2015 Kentucky Turf Cup Day Preview

With the end of Saratoga and Del Mar, summer begins to fade into the fall.  However, the time for top-notch turf racing has not yet drawn to a close, and Picks and Ponderings focuses almost exclusively on the grass.

The day's racing action features four six-figure stakes races, headlined by the Grade III Kentucky Turf Cup.  The card also features the Dueling Grounds Derby for three-year-old turf routers, the Kentucky Downs Turf Dash for older turf sprinters, and the Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf Sprint, the fillies' and mares' complement to the Turf Dash.

For Sunday, Paul Mazur looks north toward Woodbine for a trio of graded stakes on the grass.  The Woodbine Mile (GI - CAN) anchors Sunday's card, which is supported by the Northern Dancer Turf (GI - CAN) and the Canadian Stakes (GII - CAN).  Two of those races are Breeders' Cup Win and You're In events: the Woodbine Mile offers a berth to the Breeders' Cup Mile (GI), and the winner of the Canadian Stakes punches her ticket to the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

Watch these races, and all of the Kentucky Downs meet, for free on the livestream on the Kentucky Downs website. You can also watch through the free Horse Races Now app. An all-stakes Pick 4 will comprise these four races; the wager has a $0.50 minimum and 14% takeout.

Update, September 11: This entry focuses on the stakes portion of Monday's card at all-turf Kentucky Downs. The card was originally scheduled for Saturday September 12, but was postponed to Monday September 14th due to heavy rains. As the card is not being redrawn, our analysis composed earlier in the week remains valid for the Monday card.

Updated again on September 14 due to the scratches of CZAR from the Dueling Grounds Derby, SKYRING from the Kentucky Downs Turf Dash, and YOU BOUGHT HER from the Ladies Turf Sprint.

Race 7: Dueling Grounds Derby, three-year-olds, one and five sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 4:35pm CDT

The Dueling Grounds Derby takes its name from the original name of Kentucky Downs; the facility opened in 1990 as Dueling Grounds Race Course, changing to its current Kentucky Downs moniker in 1998.  The racetrack lies just on the Kentucky side of the Tennessee-Kentucky border, on land that was once the Sandford Duncan farm.  In the early 19th century Kentucky allowed dueling, though Tennessee did not.  Thus, Tennessee residents would go over the border and contest their duels on the farm.  This year's renewal of the Dueling Grounds Derby offers a $125,000 purse, or $300,000 for Kentucky-breds.  Out of eleven entrants, only one (the Ontario-bred Seekingtheperfect) was not bred in the Bluegrass State.  Last year's maiden voyage of the Dueling Grounds Derby lived up to its name, with My Afleet besting the favoured Medal Count by a nose after a protracted stretch duel.


My Afleet wins the inaugural Dueling Grounds Derby.

CLOSING BELL will take a lot of money here, and that is warranted.  He drops in class from facing far more difficult company in the Secretariat Stakes (GI) at Arlington last out, and form at Arlington tends to hold pretty well at Kentucky Downs.  His recent speeds are in range, and he has shown enough going a mile and a quarter in Grade I company to think CLOSING BELL should be able to stretch out a bit and make his stakes breakthrough against this softer field.  The humans also support CLOSING BELL's case.  Bill Mott means business with his shippers, as evidenced by his 19% win rate.  Jose Lezcano, who ships to ride, has ridden this son of Tapit in three of his last four starts.  The biggest strike against CLOSING BELL -- and what makes him worth trying to beat -- is the pace scenario.  CLOSING BELL is a midpack to closing type, and this race drew very little in the way of speed.  CONQUEST PACEMAKER will likely send, WIRELESS FUTURE should be well in range early, and CZAR might be stalking fairly close.  That is it.  With that the case, WIRELESS FUTURE intrigues at a likely square price.  He has been on the shelf since an uninspiring twelfth in the American Turf (GII) on the Kentucky Derby undercard, but returns in a spot without the likes of Divisidero, A Lot, and World Approval.  The lay should not be a huge problem: trainer Tom Amoss wins at 23% fresh off of layoffs of three months or more, and WIRELESS FUTURE has a string of long and solid works leading into the Dueling Grounds Derby.  He also stretches out to the longest distance of his career -- something he could very well enjoy, being out of a Theatrical mare.  Though he loses previous regular rider Florent Geroux (who is out at Woodbine to ride The Zip Zip Man in the Summer Stakes (GII - CAN)), the switch to Drayden Van Dyke should be just fine.  Van Dyke has some experience at Kentucky Downs, having ridden nine times last year, with a win and three other on-the-board finishes to show for it.  WIRELESS FUTURE has a bright future here, and cannot be ignored at anything close to his morning line.

