09/21/2009 12:00AM

Kentucky Cup turns into old-timers' day

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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.