The Grade 2, $1 million Calumet Turf Cup Stakes drew a full field of 12, plus four also-eligible entrants, all vying to win an automatic entry into the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf in November at Del Mar.
Arklow, who won the race in 2018 and 2020, is back, as is 2019 Turf Cup winner Zulu Alpha. Channel Cat won the 2018 Dueling Grounds Derby on the Kentucky Downs course and has not run on it since but won the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes in May. Arklow won the Grade 3 Louisville Stakes in May at this marathon 1 ½-mile trip but has not threatened in two similar races since then. Similarly, Zulu Alpha, who finished third behind Arklow last year, has run poorly in both starts in 2021. Imperador most recently finished second in the Grade 1 United Nations Stakes at the distance of 1 3/8 miles but has never finished in the top three in two races at this distance. Bluegrass Parkway is one of five horses in the Turf Cup trained by Mike Maker (plus one of the four also-eligibles) and just won the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup Stakes at the distance of 1 ¼ miles but has never run this far. Then there’s Tide of the Sea, another of the Maker trainees, who won the Grade 3 W. L. McKnight Stakes in January and who could be the one in front from the start. Fantasioso could be a factor in the Turf Cup as he finished second June 4 in the Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup at the distance of two miles on turf. Similarly, Ajourneytofreedom (another trained by Maker) missed by a neck in the Grade 3 John B. Connally Turf Cup Stakes at this distance in January and is another who, if able to repeat his best effort in a stakes race similar to this one, could have a say in the outcome. Breakpoint won the Group 1 El Ensayo Stakes in his native Chile last December. That race carried a $150,000 purse and is one of the biggest in South American racing, so he could fit as a contender in this field. Crossfirehurricane, Epic Bromance, and Glynn County round out the main body of the field, while Artemus Eagle, Big Dreaming, Dynadrive, and Time for Trouble are the also-eligible entrants who can run if any of the horses in the main body of the race withdraw.
Tide of the Sea moved from the barn of Bill Mott to Mike Maker’s care between his starts in August 2019 and June 2020. Since then, he has won three times and finished second four other times in 11 races. The best of those in terms of his Equibase Speed Figures was last October at Keeneland when, at the 1 ½-mile distance of the Turf Cup, Tide of the Sea led from start to finish to earn a 107 figure. Two races later, Tide of the Sea won the W. L. McKnight Stakes in January at the distance of this race then four races later he led from the start and settled for second in the Grand Couturier Stakes on turf the Turf Cup distance. The key to the most successful finishes for Tide of the Sea came when he was sent to the lead from the start, resulting in all three of his wins in the last year. Jockey Luis Saez, fresh off winning the Saratoga 2021 riding title, has ridden Tide of the Sea just once previously, in the Grand Couturier, when Saez was aggressive from the opening of the gate and a race in which although Tide of the Sea was passed late, he was beaten by Gufo, who went on to win the Grade 1 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer Stakes four weeks later. In this year’s Turf Cup, I expect Saez to be equally aggressive from the start with no other true “need-the-lead” type in the field. With only Channel Cat to get in front of at the start in order to slow down the pace, Tide of the Sea can play “come catch me” with this group and post the mild upset to win the race.
Ajourneytofreedom and Glynn County both appear capable of winning if Tide of the Sea can’t go all the way in front. Both also are trained by Maker, with Glynn County owned by Three Diamonds Farm, which owns Tide of the Sea. The most recent race in which Ajourneytofreedom tried this marathon turf trip was in mid-July at Saratoga when, after relaxing in sixth (of seven) for the first mile and one-quarter, Ajourneytofreedom moved decisively from fifth, then to fourth, then to the lead, eventually winning by a neck. That effort earned a 111 Equibase Speed Figure not far from his best, a 115 figure earned when third in the Belmont Gold Cup in June. With the second leading jockey in all of North America, Irad Ortiz, Jr., getting aboard Ajourneytofreedom for the first time, if the horse can stay close to Tide of the Sea and Channel Cat in the early stages, he could repeat either of those efforts in representative races to win. Glynn County also recently won at this 1 ½-mile turf trip, in June, with a similar effort to the one Ajourneytofreedom put forth in July. In that race, Glynn County raced in fourth in the early stages then rallied to win by a couple of lengths with a quick burst of speed. That effort only earned a 103 Equibase Speed Figure, which was exceeded two races later when the colt earned a career-best 109 figure finishing third in the Mr. D. Stakes (formerly the Arlington Million) at the shorter distance of 1 ¼ miles. Back to the longer trip, Glynn County could be the one passing stablemate Tide of the Sea for the score.
Secondary contenders: Dynadrive will need help from one or more horses withdrawing from the 12-horse main body of the field to run in the Turf Cup as he is on the also-eligible list, but he must be given some consideration if he does run. First or second in 11 of 17 races, Dynadrive joined the Maker barn last October via a $50,000 claim. His best efforts came in his last two starts when second then first, the latter of the two earning a 104 figure which can be improved upon as Jose Ortiz rides back following being in the saddle for the very first time. Although the win in August in his most recent race came at the distance of a mile and a quarter, Dynadrive is bred to handle this 1 ½-mile trip and is another who can lay close to the expected slow early pace and be in the picture at the finish line.
Bluegrass Parkway just won the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup Stakes at Ellis Park, the same race Arklow used as a prep to win the Turf Cup in 2018. The effort earned Bluegrass Parkway a career-best 105 Equibase Speed Figure and, considering it was only the horse’s fourth start since joining the powerful Maker barn and jockey Julien Leparoux rides him right back, there’s a chance he can run much better than his high odds would suggest is possible.
As to the three horses which may be favored by bettors, I feel they have less chance to win then their odds make it appear and for the most part I am going to take a stand against them winning. Arklow, who won this race in 2018 as a 4-year-old and last year as a 6-year-old (with a 116 speed figure), does not appear to be entering this year’s Turf Cup in the same form, having finished sixth in the United Nations Stakes in July and seventh last month in the Del Mar Handicap Presented by The Japan Racing Association. 2019 Turf Cup winner Zulu Alpha is now an 8-year-old and is winless since July 2020. He has finished third, fifth, and seventh in his three starts since then. However, it must be noted that the best of the three was in last year’s Turf Cup where Zulu Alpha finished third with a 114 speed figure. Channel Cat, who won the Dueling Grounds Derby (1 5/16 miles) as a 3-year-old in 2018, has a bit more chance to win compared with Arklow and Zulu Alpha as he won the Man o’ War Stakes in May with a 113 figure. However, not only has he run poorly in two races since the Man o’ War when finishing seventh and fourth, Channel Cat may not be as good at this 1 ½-mile distance as he is at 1 3/8 miles, with his record at this trip just one win, one second, and one third in seven starts.
The rest of the field (with best Equibase Speed Figure): Breakpoint (109), Crossfirehurricane (106), Epic Bromance (100), Fantasioso (115) and Imperador (114), plus also-eligibles Artemus Eagle (101), Big Dreaming (106) and Time for Trouble (103).
Main Win Contenders (in probability/preference order):
Tide of the Sea