(Photo: Arklow training this week at Keeneland. Coady Photography)
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Arklow’s connections say he’s a different horse since blinkers were added for the $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup on Sept. 12, which proved his second triumph in Kentucky Downs’ signature race in three years.
Saying he’s different is saying something, given that Donegal Racing’s 6-year-old Arklow had earned almost $2 million in 28 races without blinkers, including victory in New York’s Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic last year.
The Brad Cox-trained Arklow was much more engaged for jockey Florent Geroux early on during their 1 1/4-length Kentucky Turf Cup score over Red Knight, who won Keeneland’s Grade 2 Sycamore in his next start. Meanwhile, Arklow has trained up to his third attempt at Saturday's $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf, having finished fourth in 2018 at Churchill Downs and a deceptively good eighth — losing by a total of 2 3/4 lengths — last year at Santa Anita.
Arklow is the 5-1 co-third choice with New York-based Channel Maker in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland, whose 1 1/2-mile distance is the same as the Kentucky Turf Cup. The 5-2 favorite in the field of 10 is 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf runner-up Magical and the 3-year-old Mogul, with both trained by Irish kingpin Aidan O’Brien.
“A lot of people have forgotten, or never even knew, that he had the best speed figures of anyone in last year’s Breeders’ Cup, even though he finished eighth,” Donegal president Jerry Crawford said Thursday, referencing the Ragozin handicapping “sheets” that chart form cycles and the comparative speed of horses while taking into account trouble encountered in a race. “That’s how wide he was the whole time. He was in great form them, but he’s in dramatically better form now.
“All you have to do is talk to Brad Cox,” said Crawford, whose partners with Donegal in Arklow are Joseph Bulger and Peter Coneway. “I, frankly, have never heard Brad so positive and confident in a horse as he is in Arklow on Saturday. Which is not to say that we don’t have enormous respect for the Europeans. They’re always very, very good - and we’ve got to beat Channel Maker, too. It’s truly a world championship race. We think Arklow belongs and has an excellent chance. In Brad’s words, as good a chance as anybody.”
Cox has said he was tempted before to add blinkers but that it was hard to make a change on a horse who was so productive. The opportunity came after Arklow finished fourth in Monmouth Park’s Grade 1 United Nations, an audible called after he came in a disappointing sixth in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Sycamore. The thought was that Arklow was leaving himself too much to do. Not only did the blinkers encourage the horse to position himself closer to the pace -- as he had been in winning the Joe Hirsch last year -- but his timed workouts in the morning have been much stronger.
Crawford quips that “a lot of owners would be smarter than to wait until a horse was 6 to try blinkers. That’s on me. Brad put them on for a breeze after our ill-fated six-days rest before running at Monmouth Park. He called and said, ‘We’ve got a whole new horse.’
“We saw his ability to get to the front (group) of horses in the Kentucky Turf Cup and was sitting on go the whole way, really, and not only held on but pulled away. I don’t know how you could run a more impressive race than that.”
Said Cox: “That’s the thing you do with blinkers: trying to get a horse more involved. He ran a great race at Kentucky Downs, really just kicked away from them late. Really pleased with his effort.
“He’s doing better now than ever, so (we have) more confidence this year than the past,” he said of the Breeders’ Cup Turf. “The Europeans are always tough in that division. We’ll have to step up and run a race of a lifetime in order to win it. He’s training like he’s going to give us a race of a lifetime, so we’re optimistic we’ll be in the mix.”