FLORENCE, Ky. (Friday, April 1, 2022) — Depending on what you consider the record for winning Turfway Park’s signature race, trainer Mike Maker can either pad his own mark or tie for the most victories with Stolen Base in Saturday’s $600,000, Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Stakes.
One thing is sure: No trainer has dominated the Kentucky Derby prep like Maker, who has won the 1 1/8-mile stakes six times between 2006 and 2020, including four of the past six runnings. But technically, the overall win record belongs to the late William E. “Smiley” Adams, who won the race that started out as the Spiral Stakes seven straight times over four years, 1977-1980, with the stakes split into two divisions three times during that span. The Spiral was created in 1976 by John Battaglia, general manager of the track then known as Latonia and the father of long-time announcer Mike Battaglia, who stepped down from the booth in 2016 after 43 years but continues to make the morning line.
Maker does own the most wins with the stakes having graded status as well as different names: He’s taken the Jeff Ruby and the Lane’s End twice apiece and the Jack Cincinnati Casino Spiral and Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral once each.
Asked what he likes calling the race, Maker quips “$600,000,” a reference to the jump from last year’s $250,000 purse. That’s the highest since the stakes then called the Turfway Spiral was worth $600,000 in 2001. The record purse of $750,000 came in 1999, when the race was known as the galleryfurniture.com. The purse was $500,000 for Maker’s first four victories, including $99.60 winner With a City in 2006, $49.20 winner Oscar Nominated in 2016 and $51 winner Fast And Accurate in 2017.
“The name’s not really important to me,” Maker said. “Just fortunate to have the success we’ve had in this race, and hopefully we can still build on it.”
Stolen Base is no long shot. He’s the 7-2 second choice behind 2-1 favorite Tiz the Bomb in a capacity field of 12 three-year-olds. With the scratch Friday morning of Blackadder because of his No. 12 post, Swing Shift draws into the race. WinStar Farm CEO Elliott Walden confirmed Swing Shift will run.
Tiz the Bomb has beaten Stolen Base in their three meetings, including by a neck in Turfway’s $125,000 John Battaglia a month ago. Tiz the Bomb was fanned wide, but Stolen Base’s inside trip saw him in traffic in the stretch. Stolen Base was a late-running second by three-quarters of a length behind Tiz the Bomb in Keeneland’s Castle & Key Bourbon (G2).
Stolen Base has almost always been in the hunt, with the exception of a drubbing while sprinting on dirt in a Saratoga stakes in his second start. But he awaits a signature victor, possessing only a debut win at Saratoga, along with three seconds and a third in seven starts.
“In Houston, he got away bad, wide trip, came running too late,” he said. “ Battaglia, came running too late. Keeneland, really wide trip, too late. But looking forward to running a mile and an eighth more than anything.”
Maker also hopes that racing Stolen Base in blinkers for the first time puts more speed into the colt, helping to keep him out of so much traffic. He likes what he has seen of the Bodemeister colt training with the blinkers, including an energetic gallop Friday over Turfway’s Tapeta surface.
“He’s always been a laid-back horse, a horse anybody can ride,” Maker said. “I hate making excuses, but he didn’t have the greatest trip at Keeneland. Didn’t have the greatest trip here in the Battaglia. I just started training him in blinkers and he’s been in the bit more. I’m looking to have him a little closer to the pace, although the distance increases, so he naturally should be closer, anyway.”
While met-leading jockey Gerardo Corrales didn’t get in the clear until late in the Battaglia, Maker said he thinks the real difference came “at the top of the lane when Corrales had to steady him just a touch. Whether that made the horse a little hesitant to going through that tight a hole, who knows? Anyway, put the blinkers on and see what happens.”
He calls Tiz the Bomb, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf runner-up, “a very deserving favorite.”
“Obviously he ran second in the Breeders’ Cup and came back to run huge in the Battaglia,” he said. “Tough horse…. It’s a deep competitive field, as we’ve seen all winter. When they give that kind of money away, it’s never easy.”
All of Maker’s Jeff Ruby victories have been over a synthetic surface, which a lot of grass horses handle well. Maker has a lot of grass horses in his stable.
“I think that factors in, but we’re Kentucky people with Kentucky connections,” he said of his success in the stakes. “We support Kentucky racing. This race maybe wasn’t high on some people’s chart, but it was always high on ours.”
All the same, Maker says he’d given no thought to being the winningest trainer in the stakes or not.
“Other than about 30 minutes ago when you brought it up, it never really crossed my mind,” he said.
Maker has won the Jeff Ruby and gone on to the Kentucky Derby. And he’s won the Jeff Ruby and opted to run back in Churchill Downs’ American Turf, now a Grade 2 race worth $500,000. A first or second in the Jeff Ruby would virtually assure a spot in the 20-horse Derby field. So how much is he thinking about the Derby for Stolen Base?
“You’ll have to ask me on Saturday,” Maker said, adding the same it true of the owners.
“We’ve been in the Derby, and we’ve gotten beat up quite a bit,” he said. “We’ve already done that. If we feel he doesn’t belong, we’ll run him where he does.”
But Maker came up under D. Wayne Lukas (including being an assistant when Lukas won the 1995 Jim Beam Stakes – as it was known then – with the filly Serena’s Song, whose next race was the Kentucky Derby). Lukas is running another standout filly, Secret Oath, in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby. He likes to say that he’s won more big races where he allegedly didn’t belong than when he did “belong.”
So what would Maker’s old boss advise if Stolen Base wins the Jeff Ruby? Would there even be a decision?
“I don’t know,” Maker said, adding cheerfully, “I hope I’m calling him up on Sunday congratulating him, and then I can ask him.”
Mike Maker’s victories in Turfway Park’s signature race
(Race name, year, horse, win mutuel (owner/jockey) total purse
Jeff Ruby Steaks
2020 Field Pass $9.60 (Three Diamonds Farm/Irad Ortiz) $250,000
2019 Somelikeithotbrown $3.20 (Skychai Racing & Sand Dollar/Tyler Gaffalione) $200,000
Jack Cincinnati Casino Spiral
2017 Fast And Accurate $51 (Kendall Hansen/Tyler Gaffalione) $500,000
Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral
2016 Oscar Nominated $49.20 (Ken and Sarah Ramsey/Brian Hernandez $500,00
Lane’s End Stakes
2010 Dean’s Kitten $15.00 (Ken and Sarah Ramsey/Cornelio Velasquez $500,000
2006 With a City $99.60 (equirace.com LLC/Brice Blanc) $500,000
Evolution of the Jeff Ruby Steaks’ name
1976 Spiral Stakes
1982 Jim Beam Spiral
1984 Jim Beam Stakes
2000 Turfway Spiral
2002 Lane’s End Spiral
2003 Lane’s End Stakes
2012 Vinery Racing Spiral
2013 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral
2017 Jack Cincinnati Casino Spiral
2018-present Jeff Ruby Steaks
HBPA Press Release
(Photo: Stolen Base, with aqua and yellow silks, came running late but couldn’t run down Tiz the Bomb in Keeneland’s Castle & Key Bourbon. Coady Photography)