Today's media notes: Oscar heads Maker arsenal

Jennie Rees

(Photo: Oscar Nominated won last year's Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup. Grace Clark/Reed Palmer Photography)

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018) — 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.

Four of Maker’s horses are in the body of the race: 2017 winner Oscar Nominated, Grade 1 winner Bigger Picture, Bronson and Soglio. The fifth horse, Markitoff, needs two scratches by Friday morning to get in the field.

Owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, 7-2 favorite Oscar Nominated could be Maker’s second horse to repeat in the Calumet Farm, with Skychai Racing’s Da Big Hoss winning in 2015 and 2016. Oscar Nominated hasn’t raced since finishing sixth in Monmouth Park’s Grade 1 United Nations, getting a freshener with this race in mind.

“He’s undefeated on the course and we look for another big effort from him,” Maker said of Kentucky Downs’ 2016 Dueling Grounds Derby winner.

Oscar Nominated will be ridden by Eclipse Award-winning jockey Jose Ortiz, who begins riding at Kentucky Downs Thursday.

The Ramseys also own Soglio, a $50,000 claim last winter who has been third in his last two starts since taking a Churchill Downs allowance race by 10 lengths.

“He was unlucky to lose the Stars and Stripes at Arlington, didn’t have the greatest trip that day,” Maker said. “He caught a wet turf course up there at Saratoga, and he just doesn’t like it.”

Three Diamonds Farm owns Maker’s other three Calumet Farm entrants, headed by 9-2 second choice Bigger Picture, who was a good third in the United Nations after winning that race the prior year. After closing to be an excellent fourth in Saratoga’s Grade 2 Bowling Green, Bigger Pictures finished eighth in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer, with Maker saying, “He got whacked in the eye his last race. I think it hurt his performance. But he’s doing well now.

“He ran so well in the Bowling Green. We felt he was he best horse and deserved a chance at the Sword Dancer, and then he got hit in the eye. Originally we weren’t going to go in the Sword Dancer but come straight to here. He kind of ran to the three-eighths pole and stopped for whatever reason. There’s a lot of racing luck involved.”

Bronson was third in last year’s Dueling Ground Derby won by Big Ben, who also is in the Calumet Farm.

“He’s always shown that he should be better,” Maker said of Bronson. “He’s one you make excuses for. He looked good in the John’s Call. I think he was a little too close to the pace and kind of flattened out” to sixth in that restricted stakes at Saratoga.

Markitoff is a distance specialist, which is why Maker is taking his chances on getting enough scratches to run the 4-year-old in the stakes. While he’s eligible for a $145,000 second-level allowance race, the trainer said those races aren’t far enough.

Maker won four stakes last year and five the year before. He already has one stakes win at the meet, with Henley’s Joy taking last Saturday’s $400,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile.

The stable is well-represented elsewhere on this Saturday’s blockbuster card featuring five stakes totaling $2.7 million and including a quartet of Grade 3 races.

Maker also has Woodbine debut winner Faraway Kitten in the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint on the Calumet Farm undercard; 7-2 favorite I’m Betty G, winner of three straight capped by the Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf, in the $500,000, Grade 3 Ladies Turf; and Vici and Maniacal in the $500,000, Grade 3 Turf Sprint, though Maniacal is expected to run instead in Sunday’s $100,000 Claiming Crown prep starter-allowance. The Maker-trained Hogy, who won last year’s Turf Sprint in his first start since being claimed for $80,000 at Saratoga, bruised a foot and wasn’t entered.

Somehow Maker missed having a horse for the $450,000, Grade 3 Ladies Sprint.

Vici looks like he at some stage could join the long string of horses claimed by Maker who have gone on to win stakes. Claimed for $62,500 at Churchill Downs, Vici was third in a pair of allowance races with a claiming option for his new camp before winning a $145,000 allowance race on Kentucky Downs’ opening card.

Maker said Vici, whose name means “I conquered” in Latin, didn't show signs of wear after the allowance victory.

“When we claimed Vici, I looked at it as a horse who could run in a $145,000 allowance race or, if we get lucky enough, run in a stakes,” Maker said, adding of doing both at this five-date meet, “I was thinking allowance race. But he ran so big, kind of had a soft summer, he’s a big horse and he’s very easy on himself, so running back in a week is not a real concern.”

Kentucky Downs, HBPA pledge $5 each per starter for aftercare

News to note as Kentucky Downs celebrates Old Friends Day this Thursday: The track and the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represent owners and trainers at the state's five tracks, have each pledged $5 per start at the 2018 Kentucky Downs race meet to go to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, it was announced.

