Oscar Nominated Brings Winning Profile to the Kentucky Turf Cup

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

When it comes to competitive racing on turf, it's hard to beat Kentucky Downs. The unique Kentucky track hosts a brief all-turf meet every September featuring large purses and huge fields; it's not uncommon to see races draw a full fields of twelve, plus four also-eligibles.

The unusual design of the course adds to the handicapping challenge. Unlike most tracks in North America, Kentucky Downs isn't a one-mile oval--it has an 11-furlong circumference and is shaped like a pear, with the first turn significantly sharper than the wide, sweeping second turn.

As a result, it pays to give special attention to trainers, jockeys, and even horses that have proven they can excel under these unusual conditions. That's what I'll be doing when playing the $600,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes (gr. III) this Saturday, because I think it's hard to look past Oscar Nominated's overall profile, which is seemingly a perfect fit for this race.

As a three-year-old in 2016, Oscar Nominated was among the better turf/synthetic horses in his age group, winning the Spiral Stakes (gr. III) on the Polytrack at Turfway Park and later scoring a decisive 6 ¼-length victory in the Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs, rating in mid-pack before seizing the lead early in the homestretch and drawing off to win with authority.

Oscar Nominated has gone 0-for-8 since that race, but he's finished second or third five times during that timeframe, including a third-place finish in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. I) going nine furlongs at Churchill Downs. He doesn't have much experience at the 1 ½-mile distance of the Kentucky Turf Cup, but his one try at the distance did result in a solid runner-up effort in the John B. Connally Turf Cup Stakes (gr. III) behind subsequent Grade 1 winner Bigger Picture.

On paper, Oscar Nominated's two off-the-board efforts coming into the Kentucky Turf Cup suggest that he might be losing his form, but those were actually solid performances against very deep fields. In the United Nations Stakes (gr. I), Oscar Nominated may have raced too close to a fast pace, but was still beaten just 4 ½ lengths in a quality field that included Bigger Picture, Can'thelpbelieving, Beach Patrol, and Itsinthepost, four horses that have all come back to win or place in graded stakes races. Most recently, Oscar Nominated finished eighth in the Arlington Million (gr. I), but was beaten less than three lengths for the win.

Oscar Nominated is facing an easier field in the Kentucky Turf Cup and should appreciate the drop from Grade 1 to Grade 3 company, and the return to Kentucky Downs should also be a benefit. His trainer, Mike Maker, has dominated the trainer standings at Kentucky Downs in recent years and won the last two editions of this race with Da Big Hoss. Jockey Julien Leparoux has also enjoyed solid success at Kentucky Downs, finishing third in the jockey standings each of the last two years while generating a positive ROI across all his mounts in 2016. In addition, Oscar Nominated is a son of the top turf stallion Kitten's Joy, and the progeny Kitten's Joy have generally excelled at Kentucky Downs.

Taking all of this together, I see no reason while Oscar Nominated shouldn't run a winning race this Saturday. He'll probably be well-regarded in the wagering--he might even start as the favorite--but the large field should ensure that his odds don't drop too low, and I view Oscar Nominated as the most likely winner of the Kentucky Turf Cup.

Mike Maker will send out three other horses as well, including Enterprising, who was beaten just three-quarters of a length when fourth in the Arlington Million. He's won a few graded stakes races through the years and usually be counted on for his consistency, but he's done his best work from a mile to nine furlongs and has never tackled 1 ½ miles. Kentucky Downs might be a tough spot to give this extended distance a try, especially since he seems to have a preference for firm turf and might not relish the more challenging conditions at Kentucky Downs.

Postulation has shown steady improvement this year and enters the Kentucky Turf Cup off two straight stakes wins, including the 13.5-furlong American St. Leger Stakes (gr. III) at Arlington Park, in which he tracked a solid pace before taking command and winning by 2 ¼ lengths over Taghleeb. The latter will seek to turn the tables in the Kentucky Turf Cup, but my preference is for Postulation, whose blend of tactical speed and stamina should help him work out a perfect trip regardless of how the race unfolds. If anyone can defeat Oscar Nominated, I think Postulation is the one, and if the odds are right he could be an attractive value play.

Nessy, runner-up in the 13-furlong John's Call Stakes at Saratoga 2 ½ weeks ago, might also be worth a look for the trifecta or superfecta. In the John's Call, Nessy was compromised by very slow fractions (:51.68, 1:17.90) that favored the front-running winner Infinite Wisdom (who sprinted the last five furlongs in :57.80), but Nessy did very well to rally from third in a small field and finish just a length behind Infinite Wisdom at the wire. Earlier this year, Nessy won a 1 ½-mile allowance race at Churchill Downs by 2 ½ lengths over a course labeled "good," a performance that suggests he could enjoy the conditions at Kentucky Downs. He actually ran a pretty solid race in last year's Dueling Grounds Derby, finishing fifth behind Oscar Nominated while beaten less than a length for second place.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Kentucky Turf Cup?


The Unlocking Winners Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge is back for a third consecutive year! Please be sure to post all entries, prime horses, and stable additions on the official contest page. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.

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