Invader needed five races to break his maiden, the win coming at Turfway Park Dec. 4, but when he woke up he did so dramatically. Facing 11 rivals, he obliterated the maiden special weight field by nearly 13 lengths. In his next start, the first of his sophomore season, he dominated Turfway's John Battaglia Memorial Stakes by more than six lengths. Trainer Wesley Ward believes the two efforts bode well for the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Saturday.
“He's doing great,” said Ward. “All his workouts since his last race have been fantastic. I've always had a good feeling about him. It's taken him a while to figure it out, but he couldn't be doing better right now. I think I just needed to put some space in between his races. He just keeps improving with timing. He's a beauty, He's very shiny right now, glistening. Of course, he cost a lot of money ($500,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland), so we figured he could be a really nice horse, but mentally he's coming around and his workouts have been eye openers. We're keeping the same rider, the leader rider (at Turfway, Albin Jimenez). Horses for courses, jockeys for courses.”
Those eye-opening workouts include back-to-back bullet breezes at Turfway: five furlongs in a minute flat on March 9, best of 17 at the distance that day, and five furlongs in 1:01.40 on March 3, best of 15.
For trainer Mike Maker, a win in this year's Jeff Ruby would be his sixth in the race and his second in a row. Last year he saddled Somelikeithotbrown. This year he hopes to have three starters, including Fancy Liquor, owned by last year's winning owners, Skychai Racing and Sand Dollar Stable. Fancy Liquor won on debut at Gulfstream Park in his only start, setting the pace under pressure all the way over a mile on the turf.
“I'd like to run (Fancy Liquor) in the Jeff Ruby if he can get in,” Maker said. “He broke his maiden pretty impressively last time at Gulfstream so I'm hoping the race doesn't overfill and we can get in.”
The maximum number of starters in the Jeff Ruby Steaks is 12, and preference is given first to graded stakes winners, then stakes winners and then according to earnings. In the fluid context of probables, Fancy Liquor stands 12th on that list. Florent Geroux will have the call if the Lookin at Lucky colt makes the cut.
In no danger of exclusion is Maker trainee Field Pass, who was second in the Anticipation Stakes (G3) at Saratoga last summer and won his last outing, the listed Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Feb. 1, by splitting horses and digging in to score by a neck. Manny Franco has been named to ride in the Jeff Ruby.
“It was pretty unbelievable how he was able to get up (in the Dania Beach),” Maker said. “He was able to get through that tight spot and showed a lot of courage. I think he has a pretty bright future ahead of him.”
A win in the Jeff Ruby would be the first in the race for Field Pass's owners, Three Diamonds Farm.
With Gerardo Corrales up, Victory Boulevard would complete Maker's Jeff Ruby contingent. Owned by Paradise Farms Corp., Victory Boulevard has won his last three races, all sprints at Aqueduct, most recently a starter optional claiming race in which he was entered for a $50,000 tag.
Maker noted, “He won pretty easy in his last couple of starts and his pedigree (Dialed In-Top of the Hill, by Deputy Commander) says he should be able to get the distance. I don't see a problem with it.”
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