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