FLORENCE, Ky. — Saturday’s $600,000, Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks is positioned as a steppingstone to the May 7 Kentucky Derby. Taking advantage of its ownership of Turfway Park, Churchill Downs has assigned the maximum of 170 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for the 1 1/8-mile Jeff Ruby, meaning the first- (100 points) and second-place (40) finishers are virtually assured of getting into the Derby’s 20-horse field.
But for favored Tiz the Bomb, the Jeff Ruby might not be a launching pad to the first Saturday in May as much as for the first or fourth Saturday in June. Those are the dates of English Derby at Epsom and the Irish Derby at The Curragh. The Irish 2,000 Guineas on May 21 also could be in play.
Kentucky-based trainer Kenny McPeek has been among the trailblazers of American trainers sending horses to England and Europe’s big spring and summer races, dating to 2004 when he finished second in the prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes with Brazilian acquisition Hard Buck.
But before McPeek locks into a European race for Tiz the Bomb, there’s the matter of the 1 1/8-mile Jeff Ruby, held over Turfway’s synthetic Tapeta surface.
“Let’s get him through this weekend,” McPeek said. “There are some logistics issues. And we think Ireland could be a good spot for him, too. But we’re not ruling out a whole list of races. It’s a better than average chance (he’ll run overseas, though) I might nominate him to Churchill Downs’ $500,000 American Turf (G2) on the Derby undercard.”
Tiz the Bomb is the 2-1 favorite in Mike Battaglia’s morning line, drawing post 7 in the overflow field of 13 three-year-olds entered Wednesday. The 7-2 second choice is Stolen Base, whom Tiz the Bomb has beaten three times: most recently by a diminishing neck in Turfway’s $125,000 John Battaglia Memorial and by three-quarters of a length in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Castle & Key Bourbon on Oct. 10. Tiz the Bomb finished second when Stolen Base was seventh in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Del Mar.
I’m pretty well confident,” McPeek said. “He’s had a couple of nice, easy maintenance breezes. Just a really nice horse to be around.”
A son of the Spendthrift Farm stallion Hit It a Bomb, Tiz the Bomb is an unusual horse who only seven races into his racing career already has competed at all five Kentucky thoroughbred tracks, winning at four of them while racing on dirt, turf and synthetic.
Purchased by McPeek for $330,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga sale, Tiz the Bomb debuted with a seventh-place finish in a five-furlong dirt race at Churchill Downs last May. That’s the last time he’s raced less than a mile.
In his next start, the bay colt won an off-the-turf race at Ellis Park by 14 lengths, which he followed with three-quarters of a length turf victories in the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile and Keeneland’s Bourbon. Tiz the Bomb encountered a troubled trip when a late running second behind Britain’s Modern Games in the Breeders’ Cup. However, Tiz the Bomb assured himself of a place in racing trivia, paying $17.60 to win as the runner-up because Modern Games was erroneously scratched and then allowed to run for purse money only.
McPeek this year started Tiz the Bomb on a path to the Kentucky Derby. But after a seventh in Gulfstream Park’s Holy Bull (G3), he was redirected to Turfway for the Battaglia and Jeff Ruby.
“I’m excited about that horse,” said McPeek, whose Magdalena Racing partnership leased Tiz the Bomb from original owner Phoenix Thoroughbred before the Battaglia. “His last race, he really gutted that one out. He carried about six pounds more than everybody else in the race. Really talented, really smart horse. He did not handle the dirt at Gulfstream. I think the synthetic he handles a little better.”
Still, McPeek isn’t completely ruling out the Kentucky Derby for Tiz the Bomb. The trainer already has one of the favorites for the Derby in Smile Happy, who will compete in Keeneland’s G1 Toyota Blue Grass on April 9. McPeek said Rattle N Roll, fourth in last week’s TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby and winner of last year’s Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, could run in the Derby if his 20 points make the cut.
“We’ll have to take it as it comes, but run him Saturday first,” McPeek said of Tiz the Bomb, adding of Turfway’s biggest race that has previously been known as the Spiral, Jim Beam, Lane’s End and one year as the Galleryfurniture.com, “That’s a race I’ve been second in several times, and I’ve never won it — and I was stabled up there for years. I’d like to do that. He’s going to like the added distance, too, the mile and an eighth.”
McPeek was second in the 2017 Jeff Ruby with 35-1 shot Blueridge Traveler, in 2005 with 6-1 Wild Desert and in 1995 with Tejano Run. The latter was the trainer’s first prominent horse, a millionaire who finished second in the Kentucky Derby behind Thunder Gulch.
Regular rider Brian Hernandez returns aboard Tiz the Bomb after Alex Achard rode the colt in the Battaglia.
