Another week and another great turf race at Kentucky Downs for the ‘Race of the Week’. The $1 million purse makes the Kentucky Turf Cup makes it one of the premier turf races each year, and the field is once again very deep for the 2019 race.
The 2018 Kentucky Turf Cup winner Arklow is back this year to defend his title. Last year jockey Florent Geroux rode Arklow to an exciting half-length victory over Bigger Picture. Florent Geroux will once again get the ride for trainer Brad Cox, and this year Arklow is the morning line favorite despite not being victorious in 6 tries since winning this race.
Second place finisher Bigger Picture also returns at 8-1 and will look to turn the tables on Arklow, but it will be tough with a full field of 12 likely to go to post in this Grade 3 event.
Brad Cox on Arklow’s chances: “He showed up every time this year,” Cox said. “If he can run one of those races, he should be right there. He has experience over the track, so we’re excited about it. Florent has ridden him all year, and he does well down there. So I feel we have a strong hand in that race.”
With Saratoga and Del Mar put away for the summer, attention and handle dollars shift to Kentucky Downs’ rolling hills this Saturday. A quartet of rich stakes, topped by the million-dollar main event in the 10th and final race, comprise a wicked late pick four. The Kentucky Turf Cup is capped at a field of 12, which follows stakes casts of 10, 9 and 12 in the preliminaries. Ibuprofen is optional, but recommended, in your handicapping.
Defending champion ARKLOW obviously is proven at this level and G1-placed. BIGGER PICTURE and ZULU ALPHA are G2 winners on grass, while MY BOY JACK, BLENDED CITIZEN and CAMPAIGN are G3 winners on dirt. The rest will be rising in class to tackle that accomplished group.
Most 12-furlong turf marathons lack early pace. However, FACTOR THIS certainly is a 1-way speed type. The other pace players on paper would be HELLO DON JULIO and BOTSWANA, who likely will vie to sit second or press for the front. Given that FACTOR THIS is barnmate to ARKLOW, you can expect he’ll be asked to click along at a decent pace and not slow this to a crawl. Expect a fair pace even if it lacks a large number of early players.
ARKLOW and BIGGER PICTURE ran 1-2 in this race a year ago, the former denying trainer Mike Maker his bid to win the Kentucky Turf Cup for a fourth year in a row. Only a half-length separated the top pair in 2018. Not much still separates them since; both come into the rematch in fairly similar form. Stylistically, they’re both expected to launch from about the same point in the pack. Florent Geroux and Tyler Gaffalione are their capable pilots; perhaps the slightest edge goes to ARKLOW based on Geroux’s stakes dominance at Kentucky Downs in recent years. He’s won 14 stakes locally since 2014.
Team Maker extends beyond BIGGER PICTURE, also adding ZULU ALPHA and NOBLE THOUGHT. The latter has been claimed 3 times in 2019, despite being age 6, and we’ve seen Maker turn these reclamation projects into turf marathon stars. NOBLE THOUGHT was beaten 4 lengths in the G1 Sword Dancer last out and attracts Julien Leparoux, second-only in recent years at KD to Florent Geroux in the win category. ZULU ALPHA has been within a length of victory or less in 5 of his last 6 starts and partners with champion jockey Jose Ortiz. He’s traded wins with ARKLOW and BIGGER PICTURE over the past year and matches up well.
Beyond ARKLOW or the Maker trio, CAMPAIGN returns from the west coast under new leadership. He won twice at Kentucky Downs last year in a 7-day span for Steve Asmussen. He’s since been transferred to John Sadler’s operation and won the Cougar II and Tokyo City over 12 furlongs on dirt. Sadler was on fire in Del Mar stakes races this summer and this is a runner who has run triple-digit BRIS late pace figures in all 6 races since changing barns. He’s the biggest threat to the defending champ and the Maker trio.
The ‘other’ Brad Cox trainee entered with ARKLOW is FACTOR THIS. He was claimed last summer at Saratoga and has found his groove, winning his last 3 races on turf. He steps up solidly in class, and while by sprint sire The Factor, he’s out of a Singspiel mare that gives him stamina on the all-important damside of the pedigree. PILLAR MOUNTAIN finished just behind NOBLE THOUGHT in the G1 Sword Dancer last time out. He’s bred to run all day, but notably carries 5 additional pounds off that last effort. HELLO DON JULIO has done his best running when setting a pedestrian tempo. That’s not likely to happen Saturday. Triple Crown alumni MY BOY JACK and BLENDED CITIZEN don’t scream for turf marathons based on style or pedigree. Both are 3-for-16 overall, and combined 2-for-15 on grass.
Most Certain Exotics Contender: ARKLOW is the defending race champ and has landed in 11 straight superfectas in races that he’s finished.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender: BOTSWANA has been a part of 10 straight superfectas, including his last pair in stakes at 32-1 and 36-1. He should get a first-over, pressing trip behind FACTOR THIS and could stick around for a share at a big number (again).
Sending it in ($100 bankroll): $50 exacta part-wheel CAMPAIGN with ARKLOW and BIGGER PICTURE.