Blinkers, Soft Ground Help Arklow Turn Tables On Zulu Alpha In Kentucky Turf Cup - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Blinkers, Soft Ground Help Arklow Turn Tables On Zulu Alpha In Kentucky Turf Cup

Arklow winning the $1-million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes at Kentucky Downs under Florent Geroux in 2020

They have been two of the more durable members of the turf male ranks for the last five seasons and on Saturday at Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky., the latest chapter in the rivalry between Grade 1 winner Arklow and Zulu Alpha geared up for yet another run – this time at the venue where each had previously enjoyed success.

Where Zulu Alpha had gotten the best of his rival in last year's edition of the Grade 3, $1-million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes, trading blows had been the name of the game for the two warriors in their nine meetings prior to Saturday. So after losing Kentucky Downs bragging rights with a second in 2019, Arklow fittingly turned the tables on his old foe when he captured the 1 1/2-mile Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths over Red Knight, with Zulu Alpha a late-running third.

Trained by Brad Cox for Donegal Racing, Joseph Bulger, and Peter Coneway, Arklow previously annexed the Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes in 2018 and has been a stalwart in his division -– placing in the top three eight times since that triumph, including a runner-up effort in this race last year. Things haven't been as smooth for the 6-year-old son of Arch since winning the 2019 Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes, however, as he had lost his last five starts coming into Saturday's test.

Zulu Alpha, by contrast, had won three of four starts in 2020 including a victory in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational on January 25. That momentum would be blunted over the soft ground on Saturday though as Arklow — wearing blinkers for the first time in a race — got a perfect trip sitting in the first flight just off the leaders before making his winning bid down the lane under jockey Florent Geroux.

“He was pretty sharp coming into this race,” Cox said of Arklow. “It's easy to say it now, but we had a lot of confidence that he would move forward with the blinkers. He likes it down here and obviously when it started raining it gave us even more confidence. He definitely likes a little juice in the ground, and he responded well.

“Florent did a good job getting him involved. That has a lot to do with this horse, how he runs, his involvement early on in a race.”

While Arklow was rated fifth, then fourth, as Changi took the field through the opening half mile in :50.27, Zulu Alpha was well back and had just one foe beat in 10-horse field. Longshot Eons grabbed the lead heading down the hill but Arklow was perched three wide at that point, waiting for the signal from Geroux to do more.

“It was a great trip for him. He was closer to the lead than he's used too,” Geroux said. “First time with blinkers, at 6 years old, helped him and the ground also helped. From there I just nursed him around and he waited for my signal down the stretch. He was able to hold off those horses pretty easily.”

Arklow paid $13.60 as the third choice in the field of 10 older horses. He became only the third two-time winner of the stakes, joining back-to-back winners Rochester (2002-2003) and Da Big Hoss (2015-16).

“Donegal Racing is very appreciative of Mr. (Brad) Kelley and Calumet Farm for sponsoring this race,” said Donegal president Jerry Crawford. “Donegal has won it two of the last three years and finished second the third time. We're grateful for Kentucky Downs and for the Calumet folks. Obviously, Arklow loves it there. He loves going that far. I think the addition of blinkers made a huge difference. He was able to lay closer to the pace and nobody is going to get past him once he has the lead in the stretch. We're very excited.”

At the top the stretch, Arklow took command for himself and turned back a threat from eventual runner-up Red Knight. Beaten favorite Zulu Alpha could only get up for show money, a length behind Red Knight.

“Everything worked out. We had a nice clean trip,” said Tyler Gaffalione, jockey Zulu Alpha. “The only thing I would say is that maybe the ground was getting away from him down the stretch. He was really digging in, trying to go get that horse, but it was just breaking away from him. Might be a little soft out there for him. It was a great performance. He tried hard the whole way. He's all class and hopefully we'll rebound in the Breeders' Cup (Turf).”

The final time for the distance over a course rated soft was 2:28.66.

In addition to improving his record to seven wins from 29 starts with earnings of $2,466,116, Arklow continued a hot streak for Cox and Geroux as the two paired up to capture the Kentucky Oaks on September 4 with Shedaresthedevil at Churchill Downs after winning the Grade 1 La Troienne Stakes on the undercard with champion Monomoy Girl.

“Honestly I really trained on him pretty strong for this race, zeroed in on this race,” Cox said of Arklow. “He had a fantastic work a couple of weeks back at Churchill on the turf. He had a huge gallop out that day. He'd been touting himself a lot going into this.

“It's great. It's been a busy week and a half,” Cox added. “Just trying to build off it, get bigger and better horses all the time. Looking to pick off races like this is what it's all about.”

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