The 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up on turf attracted 101 nominations, a total that is down slightly from last year’s roster of 108 nominees. The race is traditionally run immediately prior to the $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI). The Woodford Reserve Turf Classic is one of three Grade I events on a stellar Kentucky Derby Day racing program that will include six graded stakes races with total purses of $3.35 million. It will be televised by ESPN.
Jockey Robby Albarado piloted Einstein to a one-length victory in the 2008 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, a highlight in a remarkable campaign that saw the son of 1985 Kentucky Derby winner Spend A Buck move to the Churchill Downs dirt course to finish second to “Horse of the Year” Curlin in the $1 million Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) and end the year with a victory the 134th running of the $400,000-addded Clark Handicap (GII). Trained by Helen Pitts-Blasi, Einstein was the first horse to win both the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and the Clark Handicap. He ended 2008 with a record of 4-3-0 in nine races and earned $1,114,938. Einstein started 2009 with a third-place finish behind Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Albertus Maximus in the Donn Handicap (GI) on the dirt at Gulfstream Park and his career record stands at 9-3-2 in 23 races with earnings of $1,678,020.
While Einstein would seem to have a home-court advantage for this year’s Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, the presence of any or all of the three past Breeders’ Cup champions would add excitement to its 2009 renewal. The Oklahoma-bred Kip Deville won the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI) at Monmouth Park for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., and returned to finish second to the brilliant filly Goldikova in the 2008 renewal at Santa Anita. Owned by IEAH Stables and partners, Kip Deville won the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (GI) in his only start of 2009.
J. Paul Reddam’s Red Rocks enjoyed success at Churchill Downs when he won the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI) beneath the historic Twin Spires and returned to the United States last year to defeat two-time “Horse of the Year” Curlin in the Man ‘O War (GI) on the grass at Belmont Park. Bushwood Stable’s durable gelding Better Talk Now, the Graham Motion-trained winner of the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Lone Star Park, is back to campaign as a 10-year-old. He has 14 career victories and has earned $4,216,664 in his career. Better Talk Now notched his most recent victory in the 2007 Manhattan Handicap (GI) at Belmont Park.
Other stars nominated to the 23rd running of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic include Zayat Stable’s Thorn Song, who upset Einstein in 2008 Firecracker Handicap (GII) for trainer Dale Romans at Churchill Downs; Marc Keller’s two-time Sword Dancer Invitational (GI) winner Grand Couturier; Jambalaya, the upset winner of the 2007 Arlington Million (GI); Mervin Muniz Memorial (GII) winner Proudinsky; European Group I winner Zambezi Sun; Hollywood Derby (GII) winner Court Vision; San Marcos (GII) winner Artiste Royal; Nistle’s Crunch, winner of Churchill Downs’ Commonwealth Turf (GIII); Strub (GII) winner Cowboy Cal; Fair Grounds Handicap (GII) winner Diamond Tycoon; Virginia Derby (GII) winner Gio Ponti; Travers (GI) runner-up Mambo in Seattle; Hollywood Gold Cup (GI) winner Mast Track; Monba, winner of the 2008 Toyota Blue Grass (GI); Nownownow, winner of the San Fernando (GII) and the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf; Sunshine Millions Turf winner Soldier’s Dancer; Red Smith (GII) winner Strike a Deal; A.P. Arrow, winner of Churchill Downs’ 2007 Clark Handicap; Red Banks Handicap (GIII) winner Buffalo Man; 2007 Arlington Handicap (GIII) winner Cosmonaut; Affirmed Handicap (GIII) winner Two Step Salsa; Kent (GIII) winner Adriano; Pegasus Handicap (GIII) winner Atoned; Great Hunter, winner of the 2007 Robert B. Lewis (GII); and Carey Memorial (GIII) winner Wise River.
The sponsor of the Turf Classic, Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, is bottled by the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Ky., and is a product of Brown-Forman Corp. of Louisville, Ky. Woodford Reserve is the fastest growing Small Batch Bourbon among brands that sell more than 1,000 cases on an annual basis, and the super-premium bourbon is now the second largest selling Small Batch Bourbon brand in the market. Woodford Reserve is the “Official Bourbon” of the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.