Trainer Bentley Combs' association with the gelding Botswana began horribly. He claimed the horse for $30,000 in Botswana's first career start 10 races ago. When the race was over, Combs owned a horse who had never been in the hunt and struggled home 12th.
“It was probably the most sinking feeling of my life, to be honest,” said Combs, who has been training for 2 1/2 years and is stabled at Churchill Downs' Trackside trainer center in Louisville. “I put up $30,000, and he finished dead last.”
Fast forward and on Sunday, Botswana could give Combs his first stakes victory in the $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Kentucky Turf Cup at Ellis Park. He already has given the young trainer his first appearance in a stakes when, off a third-place finish in a second-level allowance race, Botswana was fourth in the Grade 3, 1 3/16-mile Arlington Handicap at 32-1 odds.
Combs hopes to improve on that effort in the 1 1/4-mile KD Preview Kentucky Turf Cup, where a win would give Botswana an entry fees-paid spot in Kentucky Downs' $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup at 1 1/2 miles on Sept. 7.
After that mortifying beginning, Combs stretched out Botswana and put him on turf, starting with a good second in an Ellis maiden race last summer. Botswana has two wins, a second and two thirds in six grass starts, along with his fourth in the stakes.
“I think the turf course at Ellis plays to his style,” Combs said. “And we get Declan Cannon back. He doesn't really have a great turf turn of foot, but he likes to be near the front. At Arlington, he missed the break, just kind of feel asleep in the gate. That's the first time he's missed the break, and it put us behind the 8-ball. I was really happy with the way he ran, because it wasn't really his style. He was actually coming from behind and picking up horses
“…. He's a really steady horse and I think the more distance does him well. He's improving and eventually you've got to figure out how good he is.”
Combs, a graduate of the University of Louisville's Equine Industry Program, began training at the end of 2017. He recently shipped Ten Strike Racing's Lucky Move up to Saratoga, capturing an $80,000 allowance race to give the trainer 14 victories out of 72 career starts for purse earnings of more than $400,000.
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