The gate for Saturday's 48th running of the $200,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park is approaching full, with 11 so far expected to enter. The 1 1/8 mile race for 3-year-olds offers 34 points toward the Kentucky Derby: 20 to the winner, eight to the runner-up, four for third place and two for fourth place.
Somelikeithotbrown, winner of the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes (listed) Feb. 15, is slated to return for the Jeff Ruby Steaks and is the most accomplished of the expected field to date. The Battaglia was the Big Brown colt's first start since he finished third over yielding turf in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), beaten less than a length after setting the pace.
“He's grown; he's filled out. He's a good-sized horse,” said Harvey Diamond, whose Skychai Racing co-owns Somelikeithotbrown with Sand Dollar Stable. “He seems to be very agile and [trainer] Mike [Maker] says he's been training very well.”
Somelikeithotbrown debuted on dirt and then broke his maiden impressively in his second start, coming from far back to win by eight lengths on the turf at Saratoga. He followed with two strong runner-up finishes in the With Anticipation Stakes (G3) at Saratoga and the Pilgrim Stakes (G3) at Belmont before heading to Churchill Downs for the Breeders' Cup.
“We tried him on dirt,” Harvey continued. 'We ran him the first time at Saratoga and I don't think it was a fair assessment because the track was very sloppy that day. But he didn't run very well, whether it was the surface or whether it was just his first race and he was immature. Then we put him on turf up there and he blew by the field. The turf races in New York that time of year were probably as good as they were running in the whole country, so when he ran very well against what we thought were some of the best turf horses in the country, that encouraged us to run in the Breeders' Cup.
“I don't think there is anything he wouldn't be eligible for, both dirt and turf. We wanted to see if he could run on the Polytrack and I think [the Battaglia] proved he could.”
Somelikeithotbrown has been training at Turfway since early February and worked over the Polytrack Saturday, breezing five furlongs in 1:01.40, sixth-fastest of 41 at the distance.
Tyler Gaffalione has been named to ride Somelikeithotbrown Saturday, his first time aboard.
Giving his promising horses a chance to prove themselves on a variety of surfaces has worked out well for trainer Mark Casse recently. Casse trains War of Will, who became the Kentucky Derby points leader after switching from turf to dirt. Saturday the Canadian Hall of Fame trainer hopes to continue keeping all options open when he sends Skywire to the Jeff Ruby Steaks. By Afleet Alex, Skywire is undefeated in two starts, one on the Tapeta at Woodbine and the second on the dirt at Gulfstream Park, the latter taken off the turf.
Skywire has packed a fair amount of seasoning into his brief career. In his debut at Woodbine Dec. 9, he got away slowly after being bumped at the break but closed with a determined kick to get up by three-quarters of a length going six furlongs. He was again compromised at the break in his first start this year when he hit the gate in the 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming test at Gulfstream, and then he shied as he entered the final furlong. Despite the trouble, he went on to win by six lengths.
“He got away bad but he was pretty impressive,” Casse said. “We had him in on the grass and it came off and we said, 'Well, let's give it a shot,' and he ran well. I think the key to all that is – and anyone who tells you differently, that they know, is lying – you've got to give a horse a try [on dirt] because you never know. You just never know. He had trained well on the dirt or we wouldn't have run him on the dirt.”
While the long-range goal for Skywire is a spot in the Queen's Plate, the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, Casse wouldn't rule out giving the colt a chance to become his latest contender for the American classics if he performs up to expectations in the Jeff Ruby Steaks.
“If he runs really well Saturday he could end up in the Blue Grass [at Keeneland April 6],” said Casse. “He's one-for-one on the dirt, and he's one-for-one on the Tapeta.”
Gary Boulanger will have the mount on Skywire for the Jeff Ruby Steaks.
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