Like the King booked his place in the Kentucky Derby with victory in the Jeff Ruby Steaks.
Saturday's race at Turfway Park featured an 11-horse field, six of whom had already earned qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, but all with less than 12 points.
Despite the lack of a top contender, the winner still ended up with an invitation to the first Triple Crown race of 2021 on May 1 courtesy of claiming the 100 qualifying points on offer.
The early-line favourite at 3/1 was Tarantino, closely followed by Hush of a Storm (4/1) and Gretzky the Great at 5/1. However, Hush of a Storm scratched on Saturday morning in favour of the Blue Grass Stakes on April 3, further diminishing the depth of the field.
Tarantino barely made it out of the gate and was never able to work his way out of last place, ultimately trotting across the finish line. Gretzky the Great, as we predicted in this space, wasn't worthy of his odds but ended up in the lead heading to the stretch.
7/1 shot Like the King, trained by Wesley Ward, and Sainthood (11/1) stood third and fifth, respectively, entering the stretch run but ended up surging past Gretzky the Great, who faded to finish in fifth place. After some jostling, Like the King broke free and won the race by a length, along with the 100 qualifying points and a Kentucky Derby invitation.
Before the race results became official, Sainthood filed an objection against the winner, and it took several minutes for the stewards to ultimately let the result stand. It was determined that any issues in the last turn were not the fault of the eventual winner.
Hockey Dad (15/2) was edged out of the runner-up spot and had to settle for finishing in third place by a head.
The horse that went off as the third favourite at odds of 11/2 was Hard Rye Guy, who had a poor start and finally worked his way up to a fourth-place finish, almost three lengths behind Hockey Dad.
Jeff Ruby Steaks payouts
Like the King earned $142,500 from what ended up being a $243,325 total purse for his big win. He returned $16.00, $7.60 and $5.60 for bettors who weren't sold on the favourites coming through, which they clearly didn't.
For Sainthood, the runner-up finish delivered $47,500 and 40 qualifying points, which in all likelihood will be enough to get him into the Kentucky Derby. The payout for Sainthood was $9.40 and $6.60. Hockey Dad picked up $19,000 and 20 qualifying points and paid $6.20 for the show bet.
Finally, Hard Rye Guy finished out of the betting money but grabbed $11,875 from the purse and 10 qualifying points for the Churchill Downs showpiece.
This race was previously a 20-8-4-2 point Kentucky Derby prep but, when Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI) purchased Turfway Park, it raised the point scale to 100-40-20-10.
The Florence, Kentucky, track is one of the few in the United States that utilises a synthetic surface to avoid weather-related inconsistencies and improve safety for horses.