On a record-shattering day Saturday at Kentucky Downs, Mike Maker became the first trainer to win the signature $600,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup three times as Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Oscar Nominated closed under Julien Leparoux to wear down favored Postulation by a head.
Muqtaser was another half-length back in the Grade 3 stakes' field of 12 older horses.
Maker's three-peat — having won the past two years with the sidelined Da Big Hoss — capped a day when a total of $8,487,232 was wagered on Kentucky Downs' 10-race card. To say it shattered the track record is an understatement, as betting was up 47 percent over the prior record of $5,769,505 bet on the same Saturday last year. Kentucky Downs doesn't charge admission and as such doesn't have a turnstile count for admission. But the eyeball test suggested it was a track-record crown on a glorious, sun-kissed day that wagered a record $347,002 on track, or up 62 percent over a year ago.
“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!”
Speaking of wow: It was Maker's third stakes victory of the meet, as the two-time defending track training champ also took Saturday's $400,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint with Hogy and Thursday's $150,000 Old Friends with the Ramseys' 2016 Queen's Plate winner Sir Dudley Digges. In fact, Oscar Nominated had also been entered in the Old Friends, for horses which had not won a stakes in 2017, but was scratched as his camp felt they had a shot to win both races.
Oscar Nominated last won a year ago in Kentucky Downs' Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby. But he'd been running well while often beaten by stablemates such as Enterprising, the Kentucky Turf Cup's program favorite who finished ninth.
“He's never had a bad day in his life,” said Maker, who now has won eight stakes here over the past two years, all but Sir Dudley Digges having been acquired through the claiming ranks. “Unfortunately it's taken this long this year to get his first victory.”
Julien Leparoux, who leads the jockey standings for the five-day meet with two days go to at 5-4 in wins over Florent Geroux, settled Oscar Nominated into seventh behind a dawdling pace before kicking into gear on the far turn and reeling in the leaders through the stretch to nip a gritty Postulation.
“It's a fun track to ride, a little bit technical,” said Leparoux, who tied Rosie Napravnik for the 2014 riding title based on wins, with Geroux winning the past two crowns. “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.”
Oscar Nominated covered 1 1/2 miles 2:31.37, paying $9.40 as the second choice. Calculating his time considering that he was four lengths back in seventh at the quarter pole, Oscar Nominated covered his final quarter mile in well under 44 seconds.
Postulation pressured the early pace before giving way late. “He ran hard,” said jockey Jorge Vargas. “Good training job. He kind of went for it, then he kind of hung. Then he saw the horse on the outside and tried to come again. But second best.”
Said trainer Eddie Graham: “He ran a good race. I mean, Oscar Nominated has won on this course before. He got out-footed at the end. It was our horse's first time here, running him back after Arlington (a win in American St. Leger on Aug. 12). But when you get a beat like that … Another time.”
Muqtaser, trained by Lexington product Kiaran McLaughlin, ran well in his American stakes debut.
“He ran a great race,” said jockey Joe Bravo. “He was keen on it, in position wherever I wanted him to be. I really thought at the eighth pole, when I could kind of tuck in that I could split horses. And he punched through there. (But) he kind of hung a little bit like he never has. But you know what? There were some good horses in there. They were all running.”
Oscar Nominated, a son of the Ramseys' stallion Kitten's Joy, was bred by Jerry Amerman, with the Ramseys snapping him up when presented in a $75,000 maiden-claiming race early in his career. He won Turfway Park's 2016 Spiral Stakes (G3) on Polytrack and after finishing 17th in the Kentucky Derby found his best stride back on turf, including a romp in the Dueling Grounds Derby. The Kentucky Turf Cup ended an eight-race drought in which he had three seconds and two thirds. He became a millionaire at $1,168,155 with the $345,960 payday.
“Mike really liked him. He was doing well,” said Jeff Ramsey, son of Ken and Sarah Ramsey. “We scratched him out of the race the other day (the Old Friends) because we thought he could win. So it was great. We knew he liked this course.
“Julien gave him a perfect ride. We were talking about it as he was coming around, that he seemed he was in a perfect spot — unless he was still half-way in the pack when we ended the race. But we thought he had him placed perfect, was patient with him and let him hang in there but didn't let him get too far back. Very excited.”
Maker also finished fourth with 42-1 St. Louie, who pushed the early pace, as well as fifth with grade-stakes winner Taghleeb. Bullards Alley, Nessy, pacesetting One Go All Go, Enterprising, Zulu Alpha, Lucky Ramsey and Crescent Drive rounded out the capacity field.
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