Race of the Week: Tourist Mile
by Joe Wulffe
Saturday September 8th: Race 10 at Kentucky Downs. The $750,000 Grade 3 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes run over 1 ½ miles on the turf for three year olds and upward. (Post Time: 6:59 EDT).
(6) Oscar Nominated: This five year old son of Kitten’s Joy returns to competition for trainer Mike Maker after a layoff of over two months as he looks to defend his title in the Kentucky Turf Cup. Oscar Nominated has been well placed in races throughout his career and this entry appears to continue that trend. He has relished racing not only at Kentucky Downs (where he is a perfect two for two having won the 2016 Dueling Grounds Derby there as well as last year’s Kentucky Turf Cup) but also at 12 furlongs where he has won three of five starts and finished second in his two other tries at the distance. Furthermore, he has proven he can handle ground with some cut in it as there is some rain in the forecast for Saturday and this could potentially cause the track conditions to be less than firm.
Additionally, Oscar Nominated does possess good tactical speed and has a fairly versatile running style such that he is equally comfortable sitting close to and stalking the pace as well as rallying from further back in the latter stages of a race. That adaptability could be crucial in a race that does not project to have much early speed signed on. Over the past three years Mike Maker has done fairly well with getting his runners into the winner’s circle off of layoffs of 46-90 days as he is currently winning at a 20% rate from 704 starts. Moreover, Maker has entrusted riding duties to Jose Ortiz who does very well when onboard E/P type horses such as Oscar Nominated having won 20% of 645 starts with that type of mount this year. Finally, Oscar Nominated’s most recent speed figures certainly make him a threat against this field and he should be considered the most likely winner of the race; however, be aware that his odds could potentially dip lower than the 7/2 ML he is at currently.
(3): Manitoulin: Trainer Jimmy Toner sends out this five year old son of Awesome Again hoping to rebound off of a very disappointing showing in the Bowling Green Stakes (G2T) at Saratoga back on July 28th. In that race it is likely that he did not appreciate the incredibly soft going of the turf course and should instead enjoy a return to racing on ground with a little less cut in it. Although Manitoulin has yet to hit the board in any of his three starts this year, arguably his best effort came back on June 9th in the ten furlong Manhattan Stakes (G1T) at Belmont where despite hitting the gate at the start, he managed to recover well and finish fourth beaten by just ¾ of a length in the chaotic nearly blanket finish for that race. The Manhattan has come back incredibly strong as the winner of that race, Spring Quality, finished third in the Sword Dancer Stakes (G1T), the sixth place finisher, Robert Bruce, won the Arlington Million (G1T), and the eighth place finisher, Channel Maker, finished second in both the Bowling Green (G2T) and Sword Dancer (G1T).
Furthermore, Manitoulin has displayed a very adaptable running style and while it appears he prefers to be forwardly placed and stalk the pacesetters, he has also demonstrated that he can be competitive whilst closing from much further back in the field. However, given the possibility that the pace for the race will be fairly moderate if not downright slow, it is much more likely that Manitoulin will be up close to the front, rating just off of the leaders. On Saturday, Manitoulin will be ridden by James Graham and while his turf stats are not particularly noteworthy Graham has been having quite a meet thus far at Kentucky Downs, having finished second five times in his first 14 starts at the track. While Manitoulin’s record displays that he failed to hit the board in his only previous start at Kentucky Downs, keep in mind that was prior to him being gelded and in fact he has raced much better following that process. It would be somewhat of a surprise to see Manitoulin win on Saturday as this will be just his third start at twelve furlongs but he certainly has the capacity to hit the board and earn a minor award instead and may very well do so at a nice price.
(8) Arklow: The barn of trainer Brad Cox sends out this four year old son of Arch to compete against a field of much tougher foes following a narrow victory in the ten furlong Kentucky Downs Preview Calumet Farm Turf Cup Stakes at Ellis Park back on August 5th. In that race, Arklow tracked the glacially slow pace initial pace, shifted into the four path as the field turned for home, commenced a long drive down the stretch and managed to prevail and win by just a head at the wire. Although Arklow’s only previous try at 12 furlongs resulted in an off the board finish in the Stars and Stripes Stakes (G3T) at Arlington Park on July 7th (a race in which the winner, Catcho En Die, wired the field), his pedigree suggests that he should be able to handle the trip in his second attempt at the distance. Furthermore, Arklow has proven recently that he is versatile enough that he could potentially be involved in dictating the pace at least early on. This could be crucial as there does not appear to be much if any other true early speed signed on and if Arklow is able to get out to an easy initial lead, he could very well be a factor in determining how the race finishes.
Over the past three years, Brad Cox has done remarkably well with returning runners that won their last race to the winner’s circle as he is currently winning at a 29% rate from 541 starts. Furthermore, over the past year when racing three year olds and upward at turf routes that won their last race and are making their third start off of a layoff, Cox has won seven of ten starts (70% win rate!) with a $4.20 R.O.I. as well. Arklow’s speed figures as of late appear to be on the rise and a return to the 96 Bris Speed Rating (BSR) that he posted earlier this year would certainly make him competitive against this field. In addition, Arklow has demonstrated that he can handle a turf course with some give in the ground; yet, if the track at Kentucky Downs turns into a bog then his form over such a surface is a little less appealing. The only area of slight concern for Arklow is that he has never raced before at Kentucky Downs; however this issue is rectified by the fact that his pilot on Saturday is none other than Florent Geroux who currently has the most wins at the track over the past five years with 34. Although Geroux has been off to a fairly slow start at this year’s meet, if he can give Arklow a good trip and have him in contention in the latter stages of the race, then this colt certainly has the potential to hit the board at a very big price.
There are a number of worthy entrants in this very competitive field of twelve for this year’s edition of the Kentucky Turf Cup for use as underneath plays, but ultimately the (2) Nessy was chosen. Trainer Ian Wilkes has signed on Julien Leparoux to ride and it appears that a change of scenery (namely racing at a track not named Saratoga) has been good for him as over the course of his first two days at the Kentucky Downs meet he boasts a record of 17-4-1-2. Nessy may have had some excuses for his poor showings in his last two performances but if he is able to return to the excellent form he displayed in the beginning of the year, especially in that start in the San Juan Capistrano (G3T) in April at Santa Anita over 14 furlongs, he can definitely make himself a contender against his rivals on Saturday. Furthermore, over the course of his career, Nessy has demonstrated that is equally adept at hitting the board not only when sitting close to and stalking the pace but also when dropping to the back of the field and then closing late with a good kick. Such versatility could work to his advantage on Saturday as the initial pace of the race will likely determine how Leparoux positions his charge and thus dictates whether Nessy tries to get involved early on or makes a challenge for the lead as the field heads down the stretch. Finally, the only factor working against Nessy is that he has failed to hit the board in both starts at Kentucky Downs although this could be related more to how the races themselves were run than the course itself. While it would be incredibly surprising for Nessy to win on Saturday, he certainly has the potential to hit the board and given his 15-1 ML odds he certainly merits inclusion as an underneath play in all exotics.