By Dick Downey
Connections quotes by Jennie Rees
Photo by Reed Palmer Photography
With one win from 14 starts in the first two days of the Kentucky Downs meet, Florent Geroux got off to a slow start. That all changed when he won two stakes races on day three, including the $750,000, Grade 3 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup, to vault to the top of the earnings list.
Arklow, who gave trainer Brad Cox his first win of the meet, was key to Geroux's success, winning the Kentucky Turf Cup by a half-length over Bigger Picture.
Geroux now has ridden to $1,097,639 in purse earnings, putting him almost $400,000 ahead of Julien Leparoux with two days left in the meet.
Geroux bided his time during the opening stanzas of the 1 1/2-mile race, and after a mile Arklow was seventh, 5 1/2 lengths off Multiplier's moderate pace of 1:40.81. Arklow was asked to pick u;p the pace in the turn, and a quarter-mile from home he was in third position, only 2 1/2 lengths back of Multiplier, who was about to concede.
Soglio, who was always prominent under Luis Saez, briefly took the shortest of leads in mid-stretch, but Arklow was right there with him, and Bigger Picture, ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, was only a half-length behind those two. From there, those three engaged in a thrilling stretch duel that saw Arklow succeed in 2:30.56. Bigger Picture was a neck better than Soglio, and Bronson closed from the clouds be fourth, beaten only 1 1/4 length for all of it.
Mike Maker had won the last three runnings of this race, but all was not lost. He trains not only the second, third and fourth finishers, but also the horse that finished fifth -- last year's Kentucky Turf Cup winner and 2016 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby winner Oscar Nominated, who was favored at odds of 2-1.
The remaining order of finish was completed by Multiplier, Nessy, Manitoulin, Some in Tieme (BRZ), All Right, 2017 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby winner Big Bend and My Bariley. Bandua, Markitoff, Patterson Cross and Twenty Four Seven were also eligible and didn't make the race.
Arklow's morning line of 12-1 was cut in half by post time, and he paid $15.80 to win, $6.60 to place and $5.20 to show.
Owned by Donegal Racing, Joseph Bulger and Peter Coneway, Arklow was bred in Kentucky by John R. Penn and Frank Penn. He's by Arch out of Unbridled Empire, by Empire Maker.
The veteran of multiple graded stakes began his career on the 2017 Kentucky Derby trail, but Arklow was still a maiden after an eighth-place finish in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes. Cox switched him to turf, and he promptly won impressively going nine furlongs at Keeneland. That was followed by a win at 15-1 odds in Churchill Downs' Grade 2 American Turf Stakes Presented by Ram Trucks on Kentucky Derby day. The Kentucky Turf Cup was his second graded stakes triumph, and it followed a win at Ellis Park of the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Downs Preview Calumet Farm Turf Cup Stakes.
Brad Cox, winning trainer (via phone from Keeneland): “We liked him. He trained well, breezed really well on the dirt last week at Churchill. Looking at it on paper, I thought he’d be somewhere close. But it wasn’t to be. It’s not that he breaks bad, but sometimes he just doesn’t break real fast. You think going a mile and half he would put himself up into the race. But I talked to Florent after the race, and he said the horse just didn’t really want to be involved early. He did a good job saving ground and gave him a great trip. He said it’s almost like he took him halfway through the race to warm up and jump on the bridle. And he responded well, and he can definitely handle the mile and a half. It’s only the second time we’ve tried it.
“Breeders’ Cup! I don’t know. Obviously our horse loves the grass. He’s really getting better. We’ve thought all along that this is a horse that’s going to get better as a 4-year-old, maybe even better as a 5-year-old. That’s typical of an Arch, they get better with age.
“I thought the Ellis race would be a great set unto get his confidence back, hopefully get a win. He had to really fight that day to win. We just thought it would be a great opportunity to pick up a nice purse at Ellis, the timing was good, to bounce back and to try Kentucky Downs. And it worked out. (I)f there’s give in the ground, I think it makes it even better. He’s a horse that’s pretty versatile as far as surface goes. He’s a nice horse. I do think he’s a horse that can win a Grade 1 going long on the grass.”
Winning jockey Florent Geroux: “He’s a big horse, very long stride and very good mover. I always thought the longer the better for him… Brad did a great job bringing him to the race today in excellent shape and in very good form. Sometimes he’s been a bit of a disappointment because we’ve always thought he has more in him. Today he was in against some very nice horses, Grade 1-winning horses and graded-stakes horses. And he beat them fairly and squarely.”
(On having two stakes wins and two seconds) “Second and second is no good. I was pretty upset about Valadorna. I thought she ran a winning race in a Grade 3, and had a winning trip and I was not able to hold on. I was very proud of her. That’s the one I feel escaped from us. But for sure, it was a great day.”
Jerry Crawford, president of winning owner Donegal Racing: “I felt good until the gates opened. We thought we’d be sitting third very easily, and we’re suddenly sitting at the back of the pack. But Florent was very patient. Closed up ground on the backside, and then he made a key move in the first third of the stretch, where he goes inside a horse instead of getting stopped and going outside. This horse doesn’t like to get stopped. It might not have worked, that hole could have closed but it didn’t —and here we are.”
Tyler Gaffalione, second on Bigger Picture: “He ran a heck of a race today, he really dug in, fought all the way to the wire. The other horse just got the jump and got the split.But you can’t knock the horse. He put in a big performance today.”
Jose Ortiz on beaten favorite Oscar Nominated, fifth place: “I was in a good position. The pace was too slow. We should have been a little closer early, been a little more aggressive out of the gate.”