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2023 Kentucky Downs Turf Cup Preview & FREE Picks | Maker Aims At Record 6th Win With Red Knight
Red Knight (1) winning the 2022 Kentucky Downs Turf Cup (Coady Photography)

2023 Kentucky Downs Turf Cup Preview & FREE Picks | Maker Aims At Record 6th Win With Red Knight

Aaron previews the 2023 Kentucky Downs Turf Cup (G2), then gives his top picks & long shots from this “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Trainer Mike Maker aims at his record 6th win in this race with defending champion Red Knight.

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The press release:

Headed by four Grade 1 winners and a trio of Grade 2 victors, an overflow field of 16 was entered Monday for Saturday’s $1.7 million FanDuel Kentucky Turf Cup. The Grade 2 stakes at 1 1/2 miles is a “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series race for the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita.

Twelve horses can start, with another four entries on the “also-eligible” list needing scratches in order to run.

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Mike Maker, Kentucky Downs’ all-time winningest trainer, entered four horses in pursuit of a record sixth victory in the Kentucky Turf Cup. That includes last year’s winner Red Knight, who returns at age 9 as a Grade 1 winner after taking Belmont Park’s Man o’ War in May. Maker also is running Therapist, who at age 8 earned his first Grade 1 victory when he took Monmouth Park’s United Nations in his last start, a race in which Red Knight was a late-running third.

The only horse in the body of the race who isn’t a graded-stakes winner is the Maker-trained Me and Mr. C, who got into the overflow field by virtual of capturing the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup at Ellis Park. Even so, Me and Mr. C is a five-time stakes winner. Maker’s fourth entrant, Grade 2-placed Red Run, needs four scratches to get into the starting gate.

Trainer Brendan Walsh entered two-time Grade 1 winner Santin and Keeneland’s Grade 2 Elkhorn winner Verstappen. Santin, winner of last year’s Grade 1 Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic and the Arlington Million staged at Churchill Downs, comes into the Kentucky Turf Cup off a second-place finish in the 2023 Arlington Million, which was relocated to Virginia.

Paulo Lobo, who teamed with jockey Joe Talamo to win the Kentucky Turf Cup two years ago with the Argentine-bred Imperador, returns to the 1 1/2-mile stakes with Nautilus, a Grade 1 winner last year in his native Brazil. Nautilus won an off-the-turf Ellis Park allowance race by a nose in his last start.

Other graded-stakes winners include Spooky Channel and Never Explain. Trainer Chris Block brings Another Mystery back for another crack at the Kentucky Turf Cup after the horse finished third last year by a nose and a neck. Kitodan, winner of last year’s Dueling Grounds Derby (G3), will run back in the Turf Cup after finishing seventh in the meet’s opening-day FanDuel Tapit Stakes.

The horse to catch could be the Mark Casse-trained Get Smoking, who finished second by a neck in the Grade 2 Wise Dan at Ellis Park and then was fourth by a total of a length in the Ellis Park prep for the Kentucky Turf Cup.

Here’s the full field:

1 Foreign Relations (124) Conor Murphy/John Velazquez

2 Red Knight (124) Mike Maker/Tyler Gaffalione

3 Verstappen (124) Brendan Walsh/Declan Cannon

4 Santin (122) Brendan Walsh/Florent Geroux

5 Get Smokin (122) Mark Casse/Fernando De La Cruz 

6 Me and Mr. C (124) Mike Maker/Gerardo Corrales

7 Kitodan (122) Eric Foster/Irad Ortiz

8 Never Explain (124) Shug McGaughey/Joel Rosario

9 Nautilus (122) Paulo Lobo/Joe Talamo

10 Another Mystery (122) Chris Block/Brian Hernandez

11 Therapist (124) Mike Maker/Javier Castellano

12 Spooky Channel (124) Jason Barkley/James Graham

13 AE Sy Dog (122) Graham Motion/Jareth Loveberry

14 AE Cellist (122) Rusty Arnold/Martin Garcia

15 AE Highest Honors (122) Chad Brown/Irad Ortiz

16 AE Red Run (122) Mike Maker/Vincent Cheminaud

A Kentucky-bred winner of the Kentucky Turf Cup will bring home $1 million; a non-Kentucky-bred winner will still earn about $800,000.