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Get Smokin won the 2023 Kentucky Downs Turf Cup (G2), a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The Mark Casse trainee led every step of the way en route to his biggest career win to date.
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Earlier in the week, Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse admitted that running his 6-year-old gelding Get Smokin in the 32nd running of the $1.7 million FanDuel Kentucky Turf Cup (G2) was going to be an experiment.
The experiment was a rousing success.
Get Smokin was known for his run-from-the-bell style of running. Not known so much was his ability to run that way going the marathon mile-and-a-half distance of the Turf Cup, one of the marquee races of the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.
Casse looks like a genius now after Get Smokin turned the Turf Cup into his personal playground. The son of Get Stormy out of Hookah Lady by Smoke Glacken led every step of the way and won the race by 1 ¾ lengths.
Get Smokin played a game of catch me if you can, and no one could.
“What a horse he is!” Casse said by phone from Lexington. “Going to the lead, that was the strategy. We felt we would establish a big lead and hope that everyone else would think he could not go that far. Guess what? He did.”
Get Smokin, at 19-1, was the third-longest price in the field of 12.
And it was absolutely no surprise that when the gates sprung open jockey Fernando De La Cruz, the second-leading rider at Horseshoe Indianapolis, put Get Smokin where he likes to be.
The plot was drawn up by Casse and Harlan Malter, the managing partner of Ironhorse Racing Stable, which owns Get Smokin along with BlackRidge Stables, T-N-T Equine Holdings and Saratoga Sevens Racing.
In his 26-race career, Get Smokin had never ventured this far. He had tuned up for the Turf Cup with a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup at Ellis Park on Aug. 6. That was 1 ¼ miles and Get Smokin did his thing and tired, getting beat a length.
“I have often told Harlan that he is the craziest owner I train for,” Casse said. “But this was not a crazy idea.”
“Look,” Malter said, “he’s a horse that gets caught late. So you think if you keep stretching him out farther, it’s going to be even harder for him to get it. We looked at it the opposite way. He gallops at a very high rate of speed and has a huge heart. He carved out fractions that were workable for him and they weren’t going to catch him.”
Get Smokin was comfortable running these splits: 24.00, 49.61, 1:14.18 and 1:37.99 for the mile. And he wasn’t getting tired. He was getting stronger.
He maintained a two-length advantage virtually the whole way around. It also didn’t hurt any that speed was holding up all day.
“They told me to take him to the lead and see what happens,” De La Cruz said. “It’s a mile and a half, a long way to go. He just kept going.”
Santin, ridden by Florent Geroux, and Verstappen and Declan Cannon – both trained by Brendan Walsh – followed Get Smokin around the track for most of the way but couldn’t put a dent in his advantage. They would settle for third and fifth, respectively.
“We have no excuse,” Walsh said. “You can’t take anything away from the winner. He ran his race and we didn’t get him.”
Spooky Channel, ridden by James Graham and trained by Jason Barkley, came on in the stretch and got second at 17-1. They finished a head in front of Santin, who was a nose in front of defending champion Red Knight, the 7-2 favorite.
“He tried every inch of the way. I thought I would run down (the winner),” said Spooky Channel’s trainer Jason Barkley. “He just kept trying. He ran big. Very proud of him.”
Get Smokin has won two of six starts this year and has six wins in 27 career starts. He banked $972,220 on Saturday and now has earnings of $1,650,497.
Casse said he did not want to commit to what might be next for Get Smokin, but a trip to the Breeders’ Cup can’t be dismissed. After all, Get Smokin earned a fees-paid spot in the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf by virtue of winning the Kentucky Turf Cup, part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.
“We want to enjoy this,” Casse said. “We’ll talk to Harlan and the rest of the owners. This is just a great win for a really good horse who gives you everything.”
The final time was 2:28.66. Get Smokin paid $41.14, $21.16 and $11.50.
After Verstappen, the order of finish was Kitodan, Me and Mr. C, Therapist, Never Explain, Foreign Relations, Another Mystery and Nautilus.
Trainer Mark Casse, 1st, Get Smokin (by phone from Lexington) – “It really worked out good. I have to hand it to Harlan (Harlan Malter, managing partner of Ironhorse Racing Stable, co-owner). It was his idea and you know, sometimes you have to step out o the box and be willing to do it. What a horse he is! We have had him a couple of years and he is something. He gives you everything he has everytime he runs. I knew he was in a good rhythm. Fernando rode him perfectly.
“I am excited for the owners but I am more excited for the horse.
