he fields are set for America’s biggest day of turf racing this year outside the Breeders’ Cup, with a sensational stakes quintet on tap Saturday at the RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs.
Each stakes on the Calumet Farm Day program is worth at least $500,000, with the four Grade 3 stakes highlighted by the $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles. The other graded stakes are the $700,000 RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint at six furlongs, whose winner will receive a fees-paid spot in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint Nov. 7 at Keeneland as part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series’ “Win and You’re In” program, along with the $500,000 English Channel Ladies Turf at a mile, the $500,000 Real Solution Ladies Sprint at 6 1/2 furlongs and the $500,000 Bal a Bali Juvenile Turf Sprint at 6 1/2 furlongs.
How is Ellis Starr betting Saturday's marquee $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup? Read on!
Michael Hui’s Zulu Alpha, a former claimer who won the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) presented by Runhappy, returns to the races Saturday when he faces a competitive group of nine other older horses in the $200,000 Mac Diarmida (G2) at Gulfstream Park. That's a race Zulu Alpha won last year in a season capped by taking Kentucky Downs' $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup.
“I told Mike (Maker), ‘I want to run next fall in Kentucky twice,’” owner Michael Hui said the day after Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup winner Zulu Alpha earned his first Grade 1 and second $1 million victory in Gulfstream Park's Pegasus World Cup Turf. “He smiled really big and said, ‘I do, too.’ (Zulu Alpha) has earned the right where we’ll pick and choose. But the goal is to run at Kentucky Downs and run at Keeneland.”
Michael Hui’s multiple graded-stakes winning millionaire Zulu Alpha added another chapter to his success story, slipping through an opening along the rail in deep stretch to pass Irish import Magic Wand and go on to an 11-1 upset of Saturday’s $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park. It was Zulu Alpha's second $1 million win, following his triumph in Kentucky Downs' Grade 3 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup over 2018 winner Arklow.
Having beaten America's best 1 1/2-mile turf specialists in his last start, Donegal Racing's Grade 1-winning turf star Arklow takes on the world next in the $4 million Longines Breeders' Cup Turf on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park. “I don’t know if Arklow can beat Bricks and Mortar or the Europeans,” said Arklow’s trainer Brad Cox. “But I do know that Arklow is coming into the race 100 percent physically and just had one of the finest workouts in his life at Churchill on Saturday.”
Michael Hui is parlaying some of the money that Zulu Alpha won in taking Kentucky Downs’ $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup into a $100,000 bet on the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita. “If the Breeders’ Cup was in Kentucky, it would have been a no-brainer," the owner said. "What makes it easier to do this is that very lucrative purse that we got the majority of at Kentucky Downs.”
Mike Maker, the winningest trainer in Kentucky Downs history, experienced a frustrating first two days of the current Kentucky Downs meet, going winless with his first 19 starters and feeling unlucky with seven of his horses running second. Saturday during the highlight day of racing during the RUNHAPPY meet at Kentucky Downs, that frustration was put aside when Zulu Alpha rolled to an authoritative 3 1/4-length victory for the trainer in the Grade 3, $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup. The score gave Maker his fourth victory in the race after Da Big Hoss won it twice for him in 2015-’16, followed by Oscar Nominated in 2017.
Bentley Combs hasn’t been training even two years but figures to have a starter in the $1 million, Grade 3 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup on Sept. 7 with Botswana at Kentucky Downs. Combs, a graduate of the University of Louisville’s Equine Industry Program, certainly wasn’t thinking he’d be in a graded stakes, let alone one with a seven-figure purse, when he claimed Botswana last year for himself as owner for $30,000 out of the gelding’s first race: a 12th-place finish and 30-length drubbing.
Kentucky Downs will offer a record $10 million in purses and Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund supplements at its five-date meet Sept. 1-13, with all 13 existing stakes getting increases and the creation of the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint. The Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup and Tourist Mile had their purses raised to $750,000.
Native Kentuckian Kiaran McLaughlin has run only three horses before at Kentucky Downs. But one of those was a victory in the 1999 running of the Kentucky Turf Cup with Shadwell Stables' Fahris.
"I think he knows he runs in big races. He’ll do everything he can. Fortunately and unfortunately, he’s running against some of the top long-distance runners in the United States," Tim Glyshaw, Bullard's Alley trainer