Handicappers Debate: 2023 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park

March 24th, 2023

This week’s debate features a major qualifier in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, as handicappers James Scully and John Mucciolo offer differing opinions on Saturday’s $700,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park.

A full field of 12 three-year-olds will contest the 1 1/8-mile race on the Tapeta track.

James Scully: After an unplaced effort in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) last fall, #4 Funtastic Again (6-1) has thrived at Turfway this winter, recording a pair of runaway wire-to-wire wins, and I think he’s primed for another big showing.

His gate speed was impressive in both starts, and the chestnut colt drew favorably inside the other frontrunners in the Jeff Ruby Steaks. It’s easy to appreciate the progress Funtastic Again has made in recent months for leading trainer Wesley Ward, and I like his chances Saturday.

Who do you like John?

John Mucciolo: Nice horse, James, no doubt. I'm on the #11 Wadsworth (8-1) bandwagon for Brad Cox.

The Godolphin homebred has morphed into a different runner with the surface change following a trio of unplaced efforts on the dirt to commence his career. The Quality Road gelding displayed nice acceleration to soundly beat allowance foes here most recently, and he hasn't missed a beat since, with four good morning moves on the surface as of late. This is a stronger field than I recall seeing in recent years, but the rapidly improving sophomore should be up to the task with Chris Landeros. 

Do you have any fears that Funtastic Again might not secure a clear advantage going into the first turn?  

JS: The break will be key for Funtastic Again, but he doesn’t need a clear advantage in my estimation. As the Brisnet Early Pace numbers highlight, the other projected speed — Maker’s Candy and Bluebirds Over — aren’t that quick, and Funtastic Again is eligible to catch a breather up front as long he makes the early lead. I like having top local jockey Gerardo Corrales up on the speed pick.

We’re both trying to beat the top three choices on the morning line (Major Dude, Two Phil’s, and Congruent), and I respect your pick. Wadsworth’s form improved significantly after being gelded last fall, and the Cox factor can’t be dismissed, but I didn’t like the draw for his stakes debut. He’s raced closer to the pace in the last two starts. Are you worried about the trip from post 11?

JM: Yes, we're going against the morning-line choices, but I can't settle on a small price in such a deep and well-matched cast. You make excellent points about Funtastic Again, and I'm liking him more than I did when breaking down this race earlier, but with the move to 1 1/8 miles, I expect a few more contenders to be involved from the start, which will make Funtastic Again work hard every step of the way.

And I have confidence that Wadsworth will never be too far back from post 11 under Landeros, as well. His E1 and E2 Pace figures indicate that he will be in striking range throughout, and his catalog page tells me that he will thrive at nine furlongs, too. I realize that he's taking a major rise in class, and that could lead to his undoing, not the post position, in my opinion.

JS: Good analysis, John. It’s always a pleasure talking horses with you, and best of luck this weekend!

Editor’s Note: We will keep tabs of our handicapper’s picks and provide a scorecard in the coming weeks.