The TAA accredits, inspects, and awards grants to approved aftercare organizations that retrain, retire, and rehome thoroughbreds. Currently 64 organizations hold TAA accreditation and receive funding from the TAA in the form of annual grants earmarked for equine care. Among the accredited facilities is Old Friends, the equine retirement farms that include a satellite operation at Kentucky Downs.

“The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance is grateful to Kentucky Downs and the Kentucky HBPA for supporting our equine athletes. These funds will help the TAA support our 64 accredited organizations that retrain, rehome, and retire thousands of Thoroughbreds,” said TAA president John Phillips.

Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen said the racetrack is proud to support accredited Thoroughbred aftercare.

“As we celebrate Old Friends Day, our foremost message is that thoroughbred aftercare is the responsibility of every person involved in horse racing,” Johnsen said. “Kentucky Downs is proud of its role in this important program coordinated by the TAA, which accredits and helps fund so many excellent rehabbing, retraining, and retirement facilities for our former racehorses, including Old Friends.

"More than 500 horses will run this meet at Kentucky Downs, and that’s $5,000 just in five days with our track and horsemen’s contributions. We also support the Old Friends at Kentucky Downs satellite operation, with 10 notable retired horses and Fonzi the miniature horse on display year-round that affords people an up-close look at the magnificent Thoroughbred.”

Kentucky HBPA executive director Marty Maline echoed the support for accredited aftercare.

“Racehorses are good to us, and they deserve to be taken care of once their racing days are over,” Maline said. “The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance is the ideal mechanism to ensure our equine athletes go to good homes, whether it’s being retrained for second careers, including as pleasure horses, or as classy lawn ornaments living out their days eating grass in a safe environment.

“The brilliance of the TAA is that it not only accredits aftercare and retraining facilities after an extensive vetting process, but it then helps fund them. The TAA shows what is possible when all areas of the industry work together toward a common goal, and none is more important than aftercare for our horses. We are proud to team with our racetrack partner to send a total of $10 to TAA for every horse running at Kentucky Downs.”

Walsh could wheel back Dubara into Ladies Turf

Trainer Brendan Walsh has been frustrated at times this year trying to get his British acquisition Dubara into races. The 4-year-old filly finally made her first start after nine months off in the $50,000 Ellis Park Turf, finishing third by a total of a half-length. But because British purses are so low, she has been excluded based on earnings from running in some other races, including the overfilled Ellis Park Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf.

Now Dubara can make up for lost time. After getting in the $250,000 One Dreamer at a mile and 70 yards last Saturday — resulting in a fourth by a total of three-quarters of a length — Dubara is back in this Saturday’s $500,000, Grade 3 Ladies Turf. The mile race attracted a field of 10, with Dubara drawing post 10.

“If she’s doing well, we’ll run her back,” Walsh said. “She seemed like she liked that track the other day. She looks like she came out of it good, and there’s not a lot of places to go back after here either. We can give her some time after that.

“She wasn’t beaten very far in the One Dreamer. Maybe for the lack of not having a race for a while, maybe she did get tired.”

As a British-bred, Dubara isn’t eligible for the $200,000 offered in purse supplements for Kentucky-sired and -born horses. But she’s still running for $300,000 - her most lucrative race to date.

“That’s not to be snuffed at,” Walsh said. “In Europe, they’ll do it (running back in a week), and nobody blinks. I do it, especially after a grass race.”

He noted the fortuitous irony that Dubara was getting excluded in races with smaller purses “and gets in these two big-money races.

“I think she fits. She was beaten three-quarters of a length the other day off a two-month layoff, and if she moves up… Listen, I know it was slightly farther the other day. A mile should be perfect for her.”

Wilkes brings strong contingent to Saturday's stakes

Nessy is just warming up when he gets to the Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup’s 1 1/2-mile distance, having won Santa Anita’s 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano earlier this year. He hasn’t fared as well since, however, with a sixth in the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup and fifth in Arlington’s 12-furlong Stars and Stripes.

Nessy is part of a solid contingent that trainer Ian Wilkes is running in stakes Saturday. He also has Bonnie Arch in the Ladies’ Turf, Originator in the Ladies Sprint and Done Deal in the Turf Sprint.

“I freshened Nessy up for a fall campaign here,” Wilkes said Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs. “He’s trained well. He’s ultra-consistent. If he runs his race, he’ll be right there.”

Nessy has run the past two years at Kentucky Downs, finishing fifth in the Dueling Grounds Derby and then seventh in last year’s Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup, but by less than four lengths. He'll be ridden by 2017 Kentucky Downs meet-leading jockey Julien Leparoux, who won the stakes last year on Oscar Nominated.

