09/08/2016 11:30AM

Usual effort would make Da Big Hoss hard to beat in Kentucky Turf Cup

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Reed Palmer/Kentucky Downs
Da Big Hoss tries to record a second Kentucky Turf Cup win on Saturday after a two-length victory last year.

Another chapter in the storybook career of Da Big Hoss will be added Saturday when the 5-year-old horse seeks a repeat victory in the Kentucky Turf Cup, the premier race of the five-day meet at Kentucky Downs.

Trainer Mike Maker is guardedly optimistic that Da Big Hoss can come through again as a solid favorite in the Grade 3, $600,000 Kentucky Turf Cup, a 1 1/2-mile race that might well earn the horse a trip to Australia. A field of nine older horses is entered in the Turf Cup, with Da Big Hoss listed as a 7-5 morning-line choice.

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“He pretty much trains himself,” said Maker. “I do like what I’ve seen since his last race.”

On behalf of Skychai Racing LLC, Maker won a three-way shake when submitting a $50,000 claim for Da Big Hoss at Churchill Downs in June 2015. Ten races later, Da Big Hoss is a six-time stakes winner with nearly $1.1 million in earnings for the Louisville-based partnership.

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“Every time, he seems to come back and run his race,” said Harvey Diamond, the retired physician who heads Skychai with longtime partner Jim Shircliff. “So, that’s all I’m going to ask him to do: just run his race. If there’s somebody better than him, we’ll find out.”

Diamond has a pending invitation to bring Da Big Hoss to Australia for the Oct. 15 Caulfield Cup or even the world-renowned Melbourne Cup on Nov. 1, so what transpires Saturday at turf-only Kentucky Downs in south-central Kentucky is critical to the horse’s future.

“Let’s get through this first,” he said.

Florent Geroux has a return call on Da Big Hoss, who will break from post 7 in the ninth of 10 Saturday races. Geroux, who already has a career-high 22 graded stakes victories this year, has ridden the horse in all of his races this year. In the 2015 Turf Cup, Joe Rocco Jr. guided Da Big Hoss to a two-length triumph from well off the pace.

There’s an obvious lack of early speed in this 25th running of the Turf Cup, so strategy will be key. Four Saturdays ago, Da Big Hoss raced relatively close to the pace before rallying to win the Grade 3 American St. Leger on the Arlington Million undercard, and similar tactics probably will have him in the right spot once again.

A new set of rivals awaits Da Big Hoss, not the least of whom is his Maker-trained stablemate Greengrassofyoming (post 9, Julien Leparoux). Claimed for $62,500 in June at Churchill on behalf of Michael Hui, Greengrassofyoming has rounded into peak form by winning the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes at Arlington and finishing a creditable fourth behind Mondialiste in the Aug. 13 Million.

“Gorgeous horse, flashy horse,” said Maker. “He just goes out and does his stuff. He’s on top of his game right now, too.”

Other challengers include a trio from the Southern California circuit: Seve’s Road (post 3, Flavien Prat), Life’s Journey (post 4, Robby Albarado), and Power Foot (post 6, Jimmy Graham). There’s also Bullards Alley (post 2, Marcelino Pedroza), the winner of the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap in May, and longshot Rum Tum Tugger (post 1, Brian Hernandez Jr.), whose Hall of Fame trainer, Jonathan Sheppard, has won this race a record three times (Rochester in 2002-03 and Cloudy’s Knight in 2009).

The Kentucky Turf Cup is one of four straight stakes ending a Saturday card that begins at 1:25 p.m. Central. It goes as the ninth race with a 5:39 post. The surrounding stakes are the $400,000 More Than Ready Mile (race 7), $150,000 One Dreamer (race 8), and $350,000 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint (race 10). The earlier races are three maiden special weight races worth as much $130,000 each and three allowances with purses ranging from $140,000 to $145,000.

A 50-cent late pick four ties all the stakes together. Last Saturday, an all-stakes pick four handled $165,210.

With no competition from Del Mar or Saratoga this Saturday, officials are hoping to break the track’s handle record of $5,071,415, set last Sept. 19 on a 13-race program.

The Kentucky Downs Turf Handicapping Challenge will be held Saturday, with the top three finishers gaining entry into the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas in January.

KEY CONTENDERS

Da Big Hoss, by Lemon Drop Kid

Last 3 Beyers: 100-100-100

◗ Consistency clearly has become his hallmark, as evidenced by those Beyer Speed Figures, and another big effort would further entrench him as one of the most productive claims in racing history.


DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 7 Da Big Hoss. Owns a 6-for-8 lifetime record in turf races at 12 furlongs and longer. The rest of the field is 5 for 16 combined in North American turf races at those distances. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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Greengrassofyoming, by Quest

Last 3 Beyers: 98-97-89

◗ Six-year-old gelding has earned $431,026 by running through conditions and faring well in the upper claiming ranks, although his game has been raised to another level in recent starts.

Seve’s Road, by Quality Road

Last 3 Beyers: 93-92-90

◗ His last-out victory in a second-level turf allowance at Del Mar for trainer Phil D’Amato came around three turns and at the expense of Life’s Journey, who also brings solid form to this race.


DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 3 Seve’s Road. Trainer Phil D’Amato is 24-0-4-2 over the past five years in races in Kentucky. Click for more details. Mike Hogan