Donegal Racing founder Jerry Crawford considered Zulu Alpha the top distance turf horse in at least America heading into last Saturday’s $1 million Kentucky Turf Cup. After Donegal's Arklow upset his old rival to win the Grade 3, 1 1/2-mile stakes for the second time in the three years, Crawford slightly amended his assessment.
Wearing blinkers for the first time in 29 career races, the 6-year-old Arklow laid up close to the pace under Florent Geroux and took command through the long stretch for a 1 1/4-length victory over Red Knight. Zulu Alpha was another length back in third after coming from near last.
“We have nothing but respect for Zulu Alpha,” Crawford said of the 2019 Kentucky Turf Cup winner to whom Arklow was second in last year’s running of the track’s richest race. “He was the best mile-and-a-half turf horse in the world coming into the Kentucky Turf Cup. But if you beat the best, then you’re in the conversation.”
Crawford won’t get any disagreement from Michael Hui, who claimed Zulu Alpha for $80,000 two years ago with the 2019 Kentucky Turf Cup in mind and now has earned more than $2 million with the gelding.
“I think he was in the conversation anyway, just because of his trainer,” Hui said of Arklow’s trainer, Brad Cox.
The Mike Maker-trained Zulu Alpha started his 7-year-old season with a victory over an international field in Gulfstream Park’s Grade 1, $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf, in which Arklow was fifth. Saturday marked the 10th time the horses had squared off, the two evenly split 5-5 for number of times finishing in front of the other.
Now the focus for both horses is squarely on the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf on Nov. 7 at Keeneland. Arklow won a maiden race at Keeneland and was second in the 2018 Sycamore (G2), won by Zulu Alpha in the gelding’s first race for Hui. Zulu Alpha also won Keeneland’s July 12 Elkhorn in his last start before Saturday’s race.
“Zulu is good. He was bouncing around the barn cooling out, had a lot of energy,” Hui said of the defeat. “You could tell he knew he didn’t win. It’s onward; we’ll move on. We’re just going to stick with the playbook we laid out after he won the Pegasus.”
Both horses have been fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf; Arklow in 2018 at Churchill Downs and Zulu Alpha last year at Santa Anita.
Zulu Alpha will train up to this Breeders’ Cup, Hui said. Arklow could run back in New York’s Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, which the horse won last year to become a Grade 1 winner.
“Our next decision is: Do we go to the Joe Hirsch in three weeks and then give him five weeks to the Breeders’ Cup? Do we just train him up to the Breeders’ Cup?” Crawford said. “Brad is very, very pleased with the way he came out of the race. You want him to be fresh going into the Breeders’ Cup, but you don’t want him to be stale. To figure that out is the next challenge.”
Arklow crashed through the $2 million mark for earnings and now has made $2,446,116, the vast majority in his 24 turf starts spanning seven wins, six seconds and a third.
“I have a lot of confidence, going forward with the equipment change, that we’re going to see more of the old Arklow,” Crawford said.
Crawford said that as much as bragging on Arklow, he wanted to praise stakes sponsor Calumet Farm, Calumet owner Brad Kelley and Kentucky Downs. Crawford said that they make it possible “so that we can brag on horses like him.
“Kentucky Downs is one of the niftiest racetracks anywhere. What they do to make it so lucrative, the sport would be nowhere without them.”