Mike Maker, Kentucky Downs’ all-time winning trainer and the three-time defending meet titlist, is seeking to become the first trainer to win the Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup four times, let alone in consecutive years. And he’s not messing around.
Maker entered five horses just in Saturday’s $750,000, Grade III Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup that is the track’s signature race. Five horses might be the entire field in some stakes at some tracks. But in the case of the 1 1/2-mile Calumet Farm, 18 horses were entered with only 12 able to fit in the starting gate.
Four of Maker’s horses are in the body of the race: 2017 winner Oscar Nominated, Grade I winner Bigger Picture, Bronson and Soglio. The fifth horse, Markitoff, needs two scratches by Friday morning to get in the field.
Owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, 7-2 favorite Oscar Nominated could be Maker’s second horse to repeat in the Calumet Farm, with Skychai Racing’s Da Big Hoss winning in 2015 and 2016. Oscar Nominated hasn’t raced since finishing sixth in Monmouth Park’s Grade 1 United Nations, getting a freshener with this race in mind.
“He’s undefeated on the course and we look for another big effort from him,” Maker said of Kentucky Downs’ 2016 Dueling Grounds Derby winner.
Oscar Nominated will be ridden by Eclipse Award-winning jockey Jose Ortiz, who begins riding at Kentucky Downs Thursday.
The Ramseys also own Soglio, a $50,000 claim last winter who has been third in his last two starts since taking a Churchill Downs allowance race by 10 lengths.
“He was unlucky to lose the Stars and Stripes at Arlington, didn’t have the greatest trip that day,” Maker said. “He caught a wet turf course up there at Saratoga, and he just doesn’t like it.”
Three Diamonds Farm owns Maker’s other three Calumet Farm entrants, headed by 9-2 second choice Bigger Picture, who was a good third in the United Nations after winning that race the prior year. After closing to be an excellent fourth in Saratoga’s Grade 2 Bowling Green, Bigger Pictures finished eighth in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer, with Maker saying, “He got whacked in the eye his last race. I think it hurt his performance. But he’s doing well now.
“He ran so well in the Bowling Green. We felt he was he best horse and deserved a chance at the Sword Dancer, and then he got hit in the eye. Originally we weren’t going to go in the Sword Dancer but come straight to here. He kind of ran to the three-eighths pole and stopped for whatever reason. There’s a lot of racing luck involved.”
Bronson was third in last year’s Dueling Ground Derby won by Big Ben, who also is in the Calumet Farm.
“He’s always shown that he should be better,” Maker said of Bronson. “He’s one you make excuses for. He looked good in the John’s Call. I think he was a little too close to the pace and kind of flattened out” to sixth in that restricted stakes at Saratoga.
Markitoff is a distance specialist, which is why Maker is taking his chances on getting enough scratches to run the 4-year-old in the stakes. While he’s eligible for a $145,000 second-level allowance race, the trainer said those races aren’t far enough.
Maker won four stakes last year and five the year before. He already has one stakes win at the meet, with Henley’s Joy taking last Saturday’s $400,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile.
The stable is well-represented elsewhere on this Saturday’s blockbuster card featuring five stakes totaling $2.7 million and including a quartet of Grade 3 races.
Maker also has Woodbine debut winner Faraway Kitten in the $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint on the Calumet Farm undercard; 7-2 favorite I’m Betty G, winner of three straight capped by the Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Turf, in the $500,000, Grade 3 Ladies Turf; and Vici and Maniacal in the $500,000, Grade 3 Turf Sprint, though Maniacal is expected to run instead in Sunday’s $100,000 Claiming Crown prep starter-allowance. The Maker-trained Hogy, who won last year’s Turf Sprint in his first start since being claimed for $80,000 at Saratoga, bruised a foot and wasn’t entered.
Somehow Maker missed having a horse for the $450,000, Grade 3 Ladies Sprint.
Vici looks like he at some stage could join the long string of horses claimed by Maker who have gone on to win stakes. Claimed for $62,500 at Churchill Downs, Vici was third in a pair of allowance races with a claiming option for his new camp before winning a $145,000 allowance race on Kentucky Downs’ opening card.
Maker said Vici, whose name means “I conquered” in Latin, didn't show signs of wear after the allowance victory.
“When we claimed Vici, I looked at it as a horse who could run in a $145,000 allowance race or, if we get lucky enough, run in a stakes,” Maker said, adding of doing both at this five-date meet, “I was thinking allowance race. But he ran so big, kind of had a soft summer, he’s a big horse and he’s very easy on himself, so running back in a week is not a real concern.”