09/12/2013 1:25PM

Kentucky Downs: Najjaar has chance for big payday in Kentucky Turf Cup

Four Footed Fotos
Suntracer is sharp for Saturday's Kentucky Turf Cup, according to trainer Chris Block.

Dan Peitz is well aware he can still run Najjaar in a second-level allowance for a purse of about $50,000. Or he could run him at Kentucky Downs for a $400,000 purse as one of the likely favorites.

That lucrative window of opportunity will present itself Saturday to Peitz and his main client, Shadwell Stable, in the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup, the annual marquee race at turf-only Kentucky Downs in south-central Kentucky.

“It looks like a good spot for us, although it also looks really competitive,” said Peitz. “You don’t get too many chances to run for this kind of money, especially at this distance.”

Najjaar and two other Chicago shippers, Suntracer and Temeraine, are the three program choices among nine 3-year-olds and upward entered in the 1 1/2-mile Turf Cup, which anchors the new Kentucky Downs Million Day as the last of five straight stakes and the ninth of 10 races overall. First post is 1:35 p.m. Central, with the Turf Cup going at 5:35.

Four weeks ago on the Arlington Million undercard, Suntracer and Najjaar both ran big races as the respective second- and third-place finishers behind an odds-on Europen shipper, Dandino, in another $400,000 turf marathon, the American St. Leger. A bit later that afternoon, Temeraine was a creditable fifth in the Million.

The morning line for the Kentucky Cup lists Temeraine (post 8, Gary Stevens to ride) as a tepid 3-1 favorite, followed closely by Najjaar (post 4, Jimmy Graham) at 7-2 and Suntracer (post 9, Eddie Castro) at 4-1.

Najjaar, a 4-year-old Shadwell homebred by 2006 Belmont Stakes winner Jazil, has been consistent if not spectacular in compiling 10 in-money finishes from 15 starts while frequently competing in stakes company and remaining eligible for a second allowance condition. This is his first start on the undulating Kentucky Downs turf course.

“Three or four of us all look about the same in this race,” said Peitz, who will be on hand after spending recent days at the Keeneland yearling sales. “The undulation? Who knows? It does make me feel good that James is riding since he’s as familiar with the course as he is.”

Suntracer, bred and owned by the Block family under their Team Block banner, “has really come around lately,” said trainer Chris Block.

Temeraine, trained by Tom Proctor, is a non-stakes winner with 4 triumphs from 15 starts. He is a left-field kind of closer whose solid effort in the Million, coupled with the presence of a Hall of Fame jockey, would seem to account for him being slightly favored on the early line.

The rest of the Turf Cup field is Olympic Thunder, Whatthecatdrugin, Amen Kitten, Royal Bench, Potomac River, and Side Road. Whatthecatdrugin figures to set the early pace, perhaps on a long lead; Amen Kitten is the only 3-year-old in the field; and Royal Bench and Side Road are the lone East Coast shippers.

The Turf Cup purse includes $100,000 in bonus money from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund, for which five of the nine are eligible. The non-eligibles race for the equivalent of a $300,000 purse.

The Turf Cup was formerly known as the Kentucky Cup Turf and was the linchpin of the now-defunct Kentucky Cup turf series. It has been run every year since 1991 except for 1996-97, when business was especially poor at Kentucky Downs. Team Block won the race last year with Ioya Bigtime.

Four straight $150,000 stakes directly precede the Turf Cup as races 5 through 8: the KD Juvenile Fillies, the KD Juvenile, the KD Turf Dash, and the Franklin-Simpson Mile.