By the time the field crossed the wire in the American Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs, trainer Brad Cox had an emerging sophomore turf star in Arklow. Three weeks later and three hundred miles away, the barn has another grass-loving three-year-old on the rise: COWBOY CULTURE, who won the $100,000 Arlington Classic (G3) in convincing fashion.
The sophomore colt fired off three turf mile wins in a row at Churchill and Fair Grounds to start his career, including a 3/4 length victory over eventual Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Girvin in the Keith Gee Memorial Stakes. But, COWBOY CULTURE had not yet shown his best in graded outings. Since his Keith Gee victory he had finished seventh in the Palm Beach Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream, then sixth in the Transylvania (G3) at Keeneland. He came to Arlington with class to prove.
It took a while, but eventually the public decided COWBOY CULTURE would pass that test. The early betting action focused on PARLOR, dropping in from a last-out fifth behind the aforementioned Arklow in the American Turf. As post drew closer, FAST AND ACCURATE edged into favouritism. However, by the time the gates opened? The late money liked COWBOY CULTURE, who went off the 5/2 favourite. FAST AND ACCURATE closed the bettors' slight second choice at 3/1, with PARLOR just behind at 3.1/1.
FAST AND ACCURATE stumbled out of the gate, bobbling out into PARLOR. Even so, he quickly recovered and advanced to take the early lead. GIANT PAYDAY settled to FAST AND ACCURATE's outside into the first turn, with COWBOY CULTURE nestled on the rail behind. SAKONNET, fourth early, made the first run on FAST AND ACCURATE. With about a half mile to go, he advanced quickly outside to engage the early leader.
Into the far turn, the cavalry charged. PARLOR and GIANT PAYDAY advanced first, with PARLOR moving best then, on the outside. COWBOY CULTURE closed ranks from inside. GORGEOUS KITTEN began to make headway from last.
Entering the stretch, PARLOR got his nose in front of FAST AND ACCURATE. COWBOY CULTURE, meanwhile, had swung off the rail behind them. Approaching the furlong pole he found his best stride, and COWBOY CULTURE kicked easily home. GORGEOUS KITTEN sustained his rally, which proved good enough for second: 5 3/4 lengths behind the winner, but half a length better than PARLOR. FAST AND ACCURATE, SAKONNET, and GIANT PAYDAY completed the order of finish. DON'T SPLIT TENS, MAS MISCHIEF, PRIZE FIGHT, and RED CORVETTE were all stewards' scratches.
COWBOY CULTURE stopped the timer in 1:46.81 for 1 1/16 miles over yielding turf, and paid $7.00 t0 win. The $1 exacta over GORGEOUS KITTEN (8-3) came back with $23.00. A trifecta with PARLOR in third (8-3-7) returned $32.40 for each $0.50 base wager. A dime superfecta with FAST AND ACCURATE in fourth (8-3-7-6) paid $25.94.
COWBOY CULTURE is a three-year-old colt owned by Head of Plains Partners and Cheyenne Stables. The Arlington Classic is his first graded stakes victory, and his fourth in six career outings. The $59,400 winner's share of the purse brought his career earnings up to $150,580.
Bred in Kentucky by Rhineshire Farm LLC, he is a son of Quality Road out of the Smart Strike mare English Willow. COWBOY CULTURE is the first stakes winner out of his dam, though two of his sisters have black-type placings: Whomping Willow (Mineshaft) finished second in the 2014 Any Limit S. at Gulfstream, and Dancing Elliebelle (Pure Prize) was third in the 2012 Prairie Gold Lassie Stakes.
Shaun Bridgmohan, who rode COWBOY CULTURE in a race for the first time today, found confidence in his mount after working him a few days before the race, and getting to know his capabilities firsthand. "I thought I'd be laying a little bit closer, but the other horse got a little aggressive. I got shuffled back." Bridgmohan continued, "It was a good thing I got to work him Tuesday, because I was able to see that he does have a pretty good turn of foot."
COWBOY CULTURE's victory today testified to his growing maturity, both physically and mentally, according to Ricky Giannini. An assistant trainer for Brad Cox, Giannini noted that in COWBOY CULTURE's previous graded stakes tries, particularly the Palm Beach (G3) at Gulfstream, he had poorly handled the travel. The team's patience has paid off. "Sometimes these three year olds, you’ve just got to give them time," reflected Giannini. "You can’t keep running them every three weeks, hoping they’re going to do it. Sometimes you’ve got to give them an extra week or two between races."
No next race has been confirmed for COWBOY CULTURE's next start, though Giannini identified the American Derby on July 8 as a logical next step.
With so many quality three-year-old turf races as there are on the calendar, it may be a while before COWBOY CULTURE clashes with his stablemate Arklow, for whom his barn has the Belmont Derby (G1) in mind. But, should this pair of promising turf sophomores clash on the racetrack? Giannini summed it up, "It's one of those things: you find out who the better animal is."
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