“Going to the lead, that was the strategy. That’s the way he runs. We felt we would establish a big lead and hope that everyone else would think he could not go that far. Guess what? He did. I am almost speechless. I watched him and he kept on running. Larry (track announcer Collmus) kept saying ‘they might not catch him.’ I have always said that a mile and a half is a differently run race. I see a lot of horses that can not go that far.”
“I have often told Harlan that he is the craziest owner I train for. But this was not a crazy idea.
“I don’t know what is next. I just want to enjoy this one. We’ll talk to Harlan and the rest of the owners. We want to enjoy this. It’s a great win for a really good horse who gives you everything.”
Fernando De La Cruz (winning his first $1 million+ race): “We talked with Harlan and Mark. (They said) “just take him to the lead and see what happens.” It’s a mile and a half, a long way to go. But the horse is a really nice horse. He just kept going, kept going. Thanks to God I got it done.”
(Does he ride much for Mark?) “Not really. The owner, I went with him in 2018 to the Breeders’ Cup. That’s the reason I got (the mount.”
Co-owner Harlan Malter: “He’s an absolute dream to own. He just lays it out for you every single time. I think he was just screaming for the humans to come up with a plan for him. We made a plan. Fernando won two Grade 2s for us on Bucchero, and we knew he was the man for the job. Watching the race, he did it to a tee. Look, I give it all to the horse, Mark, David. They’ve done an unbelievable job with the horse. The horse is just thriving. I said I want to run in this race, and Mark said to me, ‘You’re one of my crazier owners. This idea, I don’t think is that crazy.’ So I’m glad I have a trainer who is willing to listen to some of my crazy ideas.”
“We bought him and said he’s a really good miler, a pretty good mile and a sixteenth horse. We got to figure out what he’s great at. So we went to Dubai, went six furlongs. That didn’t work out really well. So we said, ‘well there’s probably another distance to him.’ We brought him back this year. Look, he’s a horse that gets caught late. So you think if you keep stretching him out farther, it’s going to be even harder for him to get it. We looked at it the opposite way: We just needed this horse to be able to do what he does best. He gallops at a very high rate of speed, and he has a huge heart. We actually were kind of forcing him to do things he couldn’t do, meaning we were letting him stay too close, and the guys who could close on him were closing on him.
“We looked at this race. We wanted to test out at Ellis (in the 1 1/4 prep). Even though we ran fourth, we were happy. He ran a similar figure to what he was running at a mile and a sixteenth. We were all systems go. We kind of came up with the idea to have Fernando. We made a very specific plan, and it’s amazing how well Fernando executed it.
“Look, they discounted him. Because he hadn’t made it. I saw the handicappers, ‘Well, he couldn’t make it a mile and a quarter, how is he going to make it a mile and a half.’ This horse just has a huge heart, carved out fractions that were workable for him, and they weren’t going to catch him.”
(So now he’s going to the Breeders’ Cup) “Yeah. I will say this: We were not expecting to go to the Breeders’ Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Turf even 30 days ago. But as we got closer to this race, David Carroll, Mark’s assistant at Churchill, his wife (Kim) who does a tremendous amount of work on him, every time I called they said how well he was doing. To have a 6-year-old horse in this type of form and doing this well, David said, ‘Look, all I can tell you is he’s doing unbelievable. Let’s go for the whole thing.’ We’d love to get back to the Breeders’ Cup. The horse deserves that kind of attention. Obviously a very, very tough race to do it your second time going that difference in the Breeders’ Cup.
“This is the biggest race we’ve ever won.”
(What are you thinking at the finish?) “Sometimes I sit there and I think I’m almost frozen, because you almost don’t want to jinx it. You’re watching the plan come to fruition, watching the horse give absolutely everything. I really probably didn’t move until he was one stride (from the finish) and no one was going to catch him. You can hear my voice. I may not be speaking a lot tomorrow. To have a horse like this that just shows up every day and runs, it’s just a privilege. It’s why we own horses.”
Jason Barkley, trainer, runner-up Spooky Channel: “He tried every inch of the way. He ran a big race. I thought I would (run down the winner). He just kept trying (but) the track has been favoring speed. James did a good job getting to the rail, which is the best part of the track today. Ran big. Very proud of him.”
Note: Barkley is leaving trainer to pursue other endeavors in horse racing. Asked when he’s leaving, he said, “Well, I guess after he’s done running. I guess we’ll have one more stop on the farewell tour.”
Trainer Brendan Walsh, 3rd, Santin, 5th Verstappen – “That is the way the track has been playing all day, really. It played out exactly the way I thought it would and my two were right behind him the whole way. We have no excuses. You can’t take anything away from the winner. He ran his race and we didn’t get him.”
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