09/22/2011 3:17PM

Turfway: Cal Nation tries to prove he can handle Polytrack in Kentucky Cup Sprint

Barbara D. Livingston
The 3-year-old Cal Nation has raced exclusively on dirt, but will switch to Polytrack for the Kentucky Cup Sprint.

Having helped revive the Kentucky Cup this year by sponsoring the five-stakes series, WinStar Farm will be present most everywhere at Turfway Park Saturday – with its name or stallions attached to stakes races, and to representatives from the farm handing out trophies to the respective winners.

WinStar is also a participant – and a leading one at that – running one of its better 3-year-olds, Cal Nation, against Will’s Wildcat, Matthewsburg, Phillipe, and seven other rivals and in the Grade 3, $100,000 Kentucky Cup Sprint.

Always held in high regard by WinStar, Cal Nation has proven his quality this year. Besides taking a maiden and allowance race earlier in the year, he ran third behind Indiano and Smash in the Grade 2 Carry Back at Calder and second behind Chipshot in the Select Stakes at Monmouth Park.

After chasing those classy rivals, Cal Nation now gets his chance to pick up perhaps his first stakes victory and a graded one to boot – against what appears to be a fairly soft running of the six-furlong Sprint.

The unknown variable is how Cal Nation will handle the synthetic Polytrack surface at Turfway, given that he has raced exclusively on dirt.

“That’s the X factor,” said Elliott Walden, president/CEO and racing manager for WinStar Farm. “We’ll find out on Saturday.”

Although he has never raced on Polytrack, Cal Nation did get his early start training on it. WinStar has a Polytrack surface at its farm, where it preps its young horses before sending them out to trainers on the racetrack.

In those early Polytrack training days, Walden noted “we liked him an awful lot” – so much so the owners felt comfortable naming him after University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, known throughout the commonwealth simply as Coach Cal.

Jesus Castanon has been named to ride by trainer Todd Pletcher.

In contrast to Cal Nation, Matthewsburg and Phillipe, stakes-placed colts whose initial victories came at Turfway in straight maiden races, are proven on Polytrack. Both enter the Sprint in top form, with Matthewsburg coming off a runner-up finish behind Poseidon’s Warrior in the $100,000 East Hanover Stakes at Penn National on July 30, and Phillipe running fourth in the Distorted Humor Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 2.

Phillipe also ran a career- best 88 Beyer when second in the Hansel Stakes at Turfway in the spring.