Kentucky Downs Calumet Turf Cup 2021 Entries: A Handful of Makers vs. The Field

Trainer Mike Maker (photo courtesy of Coady) comes into this $1 Million Kentucky Downs 'Feature' on Saturday with 5 runners ... see how the race shakes out in this preview.
Trainer Mike Maker (photo courtesy of Coady) comes into this $1 Million Kentucky Downs "Feature" on Saturday with 5 runners ... see how the race shakes out in this preview.
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Race 9: 1½ (Turf), Calumet Turf Cup Stakes (G2), Purse $1 Million, 3+ (Saturday)

One of the “signature” races of the 6-day Kentucky Downs Meet in September is this Grade II distance test, going 12 furlongs on the European-style course. Known formerly as the Kentucky Turf Cup (upped to a Grade III now), historically the purse of this particular race has continued to rise steadily over the years. Since 2019, it has winnings hit $1 million, and that continues to raise eyebrows among connections and the betting public alike. Over the past 6 years this race was a tug-of-war against Brad Cox and Mike Maker. The former has won 2 contests with Arklow, while Maker has notched scores with Da Big Hoss, Oscar Nominated, and Zulu Alpha. Whether this trend will continue is the question, as a brimming group of 12 draws in, plus some AEs. A trip to the Breeders' Cup is on the line, and a place in the starting gate for the Turf (G1) ... should be a fun one!

Now, let’s find out about this field…


#1 Imperador (Jky: J. Talamo/Trn: P. Lobo):

The Paulo Lobo charge has some nice class to his name when it comes to the son of Treasure Beach’s development over the past year. Lobo has brought him along quite well, and even though he does not have a win to his name in North America, he ran well back in his native Argentina—winning a Grade 1 @San Isidro. Last out in the competitive UN (G1) @Monmouth, he exhibited a nice turn-of-foot late in the contest, finishing 2nd to a Chad Brown ace. Coming into this spot will be a distance test, and Joe Talamo is going to have his work cut out for him. It may not be enough …

Grade: C+


#2 Crossfirehurricane (Jky: F. Prat/Trn: M. McCarthy):

Trainer Mike McCarthy has tried on a couple of occasions to get this older colt to class surf in some stiff SoCal turf company (G1-Shoemaker/G2-Del Mar H.). It has not exactly worked out all that well, as the phrase “no impact” comes to mind. All the signs are there that this 4-yr-old can take a step forward … he has all the tools needed. Strong pedigree—Kitten’s Joy … excellent trainer who is having an excellent year—McCarthy … homebred—owned by the Heider Family … solid lawn jockey aboard for the 1st time—Flavien Prat. Now, he just needs to get home, for some, it is more than conceivable.

Grade: C+


#3 Channel Cat (Jky: J. Velazquez/Trn: J. Sisterson):

When you come across a deep turf router who is out of English Channel, most horseplayers that understand pedigrees sit up and take notice. There is no doubt that this Calumet homebred has game under the watchful eye of Kentucky’s own, Jack SIsterson. This 6-yr-old is well-travelled having run at Gulfstream Park, Keeneland, Belmont, and most recently in the Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga. He was a pretty short price in that race, but John Velazquez could not hold the lead when at the top of the lane. Unable to control the fractions, especially late, that is his weakness. With a fitness level that is inordinately high, he could be ready for action here.   

Grade: B+


#4 Tide of the Sea (Jky: L. Saez/Trn: M. Maker):

The Three Diamonds/Mike Maker relationship continues to flourish, and it was on full display up at Saratoga. This 5-yr-old horse out of English Channel last ran over at Ellis Park, another “Maker” spot, and he just missed the board in the “Preview” 125k race for this one. His 2021 became a major class jump for the runner, as his connections sent him into some challenging contests at Gulfstream (where he won the Grade III McKnight), Keeneland, and Belmont. Used to shipping, he might end up being an overlay, if he drifts on the tote board from 6/1. Getting Luis Saez, who is fresh off his SPA riding title, might be the best news. He is dealing with a much different racetrack than the NYRA courses, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the ability to be impactful. Controlling the fractions up front … that will be the key.

Grade: B


#5 Arklow (Jky: F. Geroux/Trn: B. Cox):

A leading question … is there something amiss with this senior member of Brad Cox’s outfit? Over the past couple of races, UN (G1) @Mnmth and DMR H. (G2) @DMR, he just has not had the accelerator when he needed it. Granted, those were 2 very contentious contests, and maybe he will find this one more to his liking. The 7-yr-old out of Arch “likes” the pear-shape @KD. Last year, he won for the 2nd time (what was called the Grade III Kentucky Turf Cup) over soft going, but clearly, he can also handle a hard give too. I would not count out Cox, Florent Geroux, or Donegal Racing …

Grade: B


#6 Bluegrass Parkway (Jky: J. Leparoux/Trn: M. Maker):

In 2021, the lightly-raced gelding out of Quality Road ran the best race of his career over at Ellis on 8 August in the “Preview” for this race. Julien Leparoux ably guided his mount over the final furlong in what was a furious charge. Most bettors will want more proof that he is “ready” to make such a jump, but let’s remember that Mike Maker is an impressive tactician. He spots well … knows what his charges are ready to do … hand the controls to the right jockey at the proper time. Maybe he is just rounding into form, and coming into KD at this exact moment is the play. Using him underneath, as strong as he looked last out, seems like a must.

