It seemed an impossible task, but Zulu Alpha reaffirmed his position among North America’s leading turf horses with an eye-catching triumph in Sunday’s $175,000 Elkhorn (G2) at Keeneland.
With a quarter-mile remaining in the 1 1/2-mile turf test, Zulu Alpha was still far off the pace under jockey Tyler Gaffalione, officially trailing longtime leader Postulation by 3 1/2 lengths. But factoring the pace, the gap was more imposing than it appeared. Postulation—a 35-1 longshot in the wagering—had escaped unchallenged through pedestrian early fractions of :25.56, :52.02, 1:18.14, and 1:43.20, allowing him to accelerate sharply down the homestretch and kick clear of his pursuers.
But there’s a reason why Zulu Alpha was favored at even-money to prevail. Trained by Mike Maker, the 7-year-old former claimer entered the Elkhorn with half a dozen graded stakes wins to his credit, including victories in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and Mac Diarmida (G2) during a productive winter campaign at Gulfstream Park.
Suffice to say, Zulu Alpha wasn’t about to let a slow pace derail his bid to win the 2020 Eclipse Award for champion turf male. Shifting out for racing room at the top of the stretch, Zulu Alpha rallied furiously under urging from Gaffalione, sprinting the final quarter-mile in approximately :22 2/5 to win by a well-measured three-quarters of a length in 2:30.82.
“He’s as easy as they come,” said Gaffalione. “He just drops his head and you let him do his thing. He knows where the wire is. He’s got some turn of foot.”
Postulation finished 1 1/4 lengths clear of Nakamura, while Jais’s Solitude, Ry’s the Guy, Arklow, Oscar Dominguez, He’s No Lemon, Apreciado, Henley’s Joy, and Hellorhighwater completed the order of finish.
The winner’s share of the $175,000 purse carried Zulu Alpha’s career earnings past the $2 million mark to $2,060,114, the majority earned since being claimed from breeder Calumet for $80,000 by owner Michael M. Hui in September 2018.
Zulu Alpha’s victory was all the more impressive considering he was returning from a 3 1/2-month layoff.
“After Gulfstream, we sent him to the farm again,” said Maker. “We got delayed with the virus. Going a mile and a half, you’re always a little bit concerned. But even I can’t mess this one up.”
Maker indicated Zulu Alpha would continue to race in Kentucky for the foreseeable future, with a return trip to Keeneland for the Nov. 6-7 Breeders’ Cup looming as the long-term goal.
Sunday marked a highly successful afternoon for Maker, who swept both of Keeneland’s closing-day graded stakes races when Field Pass battled to a tenacious triumph in the $100,000 Transylvania (G3) for 3-year-olds racing 1 1/16 miles on the lawn.
Previously victorious in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), Dania Beach S., and Audubon S. during the first half of 2020, Field Pass was reserved in midpack early on under jockey Ricardo Santana, but unleashed a determined rally on the far outside to win by a nose over the ground-saving Street Ready.
Maker also saddled the Transylvania third-place finisher Fancy Liquor, who tracked the pace before fighting on to miss victory by a neck. City Man, Spanish Kingdom, Bama Breeze, Irish Mias, Vintage Print, Kinenos, and Juggernaut rounded out a compact field that saw the first six runners finish just 1 1/4 lengths apart.
“He was sitting behind the speed, perfect,” Santana remarked. “Turning for home, I took him out. He got in the clear and started running. Every time he saw those two horses on the inside he kept fighting.”
“This horse loves to win. He’s all heart,” agreed Maker.
Bred in Maryland by Mark Brown Grier, Field Pass hit the finish line in 1:42.56. A son of Lemon Drop Kid out of the Runaway Groom mare Only Me, Field Pass sold for $37,000 as a yearling and has earned $418,610 racing in the colors of Three Diamonds Farm.