By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
I have long been a fan of Kentucky Downs, the unique
European-style racecourse in Kentucky that is quite unlike any other racetrack
in North America. Because the course is so different—featuring both left- and
right-handed turns, plus undulating ground and a long homestretch—it's a
refreshing handicapping challenge, and thanks to the huge purse money offered
for even minor races, the fields are typically large and competitive.
I'm a big enough fan of Kentucky Downs that I actually
have a Kentucky Downs calendar on the wall by my desk, and the photo for
September is of Oscar Nominated winning
the 2017 Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes (gr.
III) in determined fashion. Speaking of the Kentucky Turf Cup, the $750,000
race will be held for the 21st time on Saturday, and I'm optimistic
that Oscar Nominated is poised to win the 1 ½-mile turf test for the second
Quite simply, Oscar Nominated is a proven Kentucky Downs
specialist. The unusual course poses no obstacle to this five-year-old son of
Kitten's Joy, who overcame a wide trip and a slow pace to win last year's
Kentucky Turf Cup, one year after romping to victory by 6 ¼ lengths in the
Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs.
The fact that Oscar Nominated has already won two
significant stakes races at Kentucky Downs is not to be underestimated, and his
form in 2018 has been excellent, particularly when he's traversed the 1 ½-mile
distance of the Kentucky Turf Cup. He won the W. L. McKnight Handicap (gr. III)
over this distance at Gulfstream Park in January, and in April, he rallied to
finish second by less than a length in the 1 ½-mile Elkhorn Stakes (gr. II) at
Granted, Oscar Nominated never really challenged when
finishing sixth in the United Nations Stakes (gr. I) last time out, but he was
only beaten 5 ¼ lengths against a quality field, and that was after he endured
a rough run around the first turn, having to steady and check on a couple of occasions.
And don't forget, Oscar Nominated entered last year's Kentucky Turf Cup off of a
seventh-place finish in the United Nations and an eighth-place finish in the
Arlington Million (gr. I), so the drop from Grade 1 to Grade 3 company should
help his chances once again.
A couple of other facts to consider: Kitten's Joy has
been among the most successful sire of winners at Kentucky Downs in recent years,
and trainer Mike Maker has also been wildly successful at this meet with 36
wins from 167 starters dating back to 2013. That includes three straight wins
in the Kentucky Turf Cup with Da Big Hoss (2015 and 2016) and, of course, Oscar
Nominated (2017). If Oscar Nominated's 7-2 morning line odds hold up on
Saturday, I'll be excited to play him to win and on top of the exotics.
Horses like Bigger
Picture (third in the United Nations) and Manitoulin (beaten less than a length in the Grade 1 Woodford
Reserve Manhattan Stakes) are other logical contenders, but I encourage you to
consider the 12-1 shot Arklow as a
live longshot to hit the board. Trained by Brad Cox, the son of Arch won the
American Turf Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs last year and has been
competing admirably against tough company this season—just check out his solid
fourth-place finish behind Yoshida, Beach Patrol, and Synchrony in the Old
Forrester Turf Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs this spring.
Furthermore, Arklow's last two efforts have been solid.
In the 1 ½-mile Stars and Stripes Stakes (gr. III) at Arlington Park, he was
compromised by trying to rally from off the pace in a race where the
front-running winner ran the final quarter-mile in :22.83 seconds, but Arklow
nevertheless managed to finish fourth in a respectable performance.
Subsequently, Arklow traveled to Ellis Park for the 1 ¼-mile
Kentucky Downs Preview Calumet Farm Turf Cup Stakes, and after pressing slow
early fractions, he accelerated powerfully to win by a head over fellow pacesetter
Zapperini while running the final quarter-mile in about :22.33 seconds.
Obviously, Arklow's fast finish was partly the result of
the slow early pace, but my main point is that he's produced strong finishes in
his last two starts and might be in even better form than his record suggests
at first glance. There's no guarantee that he'll handle the tricky course at
Kentucky Downs, but at 12-1, his odds should be high enough to offset the risk.
I think he'll be a major player to finish in the top three.
who finished a close third in the Stars and Stripes Stakes, races for the
high-profile team of Mike Maker and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey. The son of
Scat Daddy has shown steady improvement this year and could be poised for his
best effort yet on Saturday, making his 12-1 morning line odds very appealing. Big Bend, winner of both the Dueling
Grounds Derby and the Sycamore Stakes (gr. III) as a three-year-old last year,
has lost his last five starts but showed signs of improvement when finishing a
close fourth in the Cape Henlopen Stakes at Delaware Park last time out. Perhaps
the return to Kentucky Downs can trigger a rebound for this son of Union Rags.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Kentucky Turf
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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.