“We wanted to stretch him out and test him at two turns, and as the race was coming together it looked like this would be an opportune time to do that,” Miller said. “He was fourth in a two-turn mile (on the turf at Gulfstream in March) but was only beaten a length and three-quarters. He had a mile race at Keeneland but that was a one-turn mile. A win Saturday would add another dimension to him.”
Havelock, owned by Miller’s longtime client Silverton Hill LLC, is the trainer’s only entry on the WinStar Kentucky Cup Day of Champions card.
Speightstown Kentucky Cup Sprint (G3)
Five-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher will be well represented Saturday, with three horses nominated to separate undercard stakes, led by Cal Nation in the Grade 3 Speightstown Kentucky Cup Sprint.
Though Pletcher had options for Cal Nation, including a rich 3-year-old sprint stakes at Parx Racing on Saturday, the decorated trainer feels very good about his decision to come to Turfway.
“It’s a very attractive race on its own,” said Pletcher, “and the Kentucky Cup is an important day for Kentucky racing, so we wanted to be represented.”
Cal Nation, who may well go off the favorite in the Speightstown Kentucky Cup Sprint based on strong recent performances at Monmouth Park and Calder, is owned by Kentucky Cup day sponsor WinStar Farm.
The Speightstown Kentucky Cup Sprint is a highly intriguing race that drew a diverse field of 11, including horses who made their last starts in such states as New Jersey, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Nebraska. Trainer Jim Baker has a pair entered who did battle twice each at the always-difficult Saratoga meeting: Will’s Wildcat and Philippe.
Will’s Wildcat will break from post five under Calvin Borel, and Philippe will depart from the far outside with Edgar Prado up. Baker was pleased with Will’s Wildcat’s draw, but with Philippe’s, not so much.
“You don’t want to be on the outside,” said Baker. “Philippe never seems to draw very well. We’ll run him anyway—he’s doing well. He had two tough races at Saratoga, and hopefully this spot will be a little easier.
Philippe ran a creditable fourth last time out in the Sept. 2 Distorted Humor Stakes, beaten just 2-1/2 lengths by the well regarded Steve Asmussen trainee Wine Police. Prior to that he was second, beaten a half length, in a tough optional allowance at the Spa Aug. 8. Finishing 7-3/4 lengths behind Philippe that day in third was fellow Kentucky Cup Sprint foe Lou Brissie.
For his part, Will’s Wildcat had the early lead but faded to sixth behind eventual Travers winner Stay Thirsty in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes July 30. He bounced back to suffer a tough nose loss going seven furlongs in an Aug. 21 allowance over a sloppy Saratoga strip. In that narrow loss, Will’s Wildcat held the lead every step of the race except the very last one.
“They both have good speed and will be ridden by good jockeys,” said Baker of his Sprint duo. “I will not be giving my riders any instructions except for one thing: ‘Do not go head and head with each other.’”
Both of Baker’s horses will van to Turfway from Churchill Downs Saturday morning.
Unsaddled Glory will be one of the longest prices among the 11 3-year-olds entered in the Speightstown Kentucky Cup Sprint, but trainer Ernie Retamoza is confident the son of Belong to Me will give a good showing in Saturday’s contest.
“He’s on the improve,” said Retamoza. “He likes the Turfway surface. He broke his maiden there. And he has matured as a 3-year-old. I ran him against older horses last time out at Hoosier Park (Aug. 26) and he ran a credible fourth. He’s just getting it right now.”
Marcelino Pedroza, who has ridden Unsaddled Glory to victory twice from three attempts, will have the mount again on Saturday.
Distorted Humor Kentucky Cup Distaff (G3)
In the Distorted Humor Kentucky Cup Distaff (G3), the Pletcher stable will be represented by Ailalea.
“It’s a bit of an experiment trying her on synthetic,” Pletcher said of Ailalea, who has made 12 of 13 career starts on dirt and one on grass. “But the timing of this race was great, and we feel like she is rounding in to form.”
Last time out, Ailalea ran second in a very talented optional allowance field at Saratoga Aug. 24. Last year she captured the Grade 3 Dogwood Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Horseplayers have learned to respect trainer Bret Calhoun whenever one of his charges shows up in the entries. The Churchill Downs-based trainer has won 143 of 608 starts this year (24 percent), and he’s bringing a pair of talented runners to Turfway Saturday.
In the Distorted Humor Kentucky Cup Distaff, Calhoun will ship in the well-traveled Bella Medaglia. The filly has raced over seven different tracks in her last seven starts, but Saturday will mark her first try over an all-weather surface. Two races back, Bella Medaglia ran a nice second in the Iowa Distaff at Prairie Meadows June 24. Last time out, Aug. 13, she was sixth of 12 after starting from the far outside gate in the Grade 3 Gardenia Stakes at Ellis Park.
“The synthetic surface is the big question. I have no idea how she’ll do on it,” said Calhoun. “Fortunately she is by Medaglia d’Oro, and his runners do pretty well over synthetic. She had no chance in her last race at Ellis. She had a rough trip and got stuck on the outside.”
