Skychai Racing’s Da Big Hoss made it back-to-back victories in the 25th running of the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup, powering through a rain-soaked course to win by 1 1/4 lengths for trainer Mike Maker. The 5-year-old by Lemon Drop Kid, a former claimer, laid well off the early pace and then made a bold middle move up the outside of the pack under Florent Geroux, drawing even with a very game Bullard’s Alley. Da Big Hoss then powered up the final hill of Kentucky Downs’ European-style turf to record his fourth consecutive victory.
Just over an hour earlier, a significant rain storm hit the Franklin, KY track, changing the going to “good” as listed by the stewards, “yielding” by the Equibase chart-makers. Da Big Hoss recorded a final time of 2:35.08 for the 12-furlong, $ 600,000 contest.
“I was happy to win this race on Da Big Hoss,” said Geroux. “I’ve been riding him all year long and got some big wins with him and he’s just a very unique horse to ride. You need to ride confident but you also cannot give him to much to do and make things impossible to do, but of course at 1-9 you expect to win. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. That’s how races go; if you’re 1-9 and win all the time it isn’t as fun.”
While Da Big Hoss was well off the early pace, second-last at first call, the leaders took turns changing positions through the backstretch. Out of the gate the quickest was Bullard’s Alley, but Marcelino Pedroza took a firm hold of the gelding to take him back to third before the first turn. Rum Tum Tugger squeezed by Bullard’s Alley on the inside rail, taking over the lead, with Verger overtaking second along the outside. Life’s Journey was also a part of the early pace, though he got out badly mid-backstretch and allowed Verger to briefly hold the lead.
Beginning the final turn, Rum Tum Tugger secured his position along the rail as the leader, with a 1 1/2-length advantage over Bullard’s Alley in second. Da Big Hoss was beginning to rally through the center of the pack, but still had several lengths to make up on the leaders. Straightening for home, Bullard’s Alley confronted Rum Tum Tugger, putting away that rival only to be challenged on the outside by Da Big Hoss. It look briefly as though Bullard’s Alley would stave off the defending champion, but he tired during the final uphill portion of the course, changing leads several times. Da Big Hoss continued on powerfully on the outside, defeating a very game Bullard’s Alley by 1 1/4 lengths on the wire. Rum Tum Tugger held on to finish third.
“I couldn’t be prouder of him,” trainer Tim Glyshaw said of runner-up Bullard’s Alley. “That’s just a monster horse that Mike [Maker] has, and we knew that we were probably running for second. To be second and earning $ 120,000, that’s the most he’s ever made in a race and he fought back, but Da Big Hoss opened up on him, so congratulations to Mike and we couldn’t be prouder of our horse. The plan is to run him at Keeneland then run him at Churchill and give him 45-60 days, he’s run pretty much for two years straight and I’ve been begging to get him a bit of a break. It doesn’t look there are any turf races at Churchill in the fall for him so maybe the ($ 175,000) Lukas Classic (at Churchill Downs on Oct. 1), he’s just as good on the dirt as he is on the turf and then we’ll try and find some allowance race at Keeneland that fits him.”
Bred in Kentucky by Gary and Mary West Stables, Da Big Hoss was a potent claim by trainer Mike Maker, who nabbed the horse for $ 50,000 at Churchill Downs in June of 2015. Since then, the intact horse has won a total of five graded stakes races over longer distances on the turf, and boasts an overall record of 12 wins from 21 starts, with earnings of over $ 1.55 million.
“The only thing I would have liked would to have been 1-2, but I’m not complaining,” Maker said in the winner’s circle. “I just have so much confidence in this horse. Some people get nervous. It’s hard to get nervous, when he’s accomplished what he’s done. He owes us nothing. Just enjoy everything we can.
“I think we just go right to the Breeders’ Cup,” Maker continued. “He runs really well fresh.”
There had been talk of sending Da Big Hoss to Australia for the Melbourne Cup, though that race runs at nearly the same time as the Breeders’ Cup.
“The nice thing is he’s eighth on the list and 25-1 out of 124 horses (nominated for Melbourne Cup),” said co-owner Harvey Diamond. “We’re probably not much better than that in the Breeders’ Cup. We’re waiting for somebody over there to give us the right incentive to come.”
“All I can say is he’s the second-best marathon horse in the United States (behind Flintshire),” Maker disagreed. “Where I went to school, second is better than eighth.”
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