfway, none have won a major stakes race that awarded qualifying points.
It's almost a bit unfair that such a field gets a shot at 100 points for a win, but the track is owned by Churchill Downs, so that is undoubtedly a factor. The increase in points for the race is a recent event, as is the ownership situation.
The strongest horse in the expected 12-horse field is Moonlite Strike, trained by Saffie Joseph, Jr. and winner of 11 qualifying points. He has faced tough fields in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park, where he finished fourth, and in a third-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs at 35/1 odds.
Tarantino finished second in the Holy Bull Stakes on January 22 at Gulfstream, running second at 27/1 odds, 5 and 3/4 lengths behind Greatest Honour. In the Fountain of Youth Stakes at the same track on February 27, he faded late at 14/1 odds to finish fourth in a race that was won again by Greatest Honour.