For a horse whose hallmark has been his consistency, it is ironic that one of the other trademarks of Arklow’s Grade 1-winning career has been the element of surprise.
While the 7-year-old son of Arch has defied the march of time by winning graded stakes in five of his six seasons on the track, he doesn’t always tip his hand during training hours with efforts that suggest a big run in coming. Though he has stumped his connections on occasion when it comes to forecasting what will happen once the gates open, there is one venue that has almost always managed to bring out the best of what Arklow has to offer.
The European-style turf course of Kentucky Downs has become a second home of sorts to the veteran Arklow as he boasts wins in the 2020 and 2018 editions of the Calumet Turf Cup (G2) with a runner-up finish in the race sandwiched between. The Brad Cox-trainee will attempt to become the first three-time winner of the race on Sept. 11 when he faces old rival Zulu Alpha and 10 other challengers in the $1 million, 12-furlong test.
The Calumet Turf Cup is part of a blockbuster card that features five graded stakes at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs on Saturday, headlining the day along with the $1 million FanDuel Turf Sprint (G3) at six furlongs. Both races are “Win and You’re In” stops on the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series and will be televised live by NBC. The Turf Cup winner will get a fees-paid berth in the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) and the Turf Sprint winner the same in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Del Mar on Nov. 6.
Owned by Donegal Racing, Joseph Bulger, and the Estate of Peter Coneway, Arklow couldn’t have picked a better time to return to his favorite course. After starting his 2021 campaign with a victory in the Louisville Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs on May 15, the bay horse has hit a bit of rough patch, finishing sixth in the United Nations Stakes (G1) after he clipped heels and stumbled near the far turn, then coming home seventh in the Del Mar Handicap (G2) on Aug. 21.
Though he was off the board at Del Mar, Arklow was only beaten 1 ¾ lengths by race winner Astronaut that day. The Turf Cup’s 1 ½-miles distance is one too that has been most suited to his off-the-pace style as he has won three of his last four starts over 12 furlongs.
“Obviously our Kentucky Derby for Arklow is the Calumet race at Kentucky Downs,” Donegal Racing CEO Jerry Crawford said earlier this summer. “I mean even without Arklow doing so well there, it’s a magnificent race course and I’m so grateful to the Calumet folks for making that into the race it is. And Arklow loves it. Two firsts and a second in three tries.
“Brad (Cox)…he’s destined to be a Hall of Fame trainer and he’s just done a great, great job with Arklow. Because he’s not a horse that that tells you how he’s about to run.”
Bred in Kentucky by John and Frank Penn, Arklow has won nine of 34 career starts with earnings of $2,756,246.
Trainer Mike Maker, a five-time meet-leader and Kentucky Downs’ record-holder in career wins, has five of the 12 horses in the body of the Calumet Turf Cup, headed by 2019 race winner Zulu Alpha. Owned by Michael Hui and bred by Calumet Farm, Zulu Alpha is 0-for-2 in 2021, having most recently finished seventh in the Mr. D. Stakes (G1) on Aug. 14, and is seeking his first victory since taking the TVG Elkhorn Stakes (G2) at Keeneland last July.
While Zulu Alpha and Arklow had traded victories in the Turf Cup, their biggest threat will likely come from another Grade 1 winner in Channel Cat, who is returning to Kentucky Downs for the first time since he captured the 2018 Dueling Grounds Derby. Owned and bred by Calumet Farm, the son of English Channel notched a breakout win in May when he annexed the Man o’ War Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park and enters off a fourth-place run in the July 31 Bowling Green Stakes (G2) at Saratoga.
“We have a lot of English Channels because he stands at Calumet and they really seem to take to that configuration (at Kentucky Downs),” said Jack Sisterson, trainer of Channel Cat and a private trainer for Calumet. “It is quite refreshing to go down there for a week of racing, just because it is different. It’s not the flat oval track. You’ve got the mile and five-sixteenth, 6 1/2. It’s just a great, fun week.”