November 30, 2023

Zulu Alpha upsets Breeders’ Cup hope Arklow in Sycamore

Zulu Alpha wins the Sycamore Stakes (G3) at Keeneland on October 18, 2018, under jockey Channing Hill (c) Wendy Wooley/EquiSport Photos

Thursday’s feature at Keeneland, the $100,000 Sycamore (G3), was supposed to be the launching pad to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) for Arklow. But the 2-1 favorite was upset by Michael Hui’s Zulu Alpha, a 7-1 chance making his first start off the claim. Under a rail-skimming ride by Channing Hill, the Street Cry gelding punched two lengths clear to give trainer John Ortiz his first graded win.

In a race devoid of pace, Zulu Alpha stalked the front-running Final Copy through fractions of :26.54 and :52.64 on the good turf. Arklow, initially several lengths back, advanced into a prompting second by the time they reached six furlongs in a pedestrian 1:18.75. Ratcheting up the pressure through splits of 1:44.45 and 2:10.12, Arklow headed Final Copy in the stretch.

Meanwhile, Zulu Alpha had been traveling well on the inside. Final Copy drifted out just enough for Zulu Alpha to thread the needle, and he surged past Arklow to complete 1 1/2 miles in 2:34.21.

Bigger Picture caught Final Copy for third. Next came Some in Tieme, Harlan Strong, Can’thelpbelieving, Oscar Nominated, Nessy, Campaign, and Slickly Done. Cooptado and Teodoro were scratched.

Zulu Alpha was haltered for $80,000 out of a 9 1/2-length romp at Churchill Downs September 14. Previously trained by Neil Howard, the Calumet Farm homebred had competed at the stakes level, his most notable result being a third to Synchrony and Arklow in the Mervin Muniz Memorial (G2) at Fair Grounds. Zulu Alpha, who began his career with Dermot Weld in Ireland and also spent time with Calumet’s Jose Fernandez stateside, sports a mark of 20-6-3-4, $237,757.

The Kentucky-bred is a half-brother to stakes winner Bank the Eight. Their dam, the A.P. Indy mare Zori, is a half-sister to champion Ajina from the family of multiple Grade 1 star and hot sire Quality Road.

Quotes from Keeneland

Trainer John Ortiz on claiming his first graded winner: “I enjoyed watching him. He runs really big every time he runs, especially his last three starts. Right now I’m speechless and very thankful.

“I was very happy with where he was early on in the race and throughout the whole race. I got a little concerned down the stretch because it looked like it was going to get a little tight up the rail. But Channing (Hill) knew what he was doing. He got him through. I’m just happy.”

Winning rider Channing Hill on his trip: “Obviously there was a little concern because (Arklow is) the favorite, he’s the horse to beat. I was happy my horse got a little cover first time down the lane. Then when he (Zulu Alpha) pressed the pace, it was either am I going to fight him to stay in this bad spot or am I gonna put him inside? The way he ran at Churchill last time, obviously he enjoys coming through (along) the fence.

“Today he ran a really big race. He finished up strong with plenty of horse left. I want to congratulate Johnny. It’s a big day for him to win a graded stakes here at Keeneland. I was happy to do it for him.”

Jockey Florent Geroux on Arklow, runner-up as the 2-1 favorite: “He broke OK and I was in the race. I felt like we were going very slow and we were in contention. I didn’t want anybody to steal the race, so I put a little pressure on (the leader). I was surprised the winner got to me. My horse was running fast, but the winner just outkicked us.”

Trainer Brad Cox on Arklow’s loss ahead of the Breeders’ Cup: “I am disappointed we didn’t win but he ran well. Florent did a good job in putting him where he needed to be and adjusted to the slow pace. We will see how he comes out of this and go from there (regarding the Breeders’ Cup Turf).”

Tyler Gaffalione, who rode third-placer Bigger Picture: “I had a good trip, just had to wait a little bit longer than I wanted to. I got stuck behind a couple tiring horses, but when I got him in the clear he made his run – just had to wait a little too long. (The fractions) were not exactly what I expected, but you never know what’s going to happen out there. On form it looked like it was going to set up a little bit better but just gotta take the race as it comes. I’m absolutely happy with his effort today, I think if we got a little more free run it would have been a different outcome, but he definitely tried and he never gave it up.”