(Photo by Reed Palmer Photography)
Mike Maker, one of the top trainers in the world when it comes to grass horses, came into this year’s Kentucky Downs meeting loaded for bear. He will leave loaded with dough.
On Saturday, Maker had four horses to saddle in the track’s premier event. Just a few minutes later, he had one — Oscar Nominated — to celebrate as the 4-year-old riddling son of Kitten’s Joy closed with a rush and rider Julien Leparoux to win the Grade 3, $600,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup.
The victory gives Maker a record-breaking three wins now in the prestigious turf event at Kentucky Downs, which only features a unique, European-styled, hilly and demanding turf surface and course.
It was also a record-breaking day for the track, which had a total of $8,487,232 wagered on the track’s 10-race card. According to track sources, the handle was up 47 percent over the prior record of $5,769,505, which was wagered on the same Saturday a year ago. On-track handle was nearly $350,000, which was up 62 percent over last year.
“After the entries came out, I was hoping for a big day,” said Kentucky Downs senior vice president and general manager Ted Nicholson. “But I never could have imagined us handling nearly $8.5 million today. Wow!”
That was the same word that many used to describe Oscar Nominated on Saturday, too. A year ago, the horse, who is out of a Theatrical mare, Devine Actress, and is owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, won the Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby. But on this Saturday, he upped his game — not only beating his three stablemates, but running down some other nice colts, as well, to win the track’s marquee event.
“He’s never had a bad day in his life,” said Maker, who has won 8 Stakes at Kentucky Downs over the past two years and has 3 Stakes wins this meet. “Unfortunately, it’s take this long this year to get his first victory.”
Coming into Saturday’s 11/2-mile endurance test, Oscar Nominated had run six times in 2017. He had two seconds and two thirds in those starts, but he had run behind the highly decorated Beach Patrol in the G1 Arlington Million and the G1 United Nations in his last two outs. So, going into the Kentucky Turf Cup, Maker decided to make a change. He put Leparoux, who has been riding very well here this meet, in the saddle for the first time since the duo teamed up to be second in the Tropical Park Derby at Gulfstream Park back in December of 2016.
Whatever the reason, Oscar Nominated respond. With a charge. After settling into a comfortable seventh position early on, behind a very slow pace, Leparoux decided it was time to make his move. And, they sure did move, kicking into high gear on the far turn and then running down the leaders through the stretch to nip Postulation near the wire.
“Its a fun track to ride,” said Leparoux, who tied Rosie Napravnik for the 2014 riding title based on wins. “We saved ground around the first turn, which going that far is a big key. You have to have your horse very relaxed during the race. And, you also have to be able to handle up and down the hill. He won last year, so I was confident he was going to handle it. But he actually really loved it.”
Muqtaser, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, finished third in his American stakes debut.
But the day belonged to Oscar Nominated. “Mike really liked him. He was doing well,” said Jeff Ramsey, son of the owners. “We scratched him out of the race the other day (The Old Friends — when we made him the “Best Bet of the Day) because we thought he could win. So it was great. We knew he liked this course. Julien gave him a perfect ride…”
In the other three Stakes races held at Kentucky Downs on Saturday, there were spectacular performances, as well.
Miss Temple City, who entered the G3 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf with well over $1 million in earnings, proved how good she really is again. With Edgar Prado up, Miss Temple City took off early, sat just off the lead set by Zipessa, and then ran past the very stubborn leader in what appeared to be a massive stretch duel.
In the G3 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint, Hogy — another one trained by Maker — proved that the claim by his trainer was well worth the $80,000, capturing the $400,000 Stakes by a half-length over Claiborne Farm’s and Adele Dilschnieder’s Commend.
(Photo by Reed Palmer Photography)
But the Claiborne bright yellow colors were not shut out, on Saturday. In the Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint, the 3YO filly Lull took command in the stretch to beat the late-running Happy Messa by 2 lengths in the $350,000 Stakes. “I think War Fronts like to hear their feet rattle, and this turf probably suits her really well,” said Dell Hancock, of Claiborne Farm — who bred and races the filly with Dilschneider.