09/13/2012 3:35PM

King: Ioya Bigtime has distinct edge in Kentucky Turf Cup

Four-Footed Fotos
Ioya Bigtime wins the 1 1/2-mile Stars and Stripes at Arlington.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – My Daily Racing Form colleague Marty McGee likes to quip that when one particular trainer drives north from Louisville to Turfway Park, where he has been highly successful in stakes races, “he must see dollar signs on the billboards.”

So with a tip of the hat to Marty for the good one-liner, I imagine Chris Block sees the same thing traveling from Chicago to Kentucky Downs. I’m not just sure if he sees those signs on the highway, or in the clouds. For all I know, he might fly down there.

Since 1998, Block has six starts on the all-turf course at Kentucky Downs, all in Kentucky Cup races. His record: two wins, three seconds and a third.

Expect that record to improve Saturday when he starts Ioya Bigtime in the Grade 3, $150,000 Kentucky Turf Cup. His horse, the second favorite on the morning-line at 5-2 odds behind 9-5 Rahystrada, holds what appears to be a distinct advantage at the race’s 1 1/2-mile distance.

Since stretching out to marathons this year, Ioya Bigtime won the 1 1/2-mile Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington, and followed that with a second behind European invader Jakkalberry in the $400,000 American St. Leger going the infrequently used distance of 1 11/16 miles.

The Stars and Stripes earned him a 101 Beyer Speed Figure, but it was the St. Leger, in which he ran a 93, that illustrated his class, given that talented Europeans that were on hand for the race, being one of the supporting stakes on Million day.

He faces no such quality rivals in the Kentucky Turf Cup – certainly not Europeans. Granted, Rahystrada is a good horse, a millionaire and a horse who managed a dead-heat third in the Arlington Million after winning the Arlington Handicap there. But the belief here is that the 1 1/2-mile distance of the race is about a quarter of a mile beyond his optimal distance.

He did win this race last year at 1 1/2 miles, but he did so over runner-up Odds On and third-place Miami Deco, who were part of a weak lineup.

Never heard of them? No surprise. Odds On ran fifth in two subsequent starts and hasn’t been seen since, and Miami Deco only just cleared the first-level allowance condition this summer in a race at Woodbine.

As for the other entrants in the Kentucky Turf Cup, the next classiest entrant is Tahoe Lake, who doesn’t lack the stamina to challenge but might lack the determination to win. He is 2-7-4 in 18 starts and looks best played in the second and third spot in the gimmicks – underneath, of course, Ioya Bigtime.

Kentucky Ladies Marathon

Three other stakes compliment the 10-race Kentucky Downs card.

Beginning with the Kentucky Ladies Marathon, the first stakes race and third race of the day, Strong Willed Lady warrants play if she starts at or above her 3-1 morning line. A former $7,500 claimer, she is in the best form of her career.

She won an allowance at Churchill Downs in May and was an unlucky second in another in June. Since that time, she ran third in the Ellis Park Turf and fourth in the West Virginia Presidents Cup.

Only northeastern invader Clare Skies Ahead has a more accomplished resume this summer, having won one stakes race and placed in a couple others. But she’s potentially disadvantaged, following a lengthy ship down from Penn National.

Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies

A pair of juvenile stakes precede the Kentucky Turf Cup and are linked together in an all-stakes pick three with the feature.

In race 7, the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies, I will take a stab with 10-1 outside Hit Girl, who is stretched out in distance to seven furlongs after winning first out going 5 1/2 furlongs at Ellis Park on the grass. She’s a value play, with the expectation that morning-line favorite Oscar Party will get hammered in the wagering off a flashy turf speed figure.

Hit Girl didn’t run nearly as fast, but she’s in winning hands with trainer Larry Jones, whose first-time starters rarely win first time out, as she did.

Kentucky Downs Juvenile

Laden with speed, the seven-furlong Kentucky Downs Juvenile for the males in race 8 looks ripe for a closer to win.

Zoloto is the best fit from that standpoint. He was a rare first-out winner going 4 1/2 furlongs on the Polytrack at Keeneland after sitting seventh early. By Medaglia d’Oro, he has every right to improve with more distance. As for the time away, it’s a hurdle he will have to overcome, but he already proved in his debut he could win off works. Perhaps he can do it again, but if he does, don’t expect him to go off at his 15-1 morning line. He is likely to be half that price.