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2003 Kentucky Cup: the duel, the DQ, the promise

Saturday, September 13, 2003 12:00 AM
  • Kentucky Cup
If Thoroughbred racing were a game of certainties, who would care?

Among the five horses vying for the Grade II $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park September 13, the players favored Congaree at less than even odds. But at the end it was Stonecrest Farm’s Perfect Drift, the second choice, who had the perfect score, a focused, determined run past Congaree in the final furlong to victory by a length.

Perfect Drift waited just behind Congaree, who was first at every call except the one that matters, and Crafty Shaw, who stayed with the leaders to finish a game third. Even the Score was fourth. M B Sea ran fifth.

“Well, they’ve seen it for themselves,” said winning trainer Murray Johnson. “He was just breezing along when [jockey Edgar] Prado asked Congaree to run at the three-sixteenths pole, and we were in hand.”

Pat Day had the winning mount. “He broke sharply, and I eased him back just off the pace. We tracked the leaders and since he has a tendency to hang I wanted to run right by Congaree. He was in hand wire to wire. It was an awesome effort.”

Bob Baffert, who trains Congaree, apparently got some of what he was looking for despite the second-best finish. “This track is very demanding,” he said, “but this should set him up [for the Breeders’ Cup].” Johnson has already said he will not take Perfect Drift to Santa Anita next month for the World Thoroughbred Championships.

The Classic was just one of five stakes races at Turfway Park’s 2003 Kentucky Cup Day of Champions.

While Perfect Drift’s victory was a homecoming—he won the Grade II $500,000 Lane’s End Stakes here in 2002—the Juvenile Fillies, the one ungraded stakes on the day, was a debutante’s ball of sorts for Class Above. Coming into the mile from her first win and only other start, a 5 ½ furlong MSW at Del Mar in late August, the Baffert-trained filly proved herself aptly named. She was 16 lengths the best and still waltzing without effort when she hit the wire. Second was Renaissance Lady; Sweet Jo Jo was third.

In the $100,000 Grade III Juvenile, Pomeroy ended with his nose in first but his name in third, disqualified for interference in the stretch. Trained by Patrick Biancone, Pomeroy took the lead at the second turn but swerved out in the upper stretch. The disqualification moved Mr. Jester to first and The Cliff’s Edge to second.

Smok’n Frolic took the $175,000 Grade III Turfway Breeders’ Cup, an official stop on the Road to the World Thoroughbred Championships. In second place was second choice Awesome Humor, who has been off the board just once in her career. So Much More was third.

The final stakes of the day, the Grade III $100,000 Sprint, found Cajun Beat in front of Clock Stopper by three-quarters of a length. Champali, a Turfway favorite and the favorite on the board, finished third.

The Kentucky Cup Day of Champions now has double-digit history behind it—this was the 10th running—and a reputation for attracting champions and revealing champions-in-waiting. Victors in Cup races over the years have been 1994 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Tabasco Cat; 1995 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner and three-year-old of the year Thunder Gulch; Silver Charm, dead-heat winner of the Classic in 1998 after victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes; 1996 Champion Juvenile Boston Harbor; 1998 Champion Sprinter Reraise; 2000 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Spain, also the all-time leading female by earnings; Point Given, winner of the 2000 Preakness and Belmont Stakes; 2001 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Repent; and 2002 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Eclipse Award winner Vindication.

The 2003 edition of the Kentucky Cup Day of Champions welcomed a record crowd of 11,223 under perfect skies.

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