Derby hopefuls can jump onto the Triple Crown trail from anywhere,
even out of something called the WEBN Frog Stakes. Request For Parole began
his 3-year-old season in that oddly named race on Groundhog Day at Turfway
Park, where he'll be one of the favorites Saturday in the 1 1/8-mile Lane's
End Spiral Stakes (ESPN2, tape delay, 6:30-7:30 Eastern).
Summer Squall, Hansel, Lil E. Tee and Prairie Bayou have used
Turfway's top Derby prep as a launching point for success in the classics.
Nobody is predicting that kind of history will repeat this year, although
you never can tell.
Despite its $500,000 purse and Grade II status, there are no big
names in a 30-year-old race that has suffered from a sporadic identity
crisis. It started in 1972 as the Spiral Stakes and in 1982 became the Jim
Beam Stakes, which was how it was known for 17 runnings. In 1999, it had a
one-time incarnation as the Gallery Furniture.com Stakes, and two years ago
it came full circle, spiraling back to the Spiral.
How fitting that a horse called Request For Parole will compete
in an event that has changed its name as often as a thief on the run.
Trainer Stephen Margolis hopes his first 3-year-old with potential can get
him to America's Race.
"From the get-go, he's been a nice, hard-trying horse," Margolis
said Tuesday. "He has a tremendous amount of try and will to win, and if he
keeps on improving, I think he'll be able to run with the big boys."
Request For Parole already has done that, even if he's only chased
them. His company lines are impressive. Last year he finished second twice
to future Florida Derby winner Harlan's Holiday, by a neck and 2 3/4
lengths. He went down by a length and a half to eventual Louisiana Derby
champion Repent in the colts' 2-year-old finale, the Grade III Kentucky
Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. Request For Parole's only
off-the-board effort in nine tries came Oct. 6 at Keeneland, where he was a
distant fifth in back of Siphonic and Harlan's Holiday in the Lane's End
The son of Judge T C has been kept in northern Kentucky during the
winter to steer clear of the heavyweights. He's 2-for-2, having taken
another minor stakes a month after the WEBN Frog. "We talked about running
him in spots to get his confidence up after running against Repent and
Harlan's Holiday," said Margolis, a 38-year-old New Yorker.
He grew up in Manhattan before moving to the North Shore of Long
Island, not far from Belmont Park. He came up through the ranks, starting as
a groom in 1985. He spent seven years as Howie Tesher's assistant trainer
before coming to Kentucky five years ago to work for Stanley Hough. Eighteen
months ago, he went out on his own. Jeri and Sam Knighton own Request For
Parole and four other horses in Margolis' stable of 12.
Although Margolis has never run in the Kentucky Derby, he went
through the prep routine with Tesher, whose Bull Inthe Heather ran 11th in
the '93 Run for the Roses.
"I have a lot of confidence in [Request For Parole]," Margolis said.
"He had some seasoning last year. If we win, we'll probably wait [to run]
until the Derby."
Pat Day will replace Brian Peck on Request For Parole, whose main
danger should be the speedy Saratoga Blues. Trainer Anthony Dutrow's colt is
3-for-3, all around two turns, and probably will set the pace under regular
rider Mario Pino. Perfect Drift, a close second to Request For Parole twice
this winter, is in with a chance for Eddie Delahoussaye and trainer Murray
"It's a big thrill having a [Derby] horse," Margolis said. "It
means a lot to my career. After this we'll be going back to Churchill Downs,
where I'm based, so it's very exciting."