“In the Holy Bull, he just didn’t seem to get over the dirt that day,” Hernandez said. “Kenny ran him back in the Battaglia, which he won and he’ll be the favorite for the Jeff Ruby. We’re going to go in there thinking he’s got a big chance and give him his best shot possible.”
The Jeff Ruby purse was bumped from $250,000 to its highest purse since the stakes was worth $600,000 in 2001. The record purse of $750,000 came in 1999, when the race was known as the galleryfurniture.com. Turfway Park raised each of its five undercard stakes Saturday by $200,000 or more, reflecting purse increases from $100,000 to $135,000.
“I didn’t realize they’d bumped those purses up so much,” said Hernandez, who rides all of McPeek horses running Saturday. “… Big things happening at Turfway.”
McPeek has the 5-2 favorite in the $250,000 Bourbonette Oaks in Susan Moulton’s Sandstone, winner of Churchill Downs’ Rags to Riches Stakes and third in the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes. The daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense is making her first start of 2022. The 1 1/16-mile race offers 50 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points to its winner.
“Sandstone is a filly we’ve been really patient with,” McPeek said. “She should be really tough in the Bourbonette Oaks.”
McPeek sends out Grade 3 winner King Fury in the $250,000 Kentucky Cup Classic and multiple graded stakes-winner Crazy Beautiful in the $200,000 Latonia at 1 1/16 miles. Crazy Beautiful has raced once as a 4-year-old, finishing a respectable fourth behind 2021 champion older female Letruska in Gulfstream Park’s Royal Delta (G3).
“She needed that race,” McPeek said. “It was her first race back after a layoff. She should be really tough in the Latonia. She won’t hook Letruska again, we know that. It’s going to be an exciting weekend.”
McPeek also entered Ellis Park Juvenile runner-up Lucky Boss in the $200,000 Rushaway for 3-year-olds but said he might scratch to await a Keeneland allowance race.
More on Rattle N Roll: McPeek said the colt came out of the Louisiana Derby in good order “and I don’t have an excuse.
“We nominated him to the Lexington (at Keeneland on April 16 and worth 20 Derby points to the winner), but I think we’re going to sit and wait for the Derby and see if 20 points get him in,” he said.
McPeek was most impressed with Louisiana Derby winner Epicenter, to whom Smile Happy was second in the Fair Grounds’ Grade 2 Risen Star in February.
“Boy, he looked good,” McPeek said of Epicenter. “And he rated; he’s not one dimensional at all. He’s got speed and a second gear. I don’t have an excuse coming out of the Louisiana Derby for Rattle N Roll. He seemed to be fine and ran his race. But if he were to draw into the Derby, I’d kind of like (it was for) Country House, where it came up sloppy and some other horses didn’t handle the mud – I might take a shot with him.”
Country House also finished fourth in the 2019 Louisiana Derby. In a race run over a quagmire at Churchill Downs, he finished second behind Maximum Security but was declared the winner when the first-place finisher was disqualified for impeding other horses.
Meanwhile, Smile Happy, Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club winner in his second career start, finished second to Epicenter in the Fair Grounds’ Risen Star (G2).
“He’s got one breeze left in Florida,” McPeek said of Smile Happy, who like Rattle N Roll is owned by Lucky Seven Stable of Louisville’s Mackin family. “We’ve been sitting on him like a keg of dynamite for Keeneland. I think that’s a good last prep for him.”
Saturday’s Jeff Ruby Steaks field
Post time: Saturday at 6:23 p.m. ET at Turfway Park. Purse: $600,000. Distance: 1 1/8 miles. Television: TVG
Post position (jockey/trainer) odds
1 Royal Spirit (Chris Landeros/Todd Pletcher) 10-1
2 Stolen Base (Gerardo Corrales/Mike Maker) 7-2
3 Cabo Spirit (Joe Bravo/George Papaprodromou) 12-1
4 Rich Strike (Sonny Leon/Eric Reed) 20-1
5 Tawny Port (Manny Franco/Brad Cox) 6-1
6 Great Escape (Adam Beschizza/Rodolphe Brisset) 15-1
7 Tiz the Bomb (Brian Hernandez/Kenny McPeek) 2-1
8 Red Run (Joe Talamo/Steve Asmussen) 6-1
9 Dowagiac Chief (James Graham/Tom Amoss) 8-1
10 Optigogo (Rafael Bejarano/Eoin Harty) 30-1
11 Constitutionlawyer (Jalon Samuel/Ray Handal) 50-1
12 Blackadder (Edwin Maldonado/Rodolphe Brisset) 15-1
Also eligible: Swing Shift (Gerardo Corrales/Todd Pletcher) 15-1
KBPA Press Release
Photo: Tiz the Bomb (#12 with Hernandez) beat Stolen Base in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Castle & Key Bourbon. (Coady Photography)