CONQUEST PACEMAKER also holds appeal here.  In a race with so little pace, he should live up to his name as the pacemaker.  He attempted to rate last out, took over, but was passed down the stretch for third.  Possibly that means he does his best work on the front end -- and, the way this race drew, he could easily get that.  However, that was his first time on an all-weather track, so the possibility also stands that he could just prefer turf.  He returns to grass here; both CONQUEST PACEMAKER's maiden win and his stakes win have come over grass.  Finally, though Saturday is a graded stakes day at Woodbine, trainer Mark Casse got regular rider Eurico Rosa da Silva to ship down to ride CONQUEST PACEMAKER in the Dueling Grounds Derby instead.  They are a live pair, two for their last nine (with a +$1.76 ROI), and six of their last nine on the board.

Selections:

#2 WIRELESS FUTURE (10/1)

#4 CLOSING BELL (2/1)

#11 CONQUEST PACEMAKER (7/2)

Longshot:  #3 CZAR (15/1) originally occupied this space, but scratched the day of the race.  With him out, consider #9 HELP FROM HEAVEN (15/1).  He is an off-pace type, but has shown the ability to rally well off a pace that is not particularly hot -- useful here, as there is not a bumper crop of early speed.  He takes a big step up in class here, given that his last finish was a second-place finish in a stakes race at Evangeline, but he does boast very strong Brisnet speed figures in his last two starts.  Bettors may sleep on him, as he is not shipping from a marquee turf track, but if this son of Divine Park can take his form out of Louisiana he could surprise at a big price.

Race 8: Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint Stakes, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, six and one half furlongs on the turf, post time 5:05pm CDT

This year marks the third running of the Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint Stakes, the fillies' and mares' complement to the Kentucky Downs Turf Dash.  Inaugurated in 2013, it remains at its original six and a half furlong distance.  This year's edition offers a purse of $100,000, or $300,000 for Kentucky-bred runners.  Out of the twelve entrants, three were bred outside the state of Kentucky: durable Illinois-bred Fleet Encounter, frequent Chicago-area runner You Bought Her (Florida-bred), and graded stakes winner Thank You Marylou (Virginia-bred).  Trainer Wesley Ward has won both renewals of the Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint so far: To My Valentine took the first running, and Richies Party Girl won it last year.

Ward will try to make it three in a row with SHRINKING VIOLET this year, and the odds are good that he will maintain his stranglehold on the Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint.  This race drew no shortage of early speed, giving SHRINKING VIOLET plenty to attack in the late stages.  Though the Kentucky Downs course can be speed-friendly going sprint distances, early returns suggest that horses a few lengths off the early lead can make up ground if they are good enough.  She should be good enough, with recent speeds as good as or better than her adversaries.  SHRINKING VIOLET has already shown her affinity for the undulating course at Kentucky Downs, having won both of her previous tries there.  In addition to her trainer's tendency to win at Kentucky Downs (and win this race in particular), her jockey also speaks well of her chances; she has won the last three times Kent Desormeaux got the call, and he returns today.  Though SHRINKING VIOLET will likely go off the people's choice, she looks like the goods in here.

