Contested over the same 1 1/2-mile course as the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), Sunday’s $175,000 Elkhorn Stakes (G2) at Keeneland has attracted two of the division’s top performers in Zulu Alpha and Arklow.
The familiar foes have met eight times, with their head-to-head score all tied up at four apiece. But Zulu Alpha has fared better in three of their past four match-ups, most notably capturing the Jan. 25 Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) when Arklow was a troubled fifth. Zulu Alpha also turned in the better effort in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Turf, when rattling late for fourth compared to Arklow’s eighth. The pair served up the exacta twice, on both occasions Zulu Alpha topping a favored Arklow in the 2018 Sycamore (G3) at this track and trip as well as dethroning him in the 2019 Kentucky Turf Cup (G3).
Arklow had the upper hand in three other clashes last season – his signature win in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1), along with a herculean second in the Man o’ War (G1) and a near-miss third in the Bowling Green (G2). Aside from the fact that Zulu Alpha was unplaced in all three, the other point of commonality was that those took place at New York tracks. The one occasion that Arklow finished ahead of Zulu Alpha outside of the Empire State was their very first meeting in the 2018 Muniz Memorial H. (G2) at Fair Grounds, where they were second and third.
While Zulu Alpha has improved over time in the care of Mike Maker, Arklow might be able to capitalize on a recency advantage Sunday. The Brad Cox trainee just missed in the June 13 Louisville (G3) at Churchill Downs, despite having to muscle through in tight quarters on the inside. The 7-year-old Zulu Alpha hasn’t raced since suffering a tough beat himself in the Mar. 28 Pan American (G2). Stablemate Bemma’s Boy enjoyed a better trip that day than Zulu Alpha, who made an arguably costly move early out wide. He figures to save more ground for Tyler Gaffalione from post 5 here, with Arklow and Florent Geroux drawn in post 10.
Another prominent player in the division, United, is not here, but his Southern California form is represented by the Richard Baltas-trained Oscar Dominguez. An upset winner over United in the 1 1/2-mile Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) last December, Oscar Dominguez was a fast-finishing third to him in the 1 1/4-mile San Marcos (G2). The Irish import was third again when last seen in the Mar. 21 San Luis Rey (G3), and now picks up Joel Rosario.
Graham Motion has a couple of upwardly mobile types in comebacker Nakamura and He’s No Lemon. Nakamura uncorked a terrific rally when runner-up in last fall’s Sycamore, endured a wide-trip fifth in the Nov. 23 Red Smith (G3), and has been training forwardly for this reappearance. Hall of Famer John Velazquez will ride the son of Animal Kingdom for the first time. He’s No Lemon did well to grab third in the Louisville despite a layoff and troubled trip, edging Ry’s the Guy and Jais’s Solitude.
Maker is also double-handed. His other runner, Apreciado, has course form as well as a progressive profile from Gulfstream where he placed in the Claiming Crown Emerald and W.L. McKnight (G3). Although a tiring seventh in the Louisville, he’s eligible to move forward again second off the bench.
The ex-Maker Henley’s Joy makes his second start since joining Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen. The Kitten’s Joy colt hasn’t built on his 20-1 upset of last year’s Belmont Derby Invitational (G1), but he’s been highly tried and could offer more with maturity.
The elder statesman of the field, 8-year-old Postulation, is capable of running well fresh. The Michael Matz veteran had a limited but productive campaign in 2019, including a first-up romp in Monmouth’s Presious Passion, a third in the Sycamore, and a fourth in the Red Smith.
Likely pacesetter Ramsey Solution steps up in class and trip after wiring a Churchill allowance for Wesley Ward, a race that produced a next-out winner in Hierarchy. Hellorhighwater broke his maiden at this distance but has yet to clear his entry-level allowance condition.
With the exceptions of 123-pound highweight Arklow and Zulu Alpha toting 120, the rest carry 118 pounds.
The supporting feature on Keeneland’s closing-day card, the $100,000 Transylvania Stakes (G3) for turf sophomores, pits Maker’s form pick Field Pass against Chad Brown’s up-and-comer Vintage Print.
Field Pass, who beat Decorated Invader in his Saratoga maiden win, has racked up three stakes scores this term including the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) on Turfway’s Polytrack and the June 20 Audubon S. on the Churchill turf.
Vintage Print, a $1.8 million son of Curlin and Grade 1 winner Molly Morgan, is 2-for-2 since switching to turf. The Gulfstream maiden winner was along in time in a Churchill allowance, collaring Fancy Liquor who’d been third to stablemate Field Pass at Turfway.
Other contenders in the 1 1/16-mile test include Audubon runner-up Bama Breeze; Laurel Futurity scorer Irish Mias, whose second to Sole Volante in last fall’s Pulpit looks more intriguing in hindsight; New York shipper City Man from the Christophe Clement barn; and Cox’s two-time winner Kinenos, unlucky to lose all chance when losing the rider at a troubled start in the Audubon.
The two graded stakes bookend a graded-quality allowance, the 8TH race, starring $3.1 million-earner Whitmore. Victorious in the Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3) for the third time at Oaklawn Park last out, the Ron Moquett veteran will meet the likes of C Z Rocket, Mr. Money, Nitrous, and True Timber in the 6 1/2-furlong dash.