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Saturday's Jeff Ruby at Turfway: Meet the Contenders

by Jeremy Plonk

March 21, 2023

Saturday’s Grade 3 $700,000 Jeff Ruby at Turfway Park is a max 100-40-30-20-10 points qualifier for the Kentucky Derby. Last year’s race spring-boarded Kentucky Derby upsetter Rich Strike.

Let’s meet the 2023 Jeff Ruby contenders.

#1 Major Dude (Irad Ortiz Jr. // Todd Pletcher)
Graded stakes winner on grass at ages 2 and 3, he’s ascended into one of Gulfstream’s top turf sophomores this winner. The Grade 3 Kitten’s Joy winner began his career a winner on dirt at Monmouth, so there’s some pace versatility. Pletcher is a 3-time winner of this race in 2001, 2005 and then 2014 on synthetic. Trainer Pletcher’s wins on the 2023 trail already include the Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay Derby and Fountain of Youth.

#2 Scoobie Quando (Luis Machado // Ben Colebrook)
Made an immediately splash winning the Turfway Prevue Stakes in his career debut on January 7. The son of Uncle Mo followed with a pair of runner-ups, including a rallying move in the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes behind return rival Congruent. Trainer Colebrook’s win on the 2023 trail already includes the Gotham.

#3 Event Detail (Walter Rodriguez // Paulo Lobo)
Strong local allowance winner in late January looks to rebound off a disappointing effort in Oaklawn’s Grade 2 Rebel Stakes. Beat only 1 rival in the Rebel, but has been a vastly better performer in his tries over the Tapeta vs. dirt. Son of Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and Pegasus World Cup winner City of Light will be tested for distance.

#4 Funtastic Again (Geraldo Corrales // Wesley Ward)
Romping Turfway winter winner in allowance company as well as the Leonatus Stakes, both at a mile trip. Trained locally for past 2 months with this spot intended. Sire Funtastic won Monmouth’s Grade 1 United Nations at 1-3/8 miles, giving him pedigree for the trip. Trainer Ward got his first Jeff Ruby win in 2021 with Like the King.

#5 Maker’s Candy (Umberto Rispoli // Mike Maker)
Lot of firsts here as the New York-bred faces open company for the first time, tries 2 turns for the first time, graded stakes for the first time and a venture away from Aqueduct for the first time. Exceptional 2 starts back with Lasix in breaking his maiden, but can’t use the medication here and carries 8 more pounds than that day. But always fear this barn here: trainer Maker has 6 wins in this race, most of any in the synthetic era at Turfway, the last of which came in 2020.

#6 Baby Billy (Joe Talamo // Jack Sisterson)
After 4 unsuccessful dirt tries to open his career, found paydirt on turf last out at Gulfstream Park in maiden company. Takes a big step up Saturday after being uncompetitive in his only other stakes try in the Mucho Macho Man. Sire Gormley was a Santa Anita Derby winner at this 1-1/8 miles trip.

#7 Bluebirds Over (Edgard Zayas // Saffie Joseph Jr.)
Tapeta ace as a juvenile, winning over the surface in his Gulfstream Park maiden debut and his follow-up start in Woodbine’s Grade 3 Grey Stakes. Enters the Ruby in the prime, second-off-the-layoff form cycle. Showed early speed and tired a bit late in the Colonial Liam at Gulfstream on turf March 4 and wheels back on 21 days’ rest. Sire English Channel, a Breeders’ Cup Turf winner and sire of long-winded grass stars like War Like Goddess, The Pizza Man and Channel Maker, provides stamina influences.

#8 Congruent (Sonny Leon // Antonio Sano)
Despite his 16-1 odds, absolutely looked dominant in the local prep at 1-1/16 miles, the John Battaglia Memorial. His Gulfstream winter turf form carried over, which may be good news for a few others in here. He was no match for Major Dude in either the Dania Beach or Kitten’s Joy prior at Gulfstream. Son of Tapit returned to his South Florida base between starts. Jockey Sonny Leon won last year’s Kentucky Derby on Rich Strike and hopes lightning strikes twice via Turfway.

#9 Escapologist (Alex Achard // Kenny McPeek)
Tried dirt 5 times to no avail before finally graduating the maiden ranks March 1 at Fair Grounds. Colt by Good Magic was beaten 7 lengths on dirt to Ruby rival Point Proven last fall at Churchill. Trainer McPeek notched his first Jeff Ruby score last year with Tiz the Bomb.

#10 Two Phil’s (Jareth Loveberry // Larry Rivelli)
Multiple dirt stakes winner, including the Grade 3 Street Sense at Churchill last year, he evacuates the rugged Fair Grounds trail after a pair of very solid showings. He was second to Brad Cox’s Instant Coffee in the Lecomte and then third to that one’s stablemate Angel of Empire in the Risen Star. His papa Hard Spun won this race in 2007 when it was called the Lane’s End Stakes and contested over Polytrack (synthetic surface now is Tapeta).

#11 Wadsworth (Chris Landeros // Brad Cox)
Speaking of Brad Cox, it wouldn’t be a Derby prep without at least one of his runners. Cox’s wins on the 2023 trail already include Smarty Jones, Lecomte, Withers and Risen Star. Wadsworth has been penciled into this spot since an impressive Feb. 11 allowance win, his second of the winter at Turfway. The Quality Road colt held good company lines in dirt maiden races at 2, but has blossomed on the Tapeta. Dam Dickinson was a Grade 1 Jenny Wiley winner and excelled at middle distances on turf.

#12 Point Proven (John Velazquez // Todd Pletcher)
Just 1 win in 5 starts to this point while racing all on dirt, the pace presser by Gun Runner has a difficult post to overcome for his style. Same female family as Shaniko, a dirt horse Pletcher brought to Turfway to win the 2001 Kentucky Cup Classic in the Polytrack era. Pletcher is a 3-time winner of this race in 2001, 2005 and then 2014 on synthetic. Trainer Pletcher’s wins on the 2023 trail already include the Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay Derby and Fountain of Youth.