THANK YOU MARYLOU is another who will benefit from all of the early speed here, and her class fits, but her running lines suggest her to be a perennial undersides type.  Especially as one likely to take money based on class and connections, it would be best to relegate her to undersides and bet she does her usual thing of rallying for a piece late.  Besides, several other price horses appeal more on top.  SPRING INCLUDED lit up the tote last September at Kentucky Downs, kicking easily clear of favoured Illinois-bred Frabster to win at 29/1.  She will not be quite such long odds here, but could fly under the radar since all of her work this year has come on dirt, and since she comes in fresh off a three and a half-month lay.  Still, she has a long series of works leading into this race, and trainer Steve Hobby wins at a respectable 18% off lays of three months or longer.  SPRING INCLUDED has the versatility to sail easily to the front, to press or be pressed, or to stalk from a length or two off.  That is dangerous versatility for a horse with early pace figures that make her a likely candidate for speed of the speed.  If SPRING INCLUDED comes in ready to fire, she could give SHRINKING VIOLET some trouble when she tries to rally past.  Last year's Ladies Sprint was SAMIAM's first attempt in stakes company; a year later, she seems better poised to make an impact.  Her recent early pace stacks up well with her adversaries here, as well as the better among her recent speeds.  She will not likely be the pacesetter as she was last out (when she dead heated with SEEKING TREASURE, but was disqualified to second, in an Indiana Grand allowance), but has shown the ability to run well from a bit off the pace as well.  She should also be able to handle softer going] she has some strong on-the-board finishes over yielding turf in her back running lines, and with all the rain in the forecast over the next few days, that form should help her chances in this race.

Selections:

#5 SHRINKING VIOLET (5/2)

#10 SPRING INCLUDED (10/1)

#12 SAMIAM (20/1)

Longshot:  Often, one must look no further than Arlington Park in order to find a viable longshot at Kentucky Downs.  This field offers a few to choose from.  YOU BOUGHT HER stood to be a bit too far out of it, and her career line over turf (6-0-1-0) is less than promising.  Furthermore, she scratched the day of the race, making the issue moot.  FLEET ENCOUNTER is one of the most consistent Illinois-bred allowance horses in training, but her class and speed suggest she is a bit over her head here.  However, Doug Matthews trainee #3 SEEKING TREASURE (20/1) looks a viable contender at a price. She has done most of her best work on the front end, albeit going longer.  However, on the cutback, look for her to rally from off the pace instead.  She has tallied some wins that way as well, and that could suit given how many runners in the field have more true sprint speed early.  She has also shown an ability to handle the Kentucky Downs course; she won an allowance there in 2013.  With Robby Albarado aboard, a rider who has already tallied a win at Kentucky Downs this meet as well as won aboard SEEKING TREASURE in the past, this mare could outrun her odds here.

Race 9: Kentucky Downs Turf Dash Stakes (Listed), three-year-olds and up, six and one half furlongs on the turf, post time 5:35pm CDT

This year marks the seventeenth renewal of the Kentucky Downs Turf Dash.  Inaugurated as the Kentucky Cup Turf Dash, the name has always been a bit of a misnomer, as the race was never a true dash distance.  It was originally a six-furlong sprint, and then stretched to its current distance of six and a half furlongs in 2014.  It has been run each year since 1998, with the exception of 2011.  The race offers a purse of $100,000, or $300,000 for Kentucky-bred horses.  Out of the eleven to pass the entry box, only one hails from a state other than Kentucky: Illinois-bred stakes mainstay SWEET LUCA.  If he were to defy the odds on Saturday he would be neither the first Illinois-bred, nor the first Chris Block trainee, to take the race.  Fort Prado finished second beaten just a neck in 2008, and returned to win by a head over longtime local mainstay Yankee Injunuity in 2009.  The biggest star so far to see the starter in this race finished third in 2014: Undrafted.  Undrafted returned to finish third in that year's Breeders' Cup Sprint, and won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes (GI - ENG) at Royal Ascot this year.

