With the Breeders’ Cup World Championships less than a month away, horses coming out of races at Kentucky Downs were in the spotlight the past two weekends while taking prep races at Breeders’ Cup host site Keeneland, Belmont Park and Pimlico. Kentucky Downs’ racing program produced its two latest Grade 1 winners with Harvey’s Lil Goil taking Keeneland’s $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup this past Saturday, a week after Ivar captured Keeneland’s $750,000 Shadwell Turf Mile. Harvey’s Lil Goil, with Martin Garcia riding for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, turned the tables on Micheline in the QEII, reversing the 1-2 finish in Kentucky Downs’ $500,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks.
Kentucky Downs horses had a huge afternoon at Pimlico and Keeneland, including Tourist Mile third-place finisher Ivar winning Keeneland's Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile. We have stakes recaps.
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.
Louisville-based Skychai Racing is hoping to knock it out of the park when they send out Jolting Joe in Thursday’s $750,000 Gun Runner Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs. “When you look at him compared to the rest of the field, you have to say he’s probably faced the toughest competition of anybody,” says Dr. Harvey Diamond, head of Skychai. “I don’t think he’ll stay 15-1. But if he stays that price, he’s certainly going to be a good bet."
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.”
It’s already been a banner meet for 26-year-old jockey Adam Beschizza, who also has a second and four thirds in 31 starts. “We were ultra unlucky last year,” Beschizza said. “We’ve probably had as many wins so far as we had seconds last year. We’ve sort of made amends this year.”
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.
The scratch of program favorite Catapult, who was second in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile, didn't impact the top choice of Byron King in Thursday's $250,000 Old Friends Stakes on the second day of the RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs. See who Byron has on top.
Three Diamonds Farm’s Hembree rallied from far back in the stretch to capture Saturday’s $100,000 El Prado Stakes at Gulfstream Park, setting a track record for 7 ½ furlongs on turf in the process. Hembree won an allowance race at Kentucky Downs' 2018 meet.
“His last race in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Turf, he didn’t care for the soft going at all at Churchill Downs, so we figured we’d give him a confidence builder here,” trainer Mike Maker said after Kentucky Downs Juvenile winner Henley's Joy took Gulfstream Park's Pulpit Stakes.
We look back at Kentucky Downs' best race meet ever in our September newsletter.
Until running four horses this meet, trainer Todd Pletcher hadn’t run a horse at Kentucky Downs since 2014 and hadn’t won a race since 2010. “Is that all it’s been?” Pletcher joked when told he won his first race at the track in eight years. Not to be outdone by a former assistant trainer, Pletcher picked a fortuitous time to get a horse back in the winner's circle, sending out Channel Cat to victory in the 1 5/16-mile, $400,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs on Wednesday.
Mike Maker, Kentucky Downs’ all-time winningest trainer and the three-time defending meet titlist, is seeking to become the first trainer to win the Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup four times, let alone in consecutive years. And he’s not messing around. Maker entered five horses just in Saturday’s $750,000, Grade 3 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup that is the track’s signature race. Five horses might be the entire field in some stakes at some tracks. But in the case of the 1 1/2-mile Calumet Farm, 18 horses were entered with only 12 able to start.
To show how Kentucky Downs has evolved, a Grade 3 stakes at world-famous Saratoga was the back-up plan for Henley’s Joy, one of 11 two-year-olds entered Tuesday for Saturday’s $400,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile on opening day of America’s most unique race meet.
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.
Skychai's Special Ops pulls off Kentucky Downs-Claiming Crown Emerald parlay
"We are proud to be the Kentucky trailblazer in using historical horse racing to become a national leader and to help improve the commonwealth’s entire racing circuit," -- Ted Nicholson, Kentucky Downs senior vice president and general manager
“I think the mile and a quarter was just a little too far for him,” trainer Ian Wilkes says of Franklin-Simpson favorite Sonic Boom. “I think he’s going to be a really good miler next year. He’s going to be a nice horse.”
“He’s never had a bad day in his life,” said Maker, who now has won eight stakes here over the past two years, all but Sir Dudley Digges having been acquired through the claiming ranks. “Unfortunately it’s taken this long this year to get his first victory.”
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 didn’t come in here with many high expectations. I just wanted to come in here and get a good experience, learn as much as I could. But you can’t knock what’s happening," - Tyler Gaffalione on winning two stakes in two days the first time riding at Kentucky Downs