As expected, the $200,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (gr. III) on March 17th at Turfway Park produced a thrilling and competitive finish, with the result remaining in doubt until a few strides before the finish line.
However, it remains to be seen how much of an impact the nine-furlong race will have on the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown. Despite being a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race offering 20 Derby qualification points to the winner, the Jeff Ruby—as has been the case in recent years—favored horses with experience on turf and is uncertain to produce any Derby starters.
Mugaritz was the early pacesetter and employed bold tactics under jockey Nik Juarez, carving out fractions of :25.15, :48.77, and 1:12.55 (more on that in a moment) while opening up a lead as great as six or seven lengths going down the backstretch. But his rivals began gaining ground around the far turn, with Ride a Comet and Arawak making the first bids, and while Mugaritz battled gamely to the eighth pole, he was soon swallowed by the field as the complexion of the race changed seemingly a half-dozen times in a few strides.
Ride a Comet couldn’t sustain his momentum. Arawak tried, but faltered a bit as the Todd Pletcher-trained turf star Pony Up and longshot Zanesville charged into contention on the outside. Close to home, Pony Up looked like a winner, but then Blended Citizen appeared from seemingly nowhere, charging up the rail and gamely sticking his neck in front to cross the wire narrowly in front of Pony Up, with Arawak holding third from Zanesville.
The uncertainty regarding the outcome of the race close to home was matched only by the uncertainty surrounding the final time and fractions of the race. A timing error originally led to a posted final time of 1:50.15, which was clearly too fast; a review of the race led to an adjusted time of 1:50.87 being published, but while this time seems more accurate, my own review of the race replay suggests that the early pace was quite a bit quicker than the published fractions imply, which is backed up by the eye test of seeing Mugaritz shake loose on a long lead.
In any case, the Derby status of the Jeff Ruby starters is somewhat up in the air. With 22 points, Blended Citizen–conditioned by the two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill–could wind up on the outside looking in for a spot in the gate, so he may need to run again before the Derby in an effort to pick up a few more points. In addition, he is not currently nominated to the Triple Crown, though the Daily Racing Form has reported that Blended Citizen will be made a late nominee to the series.
What did you think of the Jeff Ruby Steaks results?