09/21/2011 11:36AM

Turfway: Wake-up call on Polytrack lures California-based Shediak to Kentucky Cup

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Benoit & Associates
After losing 21 straight races, Shediak has won back-to-back starts at Del Mar coming into Saturday's WinStar Kentucky Cup.

California horses have a successful history in the Kentucky Cup. Class horses such as Silver Charm, Point Given, Captain Steve, and Reraise have had a major impact on the Turfway Park series, although participation from West Coast stables has waned somewhat in recent years, owing primarily to the declining purse structure of the event.

This year, as Turfway renews the series following a one-year hiatus, only one California horse was expected among the five Kentucky Cup events when entries are taken Thursday: Shediak, a French-bred gelding who suddenly has come to peak form after losing 21 straight races and will run in the showcase event, the $200,000 WinStar Kentucky Cup.

Shediak, trained by Ben Cecil, comes off back-to-back victories over the Polytrack surface at Del Mar, finally going through his first allowance condition in an Aug. 20 sprint before upsetting the Windy Sands Handicap at nearly 24-1 on closing weekend of the meet.

The two-race binge followed the lengthy win drought, which ensued after he won his career debut as a 2-year-old in France in August 2007. With no synthetic racing in Southern California until the Hollywood meet starts Nov. 10, Cecil decided to strike again while the iron is hot and send Shediak to Turfway, where the first American oval using Polytrack was installed six years ago.

Shediak arrived Tuesday afternoon at Turfway following an early-morning cross-country flight. While he was Group 1-placed at 2 in France, he struggled when trained by Doug O’Neill, then Ron McAnally, then finally Cecil – at least until those last two races, when he earned Beyer Speed Figures of 94 and 98, which compare very favorably with the opposition he will face Saturday.

“Based on his European form, he had been a bit of a disappointment until his last two races,” said Cecil. “I think the turf and dirt surfaces he’s run over here in California have been too firm for his liking. He really seemed to like the softer Polytrack at Del Mar in his last two.”

Patrick Valenzuela has the call on Shediak. Valenzuela will join other top jockeys such as Calvin Borel, Jesus Castanon, Kent Desormeaux, and Edgar Prado in making rare Turfway appearances Saturday.

Shediak is one of at least seven 3-year-olds and upward committed to the WinStar, joined by Baryshnikov, Demarcation, Future Prospect, General Quarters, Strike Impact, and Workin for Hops.

Formerly known as the Kentucky Cup Classic, the WinStar Kentucky Cup is a Grade 2 race that has been shortened from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/16 miles and anchors a five-race series that dates to 1994. The other four races are worth $100,000 each: the Grade 3 Distaff, Grade 3 Sprint, Juvenile, and Juvenile Fillies.

At its peak in 1996, when total purses for the series exceeded $1 million, the Classic was worth $500,000 and the Distaff (then the Turfway Breeders’ Cup) was worth $300,000.

First post Saturday is 1:10 p.m. Eastern. TVG will provide day-long on-site coverage.

Pletcher absent from WinStar

Todd Pletcher nominated five horses to the WinStar but told Turfway officials he did not plan to run any of them, although he was expected to be represented in three other Kentucky Cup events: Ailalea in the Distaff, Cal Nation in the Sprint, and Space Traveler in the Juvenile.

Mike Maker will be the busiest trainer Saturday with these five expected entries: Baryshnikov (WinStar), La Gran Bailadora (Distaff), Lou Brissie and Matthewsburg (Sprint), and Hansen (Juvenile).

Other trainers expected to have multiple Kentucky Cup entries include Paul McGee with Demarcation (WinStar), High Quality (Distaff), and Chilled (Sprint); Mike Stidham with Workin for Hops (WinStar) and Upperline (Distaff); Jimmy Baker with Philippe and Will’s Wildcat, both in the Sprint; Bret Calhoun with Bella Medaglia (Distaff) and Fine (Juvenile); and David Vance with Kiss Mine (Distaff) and Spring Eclipse (Juvenile Fillies).