Grade: B-


#7 Fantasioso (ARG) (Jky: U. Rispoli/Trn: I. Correas):

The excellent ownership group at Bloom Racing just won with Snapper Sinclair on Wednesday, and they are looking for more “green glory” in this key race at Kentucky Downs. I am not sure that this horse, out of Strategic Prince (GB) has the form to get the job done. All of his races since coming to run stateside from Argentina were fairly lackluster when it came to effort. Last out at Saratoga in the Johns Call 120k, he hit the board, but it was not the kind of performance to write home about. He has the chance to come to Kentucky and wipe the slate clean. Leaning on some of that experience is what new jockey Umberto Rispoli must do if he wants to be competitive against this tough group. There is no question that his lawn jockeying has developed nicely out in SoCal riding at Santa Anita and Del Mar. But is it reasonable to think that he can blow into southern Kentucky and win the day? Bloom Racing and trainer Ignacio Correas certainly think so …

Grade: C+


#8 Ajourneytofreedom (Jky: I. Ortiz/Trn: M. Maker):

Another Mike Maker runner enters this race, and it is beginning to be tough to distinguish just which one of them is best. There are some positives about this gelding out of Hard Spun—his sire, for one, is excellent at producing turfers. Frankly, I think you could be disappointed in that last effort in the Johns Call 120k at Saratoga back on 25 August. It just did not seem like he had much interest in doing any running … maybe needing something longer was the issue? Well-bet after a prior score in an OC80k up there, maybe the class jump was just too much? Getting Irad Ortiz in the irons this time around might be just the ticket. His aggressive lines, and ability to urge a grass horse on late can be impressive. Paradise Farms makes some shrewd investments, and this one has the potential to be double-digits at post time.  

Grade: B


#9 Glynn County (Jky: T. Gaffalione/Trn: M. Maker):

The most interesting of the Mike Maker entries is this one … a talented 4-yr-colt out of Kitten’s Joy for Three Diamonds who can handle this distance with ease. Bred by the Ramseys, he has the potential to play spoiler in this race. With a win over the course last year, a MSW90k, his best assets are the ability to settle in, and then make a big run late for the wire. His past 2 tests were against more experienced turf specialists, so it would make sense that coming into KD he finally has an edge. To me, getting Tyler Gaffalione is a brilliant move, as his style continues to develop to the positive. I think this colt is peaking at the proper time, and easily will be an overlay when this race goes off. I expect this to be my top pick.

Grade: A-


#10 Epic Bromance (Jky: J. Bravo/Trn: J. Sweezey):

The former Mark Casse runner is now in the hands of Kent Sweezey, and the gelding did not do too poorly finishing 3rd in the UN (G1) at the whopping odds of 61/1. I would consider that a victory, especially considering the company. Coming to KD for the first time, Epic Racing is hoping for more. The well-bred half-brother to his gatemate #9 gets Joe Bravo, who shifted his tack out to SoCal, and competed nicely on the grass. That might assist, but I still think this spot is a big ask … he will not be as high on the tote as last time, but should still qualify as a long shot.

Grade: C


#11 Zulu Alpha (Jky: R. Santana/Trn: M. Maker):

Calumet Farm bred this 8-yr-old gelding in what seems like a long time ago, but the Michael Hui-owned distance specialist might still have one more Turf Cup go left in him (he is a former champion in this race). We shall see … Mike Maker certainly hopes so … This gelding out of Street Cry has not had his normal fastball in 2021, and it has been since the Grade II Elkhorn back at the truncated Keeneland Meet during the summer of 2020 that he actually won. Still, he commands respect, and Maker is choosing to hand the jockeying duties to Ricardo Santana. There was a time I would shudder at that thought, but this jockey has improved his grass riding skills over the past year. Coming to KD after a nice run at Saratoga could help reinvigorate this senior member of Maker’s outfit. He still has major talent; it just might be fading …



#12 Breakpoint (CHI) (Jky: TBA/Trn: S. Asmussen):

Jose Ortiz was just removed from this mount as he has tested positive for COVID-19, so Steve Asmussen will have to find another capable rider to take his place. The jockey colony at KD is full of prospects, so that should not be an issue. What is? Well, the former Chad Brown runner was not too impressive in his 1st couple of races here in North America after coming from Argentina. Maybe that is why Brown is no longer the trainer for Don Albert and Three Chimneys? What we do know is that this race is going to be a big ask, and I doubt seriously that even hitting the board is in his future. Maybe extending to 1½, and running like he did in his native country will be the ticket. I wouldn’t necessarily add him to mine.  

Grade: C


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