Bonnie Arch is in the best form of her career, winning a Churchill Downs allowance race and the Ellis Park Turf before finishing a close third in the Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf.

“Bonnie’s overcome a lot,” Wilkes said. “She’s doing really well and is in good form. Bonnie is her own worst enemy sometimes. How she handles the paddock, how she handles the pre-race, is the biggest key. She wasn’t bad at Ellis, but she can be. She anticipates everything. You can school her, school her, school her. And she still is like that.”

Originator comes in off three straight seconds, most recently in Saratoga’s $100,000 Coronation Cup. A 3-year-old taking on her elders, she has four seconds in five starts since winning her debut.

“She’s just a 3-year-old filly, but she’s been very consistent and is getting better,” Wilkes said. “Her races have been very solid."

Done Deal won four straight races by a combined 19 1/4 lengths, including the Iowa Sprint by four, before getting a reality check in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Vanderbilt on dirt, in which he was seventh, beaten 14 lengths. Now the 5-year-old gelding is back on grass, over which he’s 2 for 2. He has been working extremely well at the Skylight training center in Oldham County.

“He’s a naturally fast horse,” Wilkes said. “He’ll run turf or dirt. The horse is doing well, and it’s a good spot for him. He’s a fun horse, a cool horse. You wouldn’t know he’s around. He just does his thing.

“I have no excuses coming in with any of them. It’s just whether they’re good enough.”

* Mike Smith signs souvenir Justify prints for charity Thursday**

Jockey Mike Smith is signing souvenir Coady Photography prints commemorating Justify’s 2018 Triple Crown sweep Thursday from 1-3 p.m. Central in an area near the Finish Line Pavilion. (There will be media availability with Smith from 12:15 to 1 p.m.) Smith is making his first trip to Kentucky Downs, not to ride but using the opportunity to raise money for Old Friends equine retirement farms, which include a Kentucky Downs satellite operation, the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and The Giving Circle.

The Justify prints are available for a minimum $10 donation per print and are the only items that Smith will sign. Guests can have up to two prints signed at a time, with the ability to get back in line as long as supply lasts.

NYRA’s Cross Country Pick 4 comes to Ky Downs

The New York Racing Association’s Cross Country Pick 4, held in partnership with other top racetracks, comes to Kentucky Downs Saturday. The sequence for the 50-cent bet will be Kentucky Downs’ sixth race (Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint), Belmont’s eighth race (New York-bred turf allowance), Kentucky Downs’ seventh (Ladies Turf) and concludes with Belmont’s ninth (turf allowance). Because Belmont is the host track, the takeout is 24 percent.

Bettors should look for XC Pick 4 under the track/event menu or by asking for the Cross Country Pick 4.

Kentucky Downs will have its regular two Pick 4 wagers on Saturday’s card, featuring the track’s 14-percent takeout for that bet. The Kentucky Downs’ Pick 4 wagers will begin with the second race and the seventh race, the latter comprised of all graded stakes.

What's up at Kentucky Downs each race day

Thursday Sept. 6: Old Friends Day. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith autograph sessionof commemorative Justify prints 1-3 p.m.CT. ESPN Louisville V Show with Bob Valvano,broadcasting from track from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. CT. WGFX – FM Nashville onsite 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Stakes: $250,000 Old Friends (winner guaranteed a home at Old Friends thoroughbred retirement farm upon retirement from racing or breeding). First post: 1:25 p.m. CT

Saturday Sept. 8: Kentucky Turf Cup Day, featuring five stakes totaling $2.7 million: $750,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup (G3); $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint; $500,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (G3); $500,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint (G3); $450,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint (G3). Family Fun Day activities, including petting zoo, face painting and pony rides. First post: 1:25 p.m. CT

Sunday Sept. 9: College Day: Full-time college students with valid I.D. can sign up to win via drawing one of 10 Microsoft® Surface tablets courtesy of the Kentucky HBPA or one of two $1,500 scholarships. Two stakes: $400,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby and $300,000 Dueling Grounds Oaks. Claiming Crown preview races featuring four starter-allowance races worth $100,000 each designed as a stepping stone to the Claiming Crown Championship at Gulfstream Park in late fall. Winners receive an automatic berth in the corresponding Claiming Crown Championship race, plus $1,000 in travel expenses. Family Fun Day activities, including petting zoo, face painting and pony rides. First post: 1:25 p.m.

Thursday, Sept. 13: Franklin-Simpson Day, featuring two stakes: $400,000 Ramsey Farm, $300,000 Franklin-Simpson Stakes. First post: 1:25 p.m. CT