#KyDownsGrads shine at Keeneland

Jennie Rees

(Photos: Zulu Alpha winning Keeneland's G2 TVG Elkhorn Stakes under Brian Hernandez Jr. Coady Photography)
FRANKLIN, Ky. (Monday, July 13, 2020) — Kentucky Downs ranked among the big winners at Keeneland Race Course’s historic five-day meet that concluded Sunday with reigning $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup victor Zulu Alpha taking the $175,000 TVG Elkhorn Stakes.

Horses that ran at last fall’s RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs excelled at Keeneland on turf and dirt, from sprinting to middle distance to the Elkhorn’s 1 1/2 miles.

Michael Hui’s 7-year-old Zulu Alpha made it four Grade 2 stakes victories for Kentucky Downs-raced horses on the final two days of Keeneland’s make-up session after the coronavirus-related cancelation of the Lexington track’s April meet.

On Saturday, Art Collector won Keeneland’s $600,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on dirt, Leinster nipped stablemate Totally Boss in the $150,000 Shakertown at 5 1/2-furlongs on turf and Enola Gay took the $150,000 Appalachian at a mile on grass.

In addition, Hui’s Parlor — who has raced at Kentucky Downs each of the past four years — was nosed out by 2019 Preakness Stakes winner War of Will in Friday’s Grade 1, $300,000 Maker’s Mark Mile on turf.

“There have been a lot of good horses run down there,” said Rusty Arnold, who trains Leinster and Totally Boss. “I mean, just a whole lot of them. With the purses the way they are, there’s just going to be more and more of them.

“I forget which president said ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ But people are going to run when there’s that kind of money,’” Arnold said, referencing Kentucky Downs purses, which have the highest daily average in North America. “It’s tougher than it used to be. But when you win one, your payday is there for you.”

Capping the big Saturday at Keeneland was Louisvillian Bruce Lunsford’s Art Collector, whose Blue Grass victory secured a spot in the delayed Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby. Art Collector promises to be one of the most compelling storylines of this most unusual Derby. Tommy Drury, who assumed Art Collector’s care over the winter, had never before won a graded stakes but had gotten plenty of top horses ready for other horsemen in 30 years of training horses.

Art Collector will be truly the hometown horse, with Lunsford and Drury lifelong Louisvillians, while Louisiana-born jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. — Kentucky Downs’ all-time winningest jockey — has made the Louisville area his home since his first full year of riding in 2004.

Until the Blue Grass, Art Collector’s biggest payday was his victory in his second start in a $130,000 maiden race at Kentucky Downs. The Blue Grass triumph puts Art Collector among the ranks of horses who ran at Kentucky Downs on turf and then went on to glory on dirt, an elite group that includes 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned (also ridden by Hernandez) and 1994 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner One Dreamer.

“It’s a great place,” Lunsford said. “…. It wasn’t like (Art Collector) went down there just for fun. He broke his maiden. If we keep going like we’re going, it’s a good story for Kentucky Downs.”

Leinster, with Tyler Gaffalione board, held off Totally Boss in a photo finish to take the $150,000 Shakertown while setting the course record of 1:00.86 for 5 1/2 furlongs.

Leinster was third in Kentucky Downs’ 2019 Grade 3 RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint won by Totally Boss. In fact, the Shakertown provided a Kentucky Downs superfecta (the 10-cent super paid $410.86) with 2018 Tourist Mile victor Bound for Nowhere taking third and 2019 starter-allowance winner Fast Boat fourth.

Arnold said Leinster and Totally Boss likely will be pointed for return visits to the RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint on Sept. 12, with Leinster headed to Saratoga for a stakes in between while Totally Boss is expected to train up to the Kentucky Downs race. As part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint’s winner gets a fees-paid spot in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint on Nov. 7 at Keeneland.

“There’s a lot of time between now and then, but it’s $700,000,” Arnold said of the RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint. “It’s just hard to find sprints with that kind of money. It’s not that far off from being a Breeders’ Cup race. It’s got to be the second-biggest purse in the country for a turf sprint.”

Also Saturday, Allen Racing’s Kentucky Downs maiden winner Enola Gay prevailed in a three-way photo to take the $150,000 Appalachian Stakes for 3-year-old fillies for trainer Shug McGaughey, who has started racing more horses at Kentucky Downs the past few years.

Meanwhile, Zulu Alpha continues to make a case as America’s best turf horse at 1 1/2 miles, his three wins in four starts including the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf. Trainer Mike Maker brought the gelding into the Elkhorn off a 3 1/2-month layoff. After getting squeezed at the start, Zulu Alpha found himself well off the slow pace set by Postulation but closed strongly under Tyler Gaffalione to win by three-quarters of a length.

His next start will be defense of his Kentucky Turf Cup, followed by the Breeders’ Cup Turf on Nov. 7 at Keeneland, a race in which Zulu Alpha finished fourth last year at Santa Anita.

“He’s had his vacation and Mike’s handled him phenomenally as far as his development and progression,” Hui said. “This was the first step back, and he passed.”

The owner said not to forget Parlor, an $80,000 claim in March.

“You were about two inches from a Grade 1” winner, Hui said. “That was a tremendous high watching Parlor take the lead in the stretch…. It was like ‘no, no, no!’ And Parlor got the perfect bob and still didn’t get it. But that bodes well for Kentucky Downs, because his next start will be the Tourist Mile.”