Some of the best purses in North America are being offered on a daily basis during the all-turf meeting at Kentucky Downs. Nearly every race has a full field of 12 and this year’s Grade 3 Calumet Farms Kentucky Turf Cup, which offers a tremendous purse of $750,000, is no exception. Sixteen horses are entered to run in the race, including four also-eligible entrants, for the 1 ½-mile trip over the course that can be best described as shaped like a carabiner, with dips and rises and a sweeping right hand turn before the exceptionally long (one-quarter mile) stretch run that seems like it never ends.
Leading the Kentucky Turf Cup field is Oscar Nominated, with career earnings of $1.4 million, including a victory in this race last year and also including a win in the Grade 3 W. L. McKnight Handicap in January. Next in terms of career accomplishments is Bigger Picture, one of five entrants trained by Mike Maker, including Oscar Nominated. Bigger Picture also won a similar stakes race in January of this year, the Grade 3 John B. Connally Turf Cup Stakes. Another horse proven to like the course at Kentucky Downs is Big Bend, winner of the Dueling Grounds Derby last year as a 3-year-old and entering the race following a fourth of nine finish in the Cape Henlopen Stakes. Nessy fits with these based on winning the 1 ¾-mile, Grade 3 San Juan Capistrano Stakes this past April, as does Manitoulin, who captured the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup in November at the distance of the Kentucky Turf Cup. Arklow won the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup Stakes last month at Ellis Park and is another with a chance, although he finished fourth in his only previous try at 1 ½ miles. Patterson Cross is one of the four on the also-eligible list, all needing others in the main body of the race to be scratched in order to run, but he could be a contender if he does run based on defeats by inches in both the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Stakes and in the Grade 2 Pan American Stakes early in 2017. Some in Tieme is another entrant worthy of mention, as he finished second behind Bigger Picture in the Connally and could improve off that effort, although he has run poorly in three races since then.
Although Oscar Nominated is a strong contender to repeat in this year’s Kentucky Turf Cup, I believe Patterson Cross can post the upset if he draws into the race. A lightly raced 5-year-old with just 14 races under his belt, Patterson Cross proved he belongs at this graded stakes level and marathon distance with three superb efforts in a row in the winter of 2017. Starting that January, when leading late and missing by a length when third in the 2017 McKnight Handicap (a race won this year by Oscar Nominated), Patterson Cross then missed by a head to Grade 1 winner Wake Forest in the Mac Diarmida Stakes before a neck defeat in the Pan American Stakes behind multiple graded stakes winner Sadler’s Joy. The best of those three efforts earned Patterson Cross a 113 Equibase Speed Figure, which he bettered just two months ago (in his fourth start following an 11-month layoff) when missing in a four-horse, blanket finish at Saratoga, earning a career-best 121 figure. Following that effort, Patterson Cross was rallying from seventh to second in the stretch in the John’s Call Stakes when he was impeded and finished fourth before being moved up to third when the runner-up was disqualified for interference. That effort earned a 118 figure, so Patterson Cross enters the Turf Cup off the two best races of his career, with both figures better than the 114 figure Oscar Nominated earned for winning this race last year.
Oscar Nominated has won six races in 27 starts, with five wins in 25 turf starts. Many of the five wins came when it counted the most, as in last year’s Kentucky Turf Cup with a 114 figure, followed by a career-best 122 figure when second in the Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International Stakes in October. Oscar Nominated began his 2018 campaign with a win in the McKnight at the 1 ½-mile distance of the Turf Cup, but has run well only once in three races since, when second by less than a length in the Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes in April. Still, considering he really likes the course at Kentucky Downs, where he’s undefeated in two races (the other being the Dueling Grounds Derby in 2016), Oscar Nominated must be given a lot of respect as a contender to win this race for the second year in a row.
Big Bend could be worth a wager at high odds in this race. He’s a lightly raced 4-year-old with just 16 starts, 12 on turf, including four wins. One of those wins came in his only previous try at Kentucky Downs, winning the 2017 Dueling Grounds Derby (the same race Oscar Nominated won in 2016) with a 113 speed figure. In that race, Big Bend led from start to finish at the distance of 1 5/16 miles, a very difficult task on this course. In his most recent race, Big Bend rallied from eighth to fourth in the Cape Henlopen Stakes with a 106 figure that may bear improvement as the horse that finished just in front of him, Utmost, improved to win the Grade 2 Sky Classic Stakes in his next race. Jockey Drayden Van Dyke rode Big Bend to his win last year in the Derby and comes in to ride again, having just won the riding title at the recently concluded meeting at Del Mar in Southern California. As such, we might be kicking ourselves after the race if we ignored the chances of Big Bend in this race.
Another to consider if he draws into the race is Bandua, a Kentucky-bred colt who started his career in Europe, racing four times before making his U.S. debut last month. That U.S. debut came in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes and he finished third of 13 in that race. The figure was just 99 but there is room to improve, and in Europe Bandua won on a turf course listed as "heavy," which is very wet. As such, if the course at Kentucky Downs is other than firm, this colt has a chance to run well, perhaps even if the course is not wet based on the fact he’s a 3-year-old who has yet to fully mature physically and mentally.
The rest of the Kentucky Turf Cup field (with best Equibase Speed Figure in similar races): All Right (111), Arklow (113), Bigger Picture (115) Bronson (114), Manitoulin (116), Markitoff (106), Multiplier (111), My Bariley (108), Nessy (117), Soglio (120), Some in Tieme (118), and Twenty Four Seven (117).
Contenders in preference order: