Will Oscar Nominated Prevail Again in the Kentucky Turf Cup?

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 straight year.

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 Keeneland.

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.

Soglio, 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 Cup?


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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.

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