(Photo: Zulu Alpha, shown winning last year's $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup, will again face 2018 winner Arklow in this year's running of the 1 1/2-mile, Grade 3 grass stakes. Coady Photography)
FRANKLIN, Ky. (Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020) — 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.
The list of nominations to the nine stakes spread over the last three days of racing at the RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs were released Sunday. Nominations for the seven stakes over the first three days were previously announced. Kentucky Downs opens on Labor Day — two days after the delayed Kentucky Derby — and continues on Sept. 9, 10, 12, 13 and 16.
The Kentucky Turf Cup attracted a strong group of nominations, literally from A to Z. Donegal Racing’s 6-year-old Arklow is seeking his first victory since capturing New York’s Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic six races ago in a career that has seen him earn more than $1.8 million.
Michael Hui’s 7-year-old Zulu Alpha was sixth in Arklow’s Turf Classic but in his next start rallied from last of 12 to finish a close fourth against an international field in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. This year he’s made a case for being the best distance turf horse in at least the Eastern half of the United States, kicking off 2020 with victory in Gulfstream Park’s $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf for his first Grade 1 triumph. His only defeat since then came by a neck to stablemate Bemma’s Boy in Gulfstream’s Grade 2 Pan American before rebounding to take Keeneland’s Elkhorn (G2).
The Kentucky Turf Cup nominations also include Red King and Breeders’ Cup Turf runner-up United, who finished 1-2 in the recent Del Mar Handicap (G2).
Calumet Farm’s 6-year-old mare Siberian Iris is nominated to the stakes her owner sponsors, as well as against her own sex in the 1 5/16-mile TVG Stakes (formerly the Ladies Marathon). Siberian Iris, United’s stablemate in Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella’s barn, was second to Red King in Santa Anita’s San Juan Capistrano (G3).
“There’s a chance that United might come for the big race. We need a few more days to think about it,” Mandella said via text. “The mile and a half does make it interesting for Siberian Iris, but she will also look at the filly race the next day.”
The Sept. 12 Kentucky Turf Cup anchors a five-stakes extravaganza on Calumet Farm Day that includes the co-featured $700,000 RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint (G3), a “Win and You’re In” qualifying race for the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) on Nov. 7 at Keeneland. The quartet of Grade 3 stakes also includes the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint and $500,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf, along with the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Trainer Brad Cox plans to run Arklow in blinkers for the first time in his 29-race career in the Kentucky Turf Cup.
“Kind of a little bit late in life to be making such an equipment change,” Cox said. “But I’ve been training him in them, and I feel like I’m seeing a different horse. I’m very positive it will help him. He’s a very laid-back horse. He gets a little more aggressive training, and his breezes have been a touch more consistent. Not the greatest workhorse in the world, and he’s been pretty steady in his works since adding the blinkers. So that’s given me the confidence to think it will turn him around.”
Arklow finished fourth as the favorite in Monmouth Park’s Grade 1 United Nations in his last start. But that came only six days after he was sixth in the Elkhorn won by Zulu Alpha.
“He’s performed well in that race the last couple of years,” Cox said of the Kentucky Turf Cup. “I’m excited about him. I’ll take the blame for running him back at Monmouth on six days. That was kind of my idea that didn’t work out very well. He didn’t run bad; he galloped out good. Just didn’t really get a good set-up. Hopefully we get a good set-up at Kentucky Downs. Obviously it’s going to be a very tough race. But if he can get back to his old form, he’ll be a factor.
“We’ve been able to beat (Zulu Alpha), and he’s gotten the upper hand on us the last few runs. Hopefully we can turn the tables on him. I think when Arklow is himself, he’s every bit as good. That other horse is in fantastic form right, and he’s accomplished a lot this year. He’s another one who obviously likes Kentucky Downs.”
Mike Maker, trainer of Zulu Alpha and Kentucky Downs’ all-time win leader, nominated nine horses to the Kentucky Turf Cup and said via text that he plans to run Zulu Alpha and Grand Journey, who finished a good fourth in Indiana Grand’s Jon Schuster Memorial in his first start since being claimed for $62,500. Maker has won the Kentucky Turf Cup a record four times, with $2.16 million-earner Zulu Alpha trying to join the Maker-trained Da Big Hoss (a $50,000 claim and the 2015-2016 Kentucky Turf Cup winner) and the Jonathan Shepherd-trained Rochester as the only repeat winners.
Maker’s other Kentucky Turf Cup winner in 2017 was $75,000 claim Oscar Nominated. He finished second, third, fourth and fifth in 2018.
Zulu Alpha is the centerpiece of Hui’s Kentucky Downs contingent. Ever since running fourth in the 2016 Kentucky Turf Cup with Greengrassofyoming, his first starter at the track, Hui has focused much of his year on getting horses to Kentucky Downs.
He also will have $80,000 claim Parlor in the $750,000 Tourist Mile on WinStar Farm Day’s opening Labor Day program and Tiger Blood in the $700,000, Grade 3 RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint, among others. Parlor lost Keeneland’s Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile by a nose to 2019 Preakness Stakes winner War of Will in his last start. Tiger Blood finished a closing second over very soft turf in Ellis Park’s $100,000 RUNHAPPY Preview Turf Sprint.
Multiple graded-stakes winner Factor This, who finished fourth in last year’s Kentucky Turf Cup, earned a free spot in the race by virtue of repeating last year’s victory in Ellis Park’s $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup. However, the Brad Cox trainee is expected to run in the $1 million Old Forester Turf Classic on Saturday’s Kentucky Derby undercard.
The RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint attracted 47 nominations, including the top three finishers from a year ago: victorious Totally Boss, runner-up Smart Remark and Leinster. Others nominated include 2018 runner-up White Flag, 2018 Tourist Mile winner Bound for Nowhere, Ellis Park’s RUNHAPPY Preview Turf Sprint winner Carotari and Stubbins, who beat older horses in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Woodford after finishing second at Kentucky Downs in last year’s Grade 3 Franklin-Simpson.
Of Parlor, Hui says, “He’s never been better. Even Tiger Blood, he had a very difficult trip at Ellis. Not that any Mike Maker horse is not live, but I have three very live horses for Kentucky Downs.
"If I wasn’t into horse ownership, I’d still come there just for the experience. It’s just fun.”