Bluegrass Cat Kentucky Cup Juvenile
In addition to his entry in the Distaff, Calhoun also will saddle Fine for the Bluegrass Cat Kentucky Cup Juvenile. Fine broke his maiden Aug. 18 at Hoosier Park in his second career start. The Juvenile will be his first try at two turns.
“We liked him a lot first time out, but he got away tardy from the gate,” said Calhoun. “He galloped out with the winner strongly, though. He ran a good race breaking his maiden, and I think he wants to go farther. He should like the two turns.”
Jamie Theriot, Calhoun’s go-to rider, will have the mounts on both Bella Medaglia and Fine, who will ship to Turfway from Churchill Downs Saturday morning.
Pletcher’s third entry Saturday is Space Traveler in the Bluegrass Cat Kentucky Cup Juvenile. Space Traveler will be making his third career start after an impressive maiden-breaking performance and a disappointing 10th-place finish in the Grade 3 Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park.
“We’ve been eager to stretch him out,” said Pletcher. “He has been training very well, and he did well over the synthetic surface when he trained at WinStar Farm prior to his racing debut. So we think he’ll handle it at Turfway.”
All three of Pletcher’s horses will van to Turfway from Churchill Downs on Saturday and will be saddled by Michael McCarthy, Pletcher’s chief Kentucky assistant
Tiznow Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies
Affable trainer Tom Amoss will show off his versatility Saturday when he saddles the maiden filly Charming Vixen in the Tiznow Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies and also works TVG’s telecast of Kentucky Cup day from trackside at Turfway Park.
Amoss, striking at a gaudy 31 percent success rate this year, is high on Charming Vixen despite her winless status. She has two seconds and a third from three starts this year at Churchill Downs and Hoosier Park.
“I think she fits,” he said. “She is by Bernstein, so I’m excited about trying the Polytrack. Bernstein is a sire whose offspring tend to do well over the Poly.”
Amoss also looks forward to his TVG broadcast responsibilities alongside partner Mike Joyce.
“This is something that has been okayed by my owners and the connections of the horse,” said Amoss, who will be on the air during the running of the Tiznow Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies. “I will try to remain unbiased and give my honest opinion of what takes place in the race.”
Some talented fillies are lining up for the Tiznow Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies, but the vast majority will be making their two-turn debut. Queen Anna, on the other hand, is coming in to the race off a pair of two-turn grass events, including a maiden claiming victory at Arlington July 31.
“Not a lot of young 2-year-old fillies want to go a route,” said Queen Anna’s trainer Daniel Sanner. “Others are unproven. I like the fact that we’ve been the distance twice already. Plus only two in the field have won more than one race. So when you factor all of that in, this is a pretty good purse for what might almost be considered a ‘non-winners of two’ race.”
Sal Gonzalez will have the riding assignment on Saturday. Sanner hopes Queen Anna can close into what could be a contentious early pace.
“There’s a lot of speed in the race with everyone coming out of sprints,” he said. “At Arlington, she closed well, and I would like to see a similar type effort on Saturday.”
Tavern on the Bay needed six tries to break her maiden, but she got the job done in wire-to-wire fashion last time out at Hoosier Park on Aug. 31, and now the daughter of Offlee Wild will try winners in the Tiznow Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies. Trainer Danny Turner is not necessarily looking for his filly to be on the lead again Saturday, however.
“She could be—I don’t know that I’ll let her, though,” said Turner. “I want her to close, even though speed does often hold at Turfway. I’ll get a better idea after I watch the races on Friday and early in the day on Saturday.”
Turner also says that Tavern on the Bay’s family all wanted to go a distance of ground. He will ship his filly to Turfway on Friday from his farm in Lexington where she trains.
“I lost my stalls at Churchill Downs this year because of the Breeders’ Cup,” he said. “I’m a little guy.”
Roberto Morales was a seven-pound apprentice when he piloted Victorian Diva to victory in her debut at Ellis Park in a $30,000 maiden claimer Aug. 27. Now a five-pound apprentice, Morales will retain the mount in the Tiznow Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies even though apprentice weight allowances are not permitted in stakes races. After the Ellis Park win, trainer Don Hunt didn’t see a reason to break up the winning combination. Through Thursday Morales leads the Turfway Park rider standings with 17 wins from 69 mounts.
“He’s riding good. He knows the horse. He’s about the hottest rider at Turfway right now. Why make a change?” said Hunt, whose younger brother Robert owns Victorian Diva.
The maiden win for Victorian Diva came on the turf at 5-1/2 furlongs. But the daughter of Mizzen Mast is bred to go long, and Hunt is not concerned about the surface switch
“She acts like she likes synthetic,” said Hunt, who vanned Victorian Diva from his brother’s farm in Lexington to Turfway just for a workout on Sept. 16. “In fact, she has worked well over every surface she has trained on: Keeneland, Ellis, Turfway—all of them.”
First post on the WinStar Kentucky Cup Day of Champions is 1:10 p.m., a shift from this meet’s Saturday evening cards. Gates open Saturday at 10 a.m. Admission is free; reserved seating priced from $5 to $100 is available. Parking also is free, with valet available.