Request for Parole makes Derby bid in Spiral

Updated: March 20, 2002, 5:24 PM ET
By Ed McNamara | Special to

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 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 Breeders' Futurity.

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 Johnson.

"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."