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At a Glance: Endlessly the One to Beat in Jeff Ruby

The Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) most likely will send at least two runners on to compete in the Kentucky Derby (G1) May 4 at Churchill Downs. The March 23 1 1/8-mile race at Turfway Park offers 200 qualifying points for the first jewel of the Triple Crown, including 100 to the victor, 50 to the runner-up, and 25-15-10 points to the third- through fifth-place finishers. The Jeff Ruby Steaks is unique among the Kentucky Derby prep races as it is the only one in the “Championship Series” in the United States that is held on an all-weather surface (Tapeta Footings).

As a result, there frequently have been question marks about 3-year-olds coming out of the Jeff Ruby with regard to their ability to translate that all-weather success to the dirt main track at Churchill Downs. Animal Kingdom  won this race in 2011 (when it was the Spiral Stakes) and then the Kentucky Derby, but he stood out as a bit of an anomaly until recently when 2022 Jeff Ruby third-place finisher Rich Strike  went on to win the Kentucky Derby at 80-1 odds and then 2023 Jeff Ruby winner Two Phil’s   ran second in the Kentucky Derby. Perhaps more racing fans and analysts will take a second look at the 3-year-olds coming out of this year’s Jeff Ruby Steaks.

1. Freedom Principle  (30-1 morning-line odds): Switches from turf back to an all-weather surface for this race. Freedom Principle posted two wins, including a stakes victory, and two seconds in four tries on the all-weather surface at Gulfstream Park. Looks like a very live longshot at his morning-line odds.

Jockey: Adam Beschizza; Trainer: Jose Garoffalo

2. Dancing Groom  (20-1): Tries an all-weather track for the first time in the Jeff Ruby after three straight unplaced finishes in graded stakes on the Kentucky Derby trail. Prefer others.

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Jockey: Frankie Dettori; Trainer: Antonio Sano

3. Lucky Jeremy  (8-1): Figures to set or press the pace in a race with little speed. Speed figures indicate he’s fast enough to be competitive, but surface is a question in his first try on an all-weather track. Jockey and trainer have teamed to win at a 28% clip since start of 2023 and 32% at Turfway. Big chance to outrun his odds and spice up the exotic payouts.

Jockey: Gerardo Corrales; Trainer: Bill Morey

4. Noted  (10-1): A stakes winner on dirt and turf, Noted ships to Northern Kentucky for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. Name recognition alone—owner Repole Stable, jockey Luis Saez, and Pletcher—could depress final odds a bit but must respect a talented racehorse from a quality barn.

Jockey: Luis Saez; Trainer: Todd Pletcher

5. Agate Road  (7-2): After four straight quality starts on grass, including a grade 2 win and a runner-up finish in a January stakes at Gulfstream Park, Agate Road shifted to dirt and ran second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs. Like stablemate Noted, he should be a major player in this spot for high-profile connections if he handles the transition to an all-weather surface. Cross-entered in the March 23 Louisiana Derby (G2) and expected to be sent to New Orleans.

Jockey: Jose Ortiz; Trainer: Todd Pletcher

6. Northern Flame  (5-1): Pressed the pace and faded to third in the Rebel Stakes (G2) Feb. 24 at Oaklawn Park after a front-running win going a mile at the Hot Springs, Ark., track in January. Fast enough to be a factor for trainer who won this race in 2022 with Tiz the Bomb , but makes his first start on an all-weather surface and distance also a concern.  

Jockey: Julien Leparoux; Trainer: Kenny McPeek

7. Woodcourt  (8-1): Rebel Stakes fourth-place finisher has a win on this main track going a mile in January and also owns victories on dirt and turf. That versatility is a plus, but his three unplaced finishes in as many tries against stakes competition dampen his appeal, especially at his morning-line odds.

Jockey: Luan Machado; Trainer: Cipriano Contreras

8. Otello  (15-1): Entered the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) as a stakes winner unbeaten in two starts but after some early trouble finished a nonthreatening sixth. Another who has never tried the all-weather, but trainer Christophe Clement wins at 21% on the surface and Otello’s dam, Isabella Sings , was a multiple graded stakes winner on turf. Could surprise.

Jockey: Javier Castellano; Trainer: Christophe Clement

9. Seize the Grey  (6-1): Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas ships this Arrogate colt in from Oaklawn Park off a one-length win there at 1 1/16 miles in which he earned a career-best Equibase (90) and Beyer (82) Speed Figure. One of six or seven deep closers trying an all-weather surface for the first time.

Jockey: Nik Juarez; Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

10. Endlessly  (5-2): A multiple graded stakes winner on grass, Endlessly impressed in his first start on an all-weather surface when surging clear to win the El Camino Real Derby by 1 1/4 lengths Feb. 10 on the Tapeta Footings surface at Golden Gate Fields. The fastest horse on paper coming out of a win at this 1 1/8-mile distance on a Tapeta track makes Endlessly the one to beat.

Jockey: Umberto Rispoli; Trainer: Michael McCarthy

11. Baytown Chatterbox  (50-1): Stakes winner sprinting on dirt as a 2-year-old but winless in four subsequent starts with a pair of eighth-place finishes in previous attempts against graded stakes competition. This is a tall order coming out of a second-place finish in a 4 1/2-furlong sprint with no previous experience racing on an all-weather surface. Looking elsewhere.

Jockey: Albin Jimenez; Trainer: Paul McEntee

12. West Saratoga  (20-1): Connections expressed confidence he would relish the all-weather surface but last year’s Iroquois Stakes (G3) winner is untested on all-weather and the post position does him no favors. Enters the Jeff Ruby off a third-place finish in the Sam F. Davis Stakes and a minor placing might be the ceiling here as well.

Jockey: Jesus Castanon; Trainer: Larry Demeritte

AE-13. Circle P  (30-1): Laurel Park stakes winner ran third there in the Miracle Wood Stakes in his season debut Feb. 24. Would need one defection as an also-eligible entrant to draw into the Jeff Ruby field, which is capped at 12 runners, and was cross-entered in the Private Terms Stakes Saturday at Laurel.

Jockey: Tyler Conner; Trainer: Flint Stites

AE-14. Triple Espresso  (12-1): He needs two scratches from the main body of the Jeff Ruby field to draw into the race, which is capped at 12 runners. Cross-entered in the Louisiana Derby, Triple Espresso has made all five of his previous starts on grass with a maiden win and a stakes placing on his résumé. Based on pedigree and turf success, this Omaha Beach   colt is worthy of consideration should he draw into the race.

Jockey: Jose Ortiz; Trainer: Todd Pletcher

THE PICK: Endlessly

LIVE LONGSHOTS: Lucky Jeremy and Freedom Principle

SUPERFECTA: 10-3-1-8 (Updated after report that Agate Road is expected to ship to Louisiana Derby.)

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