The Grade 3, $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes drew a full field of 12, plus four also-eligible entrants. Leading the field is Zulu Alpha, arguably the best of the North American-based horses that specialize in these races run at the marathon distance of 1 ½ miles and farther. If not for his defeat by a neck in March, Zulu Alpha would have a perfect 4-for-4 record on the year, including victories in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes Presented by Runhappy in January, the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Stakes in February, and the Grade 2 TVG Elkhorn Stakes in July.
Eleven horses will try to beat the probable favorite, including Arklow, who won this race in 2018 and who finished second to Zulu Alpha in the Turf Cup last year. However, Arklow enters this race off poor fourth- and sixth-place finishes and is adding blinkers for the first time in hopes of reversing his recent nonthreatening efforts. Red Knight is a horse proven at this distance and beyond, having won the Point of Entry Stakes last October and the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens Stakes in December 2018. Another with a chance to compete is Postulation, most recently beaten three-quarters of a length when second to Zulu Alpha in the Elkhorn. Then there’s Hierarchy, entering the race off a second-of-11 finish in the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup Stakes last month at Ellis Park. Many of the rest have yet to run well at this distance or against stakes competition but could jump up to compete on this occasion. He’s No Lemon could be one of those as he recently won at the distance of 11 furlongs on turf and last summer was placed first via a disqualification in the 1 ½-mile Bald Eagle Derby. The rest of the field consists of American Tattoo, Bundibunan, Celerity, Changi, Eons, Grand Journey, Perfect Tapatino, Standard Deviation, Surprise Twist, and Tintoretto.
There’s no doubt Zulu Alpha is the one to beat and therefore a legitimate betting favorite, but I think Hierarchy is up to the task of posting the upset win in this year’s Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes. Hierarchy has run two “A” races in a row, arguably the two best races of his career, winning the first of the two then finishing second, beaten by a half-length, in the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup Stakes in his most recent start. Both efforts earned Hierarchy 110 Equibase Speed Figures. Zulu Alpha earned a 110 figure nearly winning the Kitten's Joy Pan American Stakes in March and a 105 speed figure winning the Elkhorn Stakes in July, so Hierarchy fits with the favorite. Additionally, the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup has already become a “KEY RACE,” indicated by two or more horses having come back to win since that race. Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup Stakes winner Factor This almost won the Grade 1 Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic Stakes last weekend at Churchill, which is not the reason the race is a key race but indicates how productive the race was. The fourth-place finisher, Ry’s the Guy, won strongly last weekend at Churchill Downs and both the eighth- and 11th-place finishers have also since won. The horse Hierarchy beat for second has not run back yet, but with the winner and fourth-place finishers having run very well, I think Hierarchy can do the same and win. Jockey Corey Lanerie was aboard for both recent big efforts and rides back, which is another positive sign. Additionally, Hierarchy put in a strong four-furlong workout in :47.60 in preparation for this race so he’s fit and ready to run big. Last but not least, Hierarchy was entered to run in the $300,000 Tapit Stakes on Wednesday and his trainer, Joe Sharp, opted for this race instead, most likely figuring with the horse in top form he could run well enough to win.
Zulu Alpha won the 2019 Turf Cup over Arklow by 3 1/4 lengths but didn’t run as well subsequently in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes or Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. Rested 12 weeks, Zulu Alpha began his 7-year-old campaign with a strong win in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, earning a career-best 119 Equibase Speed Figure in the process. After duplicating that figure and effort in the Mac Diarmida Stakes in February, Zulu Alpha lost a heartbreaker in the Pan American Stakes by a neck after battling for the lead the entire last eighth of a mile. Rested 3 ½ months, Zulu Alpha returned in the Elkhorn Stakes July 12 and won more decisively than the three-quarter-length margin of victory makes it appear. However, his figure did regress to 105 after 110 in the Pan American. Freshened two months again and proven capable of winning big races off this kind of layoff, Zulu Alpha is certainly the one to beat on paper and, as a horse who shows up every time, I think he has every right to win.
Postulation, Red Knight, and Grand Journey are three more with a decent chance to compete at least for the minor awards, and it’s not out of the question one of them could post the upset if everything goes their way. Postulation has run 11 times this 1 1/2-mile in his career, winning twice and finishing second three times. The most recent of those efforts came when leading from the start in the Elkhorn Stakes before being passed late by Zulu Alpha and finishing three-quarters of a length behind in second. That effort earned a 105 figure, and in 2018 at the distance in the Point of Entry Stakes, Postulation earned a 112 figure so a top effort puts him right there with the main contenders. Red Knight won the 2019 Point of Entry Stakes with a 108 figure and was second, beaten a half-length, in the 2019 Elkhorn so fits at this level and distance. Not seen since finishing fourth of 11 in the W. L. McKnight Stakes in January, Red Knight also won the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens Stakes in 2018 so he’s a true “stayer” who must be respected as a contender. Then there’s Grand Journey, who will very likely be one of the longshots in the field. He started out his career in claiming races but won three straight last spring and summer on the grass, the best of those earning a 107 figure. In his third race of the year on June 12, Grand Journey won at the distance of 1 1/16 miles on turf and earned a 105 figure. Trainer Mike Maker claimed the horse from that race then put him in a stakes race on July 8. Although fourth in that race, Grand Journey was beaten a nose and a head for second and tied his previous best 107 figure. Maker, who also saddles Zulu Alpha, has a knack for finding horses he can turn into successful turf stakes runners, and I have a suspicion Grand Journey may be one of those and can run better than his expected high odds would suggest he can. North American leading jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. sees fit to ride and that’s significant. Also of significance is the fact that Grand Journey is by Giant’s Causeway, who has produced a number of top turf runners including 2019 Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar. For those reasons, I plan to at least make a win and place bet on Grand Journey at likely very high odds.
The rest of the field (with their best Equibase Speed Figure): American Tattoo (110), Arklow (115), Bundibunan (107), Celerity (103), Changi (99), Eons (100), Grand Journey (107), Perfect Tapatino (107), Standard Deviation (106), Surprise Twist (110), and Tintoretto (95).
Main Win Contenders (in probability/preference order):
Secondary win contenders and in-the-money contenders: