Triple Crown: Jeff Ruby Steaks picks and analysis

This weekend features the first pairing of hundred-point Derby preps in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks. The Jeff Ruby is run at Turfway Park going nine furlongs over their synthetic track, this year boasting a well-stocked field of 12 with two also eligibles. 

While John Battaglia winner Encino will not return to Turfway for this second prep, the El Camino Real Derby winner Endlessly takes over as the likely top choice with morning line odds of 5/2. Todd Pletcher enters Agate Road as the second choice, assuming he decides to run here while also being entered in Louisiana. 

The Jeff Ruby hasn’t always been as competitive as it appears this year, but with a history of upset Derby winners in Animal Kingdom and Rich Strike, don’t sleep on this race. Last year’s Jeff Ruby winner, Two Phil’s, ran a valiant second in the Kentucky Derby, nearly hanging on after his involvement in a grueling early pace. With its promotion to a top-tier points prep in 2021, as well as some strong recent efforts by Jeff Ruby runners at Churchill, it is clear that this is starting to become a more prestigious prep for those on the Derby trail. 

Endlessly began his career with four straight turf tries, including a win first time out followed by two Grade 3 wins going a mile. After a very close eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, his trainer Michael McCarthy made the switch to synthetic, with Endlessly starting slow then taking over mid-stretch in the El Camino Real at Golden Gate Fields. He has steadily improved performance- and speed figure-wise, and showed an easy adjustment to the surface change in early February, which leaves him the top choice here. Considering how others have struggled in graded stakes company, any type of pace set up likely puts this colt in the winner’s circle or at least in the top two.

Agate Road breaks from the five post if he opts in for Todd Pletcher, as the clear-cut second choice with morning line odds of 7/2. Similar to Endlessly, he has done the majority of his racing on turf, also competing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf the November. Pletcher switched him back to dirt in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes last month at Tampa, where he finished a close second by 1 ¼ lengths. Most impressive about that try was his recovery after a rough start. Upon breaking, Jose Ortiz guided Agate Road into last following a bump into the gate, where he settled in 12 lengths behind the leader. While this colt by Quality Road – Yellow Agate, by Gemologist did benefit from a hot pace, the late charge made it clear that he was a class above most of that field, and he appears to be a step ahead of less accomplished runners in this grouping. 

The top two in this field may be dependent on the early pace, as they both have shown a late running style, so the early goings of Northern Flame will be important. Last time out in the Rebel, this McPeek trainee sat directly behind the early leader Carbone, and held on for third at 15/1 odds. He has primarily shown speed in his eight tries, and will be on the lead along with Lucky Jeremy who enters from a show finish in the Sunland Park Derby. This duo of early speeds may make or break the race for the late closers, although they would both need to take a step forward to win. 

While maybe not the most likely winner, the 8/1 Woodcourt has carved out a nice early career for himself as one who has wins from on and off the pace as well a five-for-ten record in the money. Finishing fourth in the Rebel most recently at 44/1, this colt has shown a knack for outperforming his expectations, especially considering that going past eight furlongs doesn’t seem his preferred distance. He doesn’t have as  much upside as some others here, but any addition to the pace scenario could lead to changes in the outcome here and mix things up for the favorites.

Todd Pletcher’s second choice entry at morning line odds of 10/1 is Noted, breaking from the four post and owned by Repole Stables. Purchased for $200,000 as a yearling, this one had high hopes, even if he didn’t surpass the $650,000 yearling price tag of his stablemate Agate Road. Hitting the board five times in seven starts, Noted recently disappointed in the Grade 3 Kitten’s Joy Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream in early February as the post time favorite by finishing a distant seventh. He gets a jockey change here though to Luis Saez, who is known to be aggressive with his runners and may insert Noted near the lead. As one who has placed in a graded stakes race, this colt has the form that puts him ahead of some others, and may be right on the cusp of a breakthrough effort over a surface that he should adjust well to. 

Endlessly and Agate Road look like the clear top contenders in this year’s Jeff Ruby. As with many of these prep races for greener three-year-olds, the pace scenario figures to play an important role in the outcome, as both Endlessly and Agate Road should be late finishers. Whoever ends up winning will all but guarantee a spot in the Derby, with the second place finisher also putting themselves in prime position to reach the starting gate at Churchill in early May. 

Post time for the Jeff Ruby Steaks is 6:25 PM EDT as the twelfth race on Turfway Park’s Saturday card.


1. #12 Track Phantom (3-1)

2. #2 Hall of Fame (8-1) 

3. #5 Catching Freedom (4-1) 

4. #7 Honor Marie (8-1)