HOLY LUTE stretches out here from a win in a true turf dash: the five-furlong Green Flash Handicap at Del Mar.  He has done most of his racing in California, but finished a creditable third in the 2013 Indiana Derby in his only foray out of the state.  He has a sharp record going six and a half panels, albeit in a bit different configuration; he has a 4-1-3-0 record at the distance, though all of those starts have come down the hill at Santa Anita.  In terms of pace, he has shown some sharp early speed, but has also shown the versatility to win after either setting the fractions or sitting a bit off of them.  Either way, the Kentucky Downs course's affinity for early speed in sprints should not pose an issue given his running style.  He comes into this race in the form of his life, and should be tough to beat.

After sticking mainly to dirt miles last year, MOSLER has shown flashes of being a good turf sprinter this year.  He won the Elusive Quality Stakes going seven furlongs at Belmont earlier this year, but has cut back to six furlongs and notched up to graded company in his last two starts.  Here, he stretches back out to six and a half; the extra distance should suit this son of War Front.  The two-month freshening shouldn't hurt, either; he has won off of similar layoffs before, and trainer Bill Mott wins at a solid 19% off similarly long lays.  MOSLER has not been the most consistent runner in the world, but his best races compare strongly with this group, and he has the dangerous combination of sharp early speed and the ability to carry it.  GREEN MASK has not raced since March, but that race proved his class.  That last out was the Al Quoz Sprint (GI - UAE), and he finished third beaten only a length behind world-class sprinters Sole Power and Peniaphobia.  He has the versatility to gun to the lead or rally from midpack, and if he comes in with the same form he showed earlier this year, he should compare favourably.  That should not be too steep an expectation; he posted a solid second behind a loose-on-the-lead Bold Thunder in the Tampa Bay Turf Dash in his first start off of a similarly long lay, and posted a career-high Brisnet figure in the process.  He has a sharp and consistent worktab leading into this, and should be fit.  Finally, GREEN MASK races for Wesley Ward: a trainer who led the standings with seven wins at Kentucky Downs last year, and makes a habit of coming to the Dueling Grounds with a string of live horses.

One who deserves a note is CHANNEL MARKER.  CHANNEL MARKER, as his best, compares well with this field.  However, he has not seen the starter since his win in the Jaipur (GIII) in June.  However, he tends to be the type who needs one after a layoff.  As he will likely be a short price in this field, it seems better to endorse runners who do not stand to be so profoundly underlaid here.

Selections:

#5 HOLY LUTE (3/1)

#11 MOSLER (6/1)

#9 GREEN MASK (9/2)

Longshot:  #4 MONGOL BULL (8/1) has been in good form this year, and always seems to show up on the big race days.  He has a strong versatility of pace; though he does most of his running from the middle or back of the pack, he also has some wire jobs in his running lines, suggesting he can adapt if the course is playing particularly well for speed.  He also has strong runs over good and even yielding turf, helpful given how much rain there has been at Kentucky Downs recently.  The biggest question is the distance, since MONGOL BULL typically runs true turf dashes (five to five and a half furlongs), but it is not crazy to think that a Hard Spun baby out of a Hennessy mare can get the distance.  MONGOL BULL should be live to invade the exotics, at least.

Race 10: Kentucky Turf Cup (GIII), three-year-olds and up, one and one half miles on the turf, post time 6:05pm CDT

The Kentucky Turf Cup, the only graded race of the Kentucky Downs meet, gives a chance for older turf marathoners to shine.  It will be run for the 24th time this year, and has always covered a mile and a half on the grass.  The race offers a $300,000 purse, or $600,000 for Kentucky-bred horses.  (All horses entered in this year's edition are Kentucky-bred, so they run for the higher purse.)  Six of the horses in this year's renewal have raced in stakes company at Arlington in the past: AZ RIDGE, HYPER, DRAMEDY, ROMAN APROVAL, QUIET FORCE, and the also-eligible O'PRADO OLE.  This stands out; horses with connections to the Chicago racing circuit have seen perennial success in Kentucky Downs's flagship race over the last ten years.  Local trainer Chris Block has won the race twice, both times with Illinois-bred mainstays in Arlington's grass stakes: Suntracer (2014) and Ioya Bigtime (2012).   Other Arlington stakes winners to win the Kentucky Turf Cup include Silverfoot (2005), Rumor Has It (2008), Cloudy's Knight (2009), and three-time Arlington Handicap winner Rahystrada (2011).


