Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from the final weekend of the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs, the most lucrative six-day meet in North America.
RIGHT CALL: Trainer Paulo Lobo’s decision to give Imperador the opportunity to show what he could do at longer distances paid off when the 5-year-old Argentinian-bred won the Calumet Turf Cup on Saturday to secure a fees-paid berth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar. Imperador had gradually responded to the stretch-out, placing second in the 1 3/8-mile United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park on July 17 in his previous start. He completed the mile-and-a-half Turf Cup in 2:25.70 for jockey Joe Talamo. The son of Treasure Beach will train up to the Turf. “In the Breeders’ Cup, we are going to be in deeper waters,” Lobo said. “But the horse is peaking at the right time.”
RIGHT CALL II: Trainer Rusty Arnold’s realization that he should capitalize on Gear Jockey’s natural speed by shortening him in distance was rewarded when the Calumet Farm homebred delivered an authoritative 2 ½-length victory in the FanDuel Turf Sprint on Saturday. Arnold was extraordinarily candid in discussing his handling of 4-year-old Gear Jockey, who was sired by Twirling Candy. “I’d made a mistake to try to run him long. We shortened him up and his sprints have been unbelievable,” Arnold said. Gear Jockey immediately responded to sprinting by winning an allowance optional claiming race at Saratoga on July 17 before a third-place effort there in the Troy Stakes Presented by Horse Racing Ireland on Aug. 6. Saturday’s victory was accompanied by a fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
BRUTAL LUCK: Arklow might well have captured the Turf Cup for the third time in his fine career if jockey Florent Geroux had not been forced to steady him in mid-stretch. “It was just a tough beat, bad luck. I had a great trip. I was saving ground. He was traveling great. I thought I had the horses measured in front of me,” Geroux said. “I thought I had the speed turning for home and the horses came back at us quick. I had to take a hold and come around and it was too late.” The 7-year-old son of Arch came on again after being steadied but missed by a neck, leaving Geroux exasperated. “If I split horses and get through, they’ll tell me it’s a great ride,” he said. “I didn’t. I got squeezed and it’s a bad ride.”
WINNING FORMULA: Kentucky Downs continues to show what can be accomplished with a short but very sweet meet that offers huge purses that attract large and talented fields. The track offered purses totaling $15.9 million over six days. The result? They enjoyed a 24 percent increase in total handle, with the figure soaring to $74,088,532 from last year’s record mark of $59,828,441. The very big business signaled mission accomplished to Ted Nicholson, vice president for racing. “Our goal is to serve as a mini all-turf Breeders’ Cup and to stamp ourselves as truly an international launching pad to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships,” he said. “We took a big step in that direction this year.”
COMMENDABLE DECISION: Zulu Alpha was very good to owner Michael Hui, who gladly returned the favor. The turf star thrived under trainer Mike Maker after being claimed by Hui for $80,000. He won seven graded stakes for his new connections, including the Calumet Turf Cup in 2019 and the Pegasus World Cup Turf in 2020. When the 8-year-old gelding showed signs of slippage as he prepared for this year’s Turf Cup, Hui decided against pressing on or dropping him in class. He scratched from the Turf Cup and retired Zulu Alpha to Old Friends, Michael Blowen’s idyllic Thoroughbred aftercare retirement center in Georgetown, Ky. “There’s not a whole lot that’s physically wrong with him. After consultation with Mike, he just believes he will not be competitive at this level,” Hui said, adding, “He took me to a level I never dreamed of. The right thing to do is, while he’s good, he deserves the utmost in retirement.”