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.
Trainer Mike Maker told his barn crew to enjoy an easy day Monday when the RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs kicks off its six-date run featuring exclusively grass racing. “I said to the guys at the barn, ‘You guys can have a light opening day and then after that we’ll pick it up a little bit,” Maker, Kentucky Downs’ all-time winningest trainer, said cheerfully. “We entered nine the first day, and we have 15 to 20 every other day.”
Grade 1 winners Zulu Alpha and Arklow, the past two winners of the $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup, are among the 53 horses nominated to Kentucky Downs’ signature stakes at 1 1/2 miles. Both horses are scheduled to run in the Grade 3 race that ranks among America's richest stakes on grass.
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. 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.
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.
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“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.
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.
You never want to get too far ahead of yourself when plotting out a schedule for a 9-year-old horse. But owner Michael Hui and trainer Mike Maker, who claimed the gelding for $80,000 last summer, do have one spot firmly penciled in for Hogy: Kentucky Downs’ 2018 meet. Yet to be determined is which race.