Racing fans will get an appetizer for the ever-popular Kentucky Downs meet when Ellis Park stages the first “Kentucky Downs Preview Day” on Sunday. Four turf stakes – each worth a total of $100,000 ($75,000 for all runners plus $25,000 reserved solely for Kentucky-breds) – are designed not only as preps, but as “win and you’re in” events offering a free berth in their respective Kentucky Downs stakes next month.
Horsemen have responded to the initiative, as evidenced by the caliber of entries on Preview Day, and Brad Cox and Mike Maker are particularly well represented.
The 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup, a prep for the Grade 3 contest at 1 1/2 miles worth $750,000 on September 8, pits Cox’s Arklow against the Maker duo of Tizzarunner and Sir Dudley Digges. Arklow, who upset the American Turf (G2) on 2017 Kentucky Derby Day, chased Synchrony home in the March 24 Mervin Muniz Memorial (G2) at Fair Grounds. Subsequently fourth in both the Old Forester Turf Classic (G1) back at Churchill Downs on Derby Day and in the Stars and Stripes (G3) at Arlington in his latest, the Arch colt likely has further progress in him. Although Tizzarunner has yet to win a stakes, his close fourth in the July 7 Arlington H. (G3) to Divisidero (with Synchrony third) is a nifty piece of form. Sir Dudley Digges, the 2016 Queen’s Plate hero, has run below that level in his two most recent efforts over the Woodbine Tapeta. But the Gio Ponti gelding reverts to turf for the first time since catching stablemate Shining Copper in the Barbados Gold Cup back in March.
Ben Ali (G3) hero Rated R Superstar, a belatedly rallying fifth in the Pimlico Special (G3), tries turf for just the second time in his career. The Ken McPeek pupil should enjoy this trip much better than his first turf experiment in a sprint, the 2016 Allied Forces S. at Belmont, where he was run off his feet. Grade 2 veteran Flatlined, winner of last summer’s Cliff Guilliams in his only other Ellis appearance, stretches out in hopes of recapturing his lost spark. Zapperini, Harv Won’t Tap, and All Right have class questions, but enter in decent form versus lesser.
The Kentucky Downs Preview Tourist Mile, which supplants the Guilliams on the Ellis stakes schedule, sets the stage for the $750,000 affair September 1, and the Cox barn packs a powerful one-two punch with Mr. Misunderstood and Cowboy Culture. Mr. Misunderstood compiled a five-race winning spree as a sophomore last season, including the Commonwealth Turf (G3). After three creditable performances in defeat when stepping up versus older foes – a second to Synchrony in the Fair Grounds H. (G3), fourth in the Muniz, and a closing sixth in the Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) – he returned to the winner’s circle in the June 16 Wise Dan (G2). Stablemate Cowboy Culture hasn’t raced since his fifth to Mr. Misunderstood in the Woodchopper at Fair Grounds in December. That’s his lone loss from five starts at a mile, and if back to the form that carried him to victories in the 2017 Arlington Classic (G3), Centaur, and Keith Gee Memorial (over Girvin), he’ll make his presence felt.
Eddie Kenneally’s Parlor reappears as a first-time gelding after his close fifth in the Wise Dan. The stakes bridesmaid has placed in Mr. Misunderstood and Cowboy Culture’s Grade 3 wins, so any post-operative improvement would put him right there. Maker’s stakes veteran Galton, second in the Tropical Turf (G3) and Col. E.R. Bradley this past winter, has been mixing it up well in Churchill optional claimers. The progressive Siem Riep was runner-up in the July 14 Warrior Veterans at Indiana Grand, with exposed One Mean Man back in third. Off-form 10-year-old Dimension; multiple Grade 3-placed Bondurant, winless for almost two years; and Nice Not Nice, a course-and-distance allowance winner last out for Buff Bradley, round out the field.
The companion Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf, the launching pad to the $500,000 Grade 3 prize on September 8, drew an overflow field of 15, but none from Cox. Maker has a leading player in I’m Betty G, a graded performer coming off a victory in the Lady Canterbury. Lovely Bernadette boasts three graded wins for Bernard Flint, including the Mint Julep (G3) two back, but was a non-threatening sixth at Indiana Grand last out.
Two Grade 1 winners look to regain old form in the mile test. Noted and Quoted, the winner of the 2016 Chandelier (G1) for Bob Baffert, makes her seasonal debut for new trainer Mike Stidham. The daughter of The Factor underachieved at three, and the change of venue could help. Sailor’s Valentine, the 2017 Ashland (G1) upsetter, was a troubled third to I’m Betty G at Canterbury.
Ian Wilkes is double-handed with Honey Fox (G3) near-misser Res Ipsa and recent Ellis Park Turf heroine Bonnie Arch, while Steve Asmussen’s Brooks House has placed in the Gallorette (G3) and Jersey Lilly this campaign. Other contenders include Youngest Daughter, sixth in the Ellis Park Turf for Vicki Oliver, and dirt-oriented stablemate Mines and Magic; stretch-out sprinter Excessivespending; and stakes debutantes English Affair and course-and-distance allowance winner Now Power. With 12 in the main body of the field, the also-eligibles are imports Tamit, Kyllachy Queen, and Dubara, a solid third in her American premiere in the Ellis Park Turf.
The 5 1/2-furlong Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint, a stepping stone to the $500,000 Grade 3 dash over 6 1/2 furlongs on September 8, has lured TwinSpires Turf Sprint (G3) hero Will Call from Saratoga. Since that breakthrough win on Kentucky Oaks Day, the Cox trainee came right back to nab Angaston over the same Churchill Downs course June 28. Angaston, the lone sophomore in the field, had captured his two prior turf starts by daylight for Lon Wiggins. Fort Fortitude, who was fourth to Will Call and Angaston in the same allowance, was previously third in his turf and stakes debut in the Mighty Beau.
Downtown Cowboy, better known for his prowess on synthetic, has scored in three of four at Presque Isle this season including the Karl Boyes Memorial. Extravagant Kid was a slow-starting fifth in the Karl Boyes, but the Brendan Walsh charge warrants a look as the winner of a pair of Gulfstream turf sprint stakes last fall, and as runner-up to Canadian Horse of the Year Pink Lloyd in a track record-setting Jacques Cartier at Woodbine two back. Churchill Downs record-setter Maniacal, a full brother to Grade 2 victor Conquest Panthera and a half to multiple Grade 3 scorer Happy Like a Fool, notably makes his first start off the Saratoga claim for Maker. Jazzy Times’ form declined after his third in the 2016 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1), sending him into the claiming ranks, but the switch to turf agreed with him at Indiana Grand last out.