Friday, March 23, 2001

Buckle Down Ben Spiral Stakes favorite

Horse has won two of six starts

By George Rorrer
Enquirer contributor

        FLORENCE, Ky. — Buckle Down Ben is the new horse in D.Wayne Lukas' barn. If the colt wins the 30th Spiral Stakes Saturday as expected at Turfway Park, he could take a step toward becoming the Hall of Fame trainer's Big Horse for 2001.

        On Thursday, oddsmaker Mike Battaglia made Buckle Down Ben a 5-2 morning line favorite for the Spiral, a 1-mile Kentucky Derby prep race for 3-year-old thoroughbreds.

        Buckle Down Ben will wear the colors of owner Michael Tabor for the first time. Tabor bought the Devil His Due colt from the stable of trainer Steve Klesaris after he finished fifth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb.17.

        There is room for the newcomer in the Lukas Triple Crown machine. Lukas lost one of his main contenders last Saturday when Gold Trader had to be destroyed after breaking a leg in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.

        Battaglia said he made Buckle Down Ben the Spiral favorite because the colt has proved he can run well at 1 miles and around two turns, he has won a stakes race, he has been consistent, and now he is trained by Lukas, Turfway's all-time leader in stakes victories with 28.

        Buckle Down Ben has won two of his six career starts and has finished second once and third once. He was second in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan.20, and Nov.4 he won the Laurel Futurity at Laurel, Md.

        Battaglia made W. Elliott Walden-trained Meetyouatthebrig the 3-1 second choice in the nine-horse field, followed by Bill Mott-conditioned Mongoose at 7-2, Niall O'Callaghan's sprinter, Keats, at 5-1, Todd Pletcher-trained Balto Star at 6-1, Dallas Stewart-conditioned Clutch Player at 8-1, Walden-trained Camden Park at 15-1 and Fan Club's Mister and Halo's Stride both at 30-1.

        But, Battaglia said, it's a hard race to handicap. “It should be very, very competitive,” he said. “There's no star going in, but we could have one coming out. Usually the Spiral will produce a Derby contender, and this year should be no exception.”

        The three favorites all drew outside post positions — Buckle Down Ben No.8, Meetyouatthebrig No.9 and Mongoose No.6. That, Battaglia said, should not be a problem for anyone.

        “The track has been fair,” Battaglia said. “You can run well outside, and you can run on the rail.”

        Gates will open at 10 a.m. for the Spiral (ESPN 4 p.m.). Post time for the first of 12 races is noon. Post time for the Spiral is 4:40 p.m.

        INJURY LIST: Holiday Thunder and Bonnie Scot were scratched from the Spiral, and Turfway's national jockey leader is out with an injury.

        Kris Prather lit up Turfway's Winter Meet by riding 398 mounts to an astounding 109 victories (the track record had been 85), 69 second-place finishes and 47 thirds. She won 27 percent of her races and was among the top three 56 percent of the time. Her mounts won $1.5 million. She won the meet riding title with a 109-32 victory margin over Jennifer Bramblett.

        Prather injured her knee in a starting gate incident last Saturday and is expected to be out for from six to eight weeks.


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