Factor This Has Big Chance at Nice Price in Kentucky Turf Cup

Photos copyright Eclipse Sportswire

Courtesy of America's Best Racing

The $1 million, Grade 3 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup drew a field of 12, plus two horses on the also-eligible list who may get lucky enough to enter the gate if one or two horses in the main body of the field scratches. Leading the field is Arklow, who won this race in 2018 but who is winless in six starts since then although he finished a close second in two of those races. Last year's Turf Cup runner-up Bigger Picture has had a bit more success than his foe since this time one year ago, as he won the Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes at this marathon trip in April. Zulu Alpha won back-to-back graded stakes this winter including the William L. McKnight in January but is winless in four races since, finishing behind Arklow in two of those races. Campaign may fit with these as he won the Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap in July at the mile and one-half distance on dirt as well as won on turf at the distance last year. Factor This won the Kentucky Downs Preview Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes last month, which was the same prep Arklow used before winning this race last year. Hello Don Julio won back-to-back stakes races last fall at this marathon 12 furlong distance including the Point of Entry Stakes but finished 10th in the Turf Cup Preview in his most recent race. Preview Stakes runner-up Botswana and third place finisher My Boy Jack both may have shown they belong in this race, with the latter remembered for his wins last year on dirt in the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes and Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. Another multiple stakes winner on other surfaces last year is Blended Citizen, who won the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes in May of 2018. He has gone winless in six races since including four on turf. Gliding Alone, Golden Dragon, Noble Thought, Pillar Mountain and Zero Gravity round out the field.

Although Arklow deserves tremendous respect for his body of work, which includes five first place finishes and four runner-up finishes in 16 career races on grass, his stablemate Factor This is a bit more intriguing from a betting perspective as he is likely to go to post at higher odds than Arklow. Both are trained by Brad Cox, who has proven himself one of the top trainers in the country. Currently fifth among trainers on the North American Racing Leaders list, Cox's stakes stats this year are as good as those of division leader Chad Brown. Cox has started 121 horses in stakes races this year, winning 27% of those races. I think those statistics show Cox is a trainer who knows when his horses is ready for top levels of competition and in this case Factor This has a good shot to compete although he's never raced at this level.

When returning from five months off between last September and March, Factor This ran on dirt, finishing seventh. Moved back to turf on April 24, Factor This controlled the pace to win easily and earned a career-best 105 Equibase Speed Figure. He bettered this figure two races later winning the Kentucky Downs Preview Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes last month at Ellis Park with a 109 figure. In 2018, Arklow won that same race with a 111 figure, so the 109 figure Factor This earned looks very similar on paper and can be bettered, just like his stablemate did last year when earning a 114 figure in the Turf Cup. Jockey Florent Geroux was aboard Factor This for all three victories this year and has decided to ride Arklow in this race but I'm not concerned one bit about the jockey change to Shaun Bridgmohan. Bridgmohan has been another of the trainer's #1 riders over the past year, teaming up to win 49 of 132 races (37%) together. Another reason I think Factor This can run as well or better in the Turf Cup is based on a STATS Race Lens statistic which shows trainer Cox has kept his charges in top form to win back-to-back in Turf Route races in 34% of 151 starts over the last two years. Even if Factor This doesn't get the early lead as he did in his first two wins of 2019, he proved capable of coming from just off the pace to win the Preview so he could be tough in this situation and post the upset to win over Arklow, who earned a 118 in the Bowling Green Stakes at the end of July and who will be closing very fast in the stretch in this year's Kentucky Turf Cup.

Similar to Arklow and Factor This calling the top barn of Brad Cox home, Zulu Alpha and Bigger Picture call the barn of excellent trainer Mike Maker their home. Maker also trains Noble Thought. Zulu Alpha joined the Maker barn last summer and immediately won the Sycamore Stakes at this marathon trip in October. Two races later he won the similar McKnight Stakes and Mac Diarmida Stakes in January and March. In two of four races since, Zulu Alpha has come very close, missing to stablemate Bigger Picture in the Elkhorn Stakes in April and missing by a neck in the United Nations Stakes in June. Even though finishing further back in the Bowling Green Stakes in his most recent race, Zulu Alpha earned a career-best 117 figure and was just a half-length behind third place finisher Arklow. Recent Saratoga riding title winner Jose Ortiz takes the call and rode Zulu Alpha in the Elkhorn, a race in which Ortiz moved the horse mid-race from seventh to take the lead before being passed and ending up third. If Ortiz can help Zulu Alpha save that kind of kick for the stretch drive in the Turf Cup, he could be right there at the finish. Bigger Picture rallied from seventh to miss winning by a half-length in last year's Turf Cup behind Arklow and could run as well or better this year. Since that race he has won the John B. Connally Turf Cup and Elkhorn Stakes at this 12 furlong distance on grass and was fourth of eight in the United Nations, albeit one and one-half lengths behind stablemate Zulu Alpha. With 12 career wins and $1.6 million in earnings on turf in his career and with top form not far away, Bigger Picture rounds out a quartet I feel has the bulk of the probability to win this race.

For exactas and the like, there is a quartet of horses to consider who may be just a cut below the top four. Botswana earned a career-best 109 figure when beaten a head by Factor This in the Preview, while My Boy Jack was just another head back in third. Although neither is proven at this level on grass yet, considering those figures and how last year's Preview winner Arklow also won this race, I think it would be a mistake to totally ignore their chances to be in the money. Similarly, Pillar Mountain won two in a row at 11 furlongs on turf earlier this year, the best with a 106 figure, before trying stakes competition for the first time and finishing sixth in the Sword Dancer Stakes last month. In 2018, Bigger Picture finished eighth in the Sword Dancer before nearly winning this race so this gelding may have a look at a minor award as well. Campaign has won five of 11 starts in his career including a race at this 12 furlong distance on both turf and on dirt. He was overmatched in the Pacific Classic in his most recent start but won the Cougar II Handicap on dirt just prior to that with a 111 figure which stacks up nicely with the main contenders in this race if repeated.

The rest of the Kentucky Turf Cup field ( with best Equibase Speed Figures in similar races): Blended Citizen (113), Gliding Alone (92), Golden Dragon (101), Hello Don Julio  (113), Noble Thought (109) and Zero Gravity (107).

Contenders in preference order:
Factor This
Zulu Alpha
Bigger Picture

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