09/20/2009 11:00PM

Kentucky Cup turns into old-timers' day


There was an unmistakable theme of nostalgia threading its way through the Kentucky Cup turf series Saturday at Kentucky Downs, as winners of all three stakes events were classy old-timers who overcame either a lengthy layoff or mediocre form . . . or both.

Cloudy's Knight, a former Sovereign Award winner in Canada, was making his first start since Sept. 7, 2008, when dominating the Grade 3, $150,000 Kentucky Cup Turf at the Franklin, Ky., turf-only track. Fort Prado, winner of the $50,000 KC Turf Dash, was victorious for just the second time in his last 20 starts, while Danzon, a 25-1 winner of the $50,000 KC Ladies Turf, also was making her first start since Sept. 7, 2008, after having gone badly off form for prior connections.

Cloudy's Knight, a 9-year-old homebred gelding owned by the S J Stables of Shirley Schwartz, had suffered a "fairly serious soft tissue injury in a hind leg" last fall, according to Jonathan Sheppard, the Hall of Fame trainer who assumed his training following a brief recuperative period.

"Mrs. Schwartz said she wanted someone who would give the horse a European-style foundation and try to bring him back to the races," said Sheppard, who also won the 2002 and 2003 KC Turf with Rochester. "So we brought him back, got a really good foundation in him. He's a tall, leggy, fairly lean chestnut with just this enormous stride on him. We mixed in slow gallops on our farm with slow breezes, and finally I said, "Let's see how ready we have him.' "

The answer became obvious Saturday when Cloudy's Knight, ridden by Rosemary Homeister Jr., blew past the field to win by 2 1/2 easy lengths. Sheppard said Cloudy's Knight probably will run back Oct. 22 in the Grade 3, $125,000 Sycamore Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on the Keeneland turf.

Fort Prado, the Chicago-based pride of trainer Chris Block and his family, was up in the final jumps under Eddie Perez to win the $50,000 KC Turf Dash. The 8-year-old Fort Prado surpassed the $1.2 million earnings mark with his 18th victory from a remarkable 57 career starts. Block said Fort Prado will make his next start, possibly the last of his career, on Oct. 10 in the Grade 3, $125,000 Woodford Stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs on the Keeneland turf.

Danzon, with Miguel Mena guiding her to a 1 1/2-length score, was easily the most surprising story of the weekend, despite the fact she had been a fringe player among the filly-and-mare turf elite in 2007. Now 6, the mare had gone awry, leading owner Joe Allen to turn her out after a dreadful effort last September in the Grade 2 Canadian at Woodbine.

Allen eventually turned the mare over to trainer Kellyn Gorder, a 42-year-old Minnesotan who has worked in a variety of horse-related capacities while being based in Lexington, Ky., since 1992.

"I don't know that she ever had a specific injury," said Gorder, who typically has about 40 horses rotated among Victory Haven Farm, Keeneland, and the Thoroughbred training center. "She just needed time, so she got quite a bit of it. We brought her back, she started shaping up, got more breezes, and we thought she'd like that course at Kentucky Downs - and she just ran super."

Gorder said Saturday was particularly memorable because his stable also won the $75,000 Prairie Meadows Derby with Karama a few hours after Danzon won at Kentucky Downs.

Gorder said Danzon likely runs next in the Grade 1, $400,000 First Lady at a mile on the Keeneland turf, an Oct. 10 race that Sheppard said is probably next for his reigning divisional champion, Forever Together.

Sheppard also has the Grade 2, $250,000 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes targeted for Informed Decision the same day at Keeneland.