Illinois-bred Suntracer holds off a late charge from Pyrite Mountain to win the 2014 Kentucky Turf Cup, his first graded stakes win.

Trainer Mike Maker comes into this race loaded with three horses who legitimately fit the race: ROMAN APPROVAL, QUIET FORCE, and DA BIG HOSS.  ROMAN APPROVAL will most likely be up front along with DRAMEDY and AZ RIDGE.  QUIET FORCE should have those types in his sights, and could threaten if the stretch to a mile and a half agrees with him.  However, most interesting within the Maker Brigade is the one shipping down from the Spa: DA BIG HOSS.  He has been consistent all year, having hit the board in all six of his starts this year, but really started to blossom after the claim three starts back by Mike Maker.  In his two previous starts for the Maker barn, he has gone long.  He won a 1 3/8 mile allowance over the Saratoga grass by disqualification, and then won the 1 5/8 mile John's Call Stakes last out by daylight.  He typically rallies from off the pace, but has shown the ability to win races not only from well off, but also from a close-stalking spot if the pace of the race requires it.  His speeds are strong, and as long as he takes to the undulating Kentucky Downs course, his form and recently proven long-distance aptitude make him a tough contender.

One who has already proven his ability to handle the Kentucky Downs course is POWER PED.  He may typically be a California horse, but he can take his form on the road.  This son of Powerscourt has been to Kentucky Downs once before, and has an allowance win at a mile and seventy yards to show for it.  He returns this year in better form, and ready to face this tougher field over the course.  He can place himself relatively close to the pace or rally from midpack, and he is fast enough to contend with the competition he faces here.  Trainer Neil Drysdale has a 20% win rate and a positive ROI with his shippers, and should mean business with POWER PED.  Finally, HYPER has appeal.  Like DA BIG HOSS, HYPER also takes a cut back in distance.  Last out, he finished third in the 1 11/16 mile American St. Leger (GIII) at Arlington.  He has also hit the board in both career tries going a mile and a half on the turf.  He has the versatility to run well from a stalking spot, midpack, or rallying from the clouds.  His speed figures are consistently the best of the bunch.  The biggest concern with Hyper is the fact that he has not won since the 2013 Bowling Green (GII).  Off from November 2013 to May 2015, he has raced four times since, and has three third-place finishes to show for it.  His form -- even after the lay -- suggests that he should be able to win this.  Maybe the switch in course will help; this will be his first try at Kentucky Downs.  Maybe the switch to rider Jose Valdivia -- hot at Arlington, and in the money in three of five starts at Kentucky Downs last Saturday -- will help.  On paper, he is the best horse here, but the question remains whether he will be a decent enough price given his tendency to not quite get there.

Selections:

#7 DA BIG HOSS (8/1)

#10 POWER PED (6/1)

#2 HYPER (3/1)

Longshot:  After detouring to the dirt for his last six starts, #4 BAILOUTBOBBY (8/1) moves back to the turf.  Though he did not win in his six starts over the dirt, he did rack up a pair of second-place finishes in graded stakes company at a mile and a half on dirt.  He returns to that distance here, but on grass.  Three of his five career wins have come over grass.  BAILOUTBOBBY does his best work from a midpack or closing spot, and typically the Kentucky Downs course suits off-the-pace runners in route races.  He also has some speed figures that are in range with his competition here.  Trainer Doug O'Neill has been firing on all cylinders in recent times; for a price, there is more than enough here to bet that BAILOUTBOBBY could bring his best.

***

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