The big money race of the weekend, the grade two $1.7 million Kentucky Turf Club Stakes at Kentucky Downs on September 10, was the least profitable one for most bettors. It was Mark Casse’s 19/1 shot Get Smokin who soon grabbed the lead under Fernando De La Cruz and held on to it all the way to the wire. It was his first try at the distance of a mile and a half.
He beat Jason Barkley’s Spooky Channel (17/1) ridden by James Graham a length and three quarters. Brendan Walsh saddled the more popular 43/10 shot Santin for Godolphin who was beaten a head into third. The Kentucky Turf Club favorite, Michael Maker’s nine-year-old Red Knight, missed a podium finish by a nose under Tyler Gaffalione. Bettors were left scratching their heads after such an unlikely outcome.
Get Smokin was a beaten 2/1 favorite last time out in early August at Ellis Park in the listed KY Downs Preview Turf Club Stakes. Run over a mile and a quarter on a firm track he was beaten just over a length into fourth by Michael Maker’s Me And Mr. C (13/1). He had previously been beaten a neck into second in the grade two Wise Dan Stakes run over a mile and half a furlong. He was ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr who also partnered him to fill the same placing in the grade three Arlington Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 3. He started as a 15/1 long shot but found only the heavy favorite, Set Piece, too good.
Spooky Channel won the grade two Muniz Memorial Classic Stakes run over a mile and a furlong in March at Fair Grounds. In May he finished third, beaten five lengths in the grade one Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic Stakes on a firm track over the same distance. He could only manage ninth, beaten six lengths, in the KY Downs Preview Turf Cup.
Santin came into the Kentucky Turf Club Stakes after finishing second in the grade one Arlington Million Stakes at Colonial Downs on August 12. Run over a mile and a quarter, he was beaten two lengths by Set Piece. The nine-year-old Red Knight, a son of Pure Prize owned and bred by Trinity Farm, most recently stayed on to take third in the grade one United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park in July. That race was run over a mile and three furlongs but he already had form over a mile and a half.
Get Smokin had never been asked to race beyond a mile and a quarter and had not won a stakes race since 2021 when he triumphed in the grade three Tampa Bay Stakes. He was trained by Thomas Bush at the time for Mary Sullivan who paid only $11,000 for him as a yearling at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October sale. He was bred by Hurstland Farm out of Hookah Lady, a daughter of Smoke Glacken who has produced three winners from her four offspring to enter the gates. Get Smokin was her first stakes winner.
It was Harlan Malter, the managing partner of Ironside Racing Stable, Get Smokin’s co-owner with BlackRidge Stables Et Al who persuaded Casse to run this six-year-old son of Get Stormy in the Kentucky Turf Cup. Casse has described Malter as one of his most crazy owners but listened to him and did not think the idea was as ridiculous as the Kentucky Turf Cup betting market suggested.
What happened in the race?
Get Smokin broke sharply from gate five and did not have to be pressed strongly to take his usual position at the head of the pack and grabbed the rail before the first turn. Santin broke well too from the four gate and took second under Florent Geroux. Spooky Channel went forward from his outside gate and pursued the leading pair, running three wide.
Michael Maker’s Therapist (5/1) was a little slow out of the gates as was Another Mystery (27/1) but the pack were soon closely grouped. It was Claude McGaughey’s Never Explain (5/1) who trailed behind them ridden by Joel Rosario. It was his first run over a mile and a half and Rosario was probably trying to save his stamina for the business end of the race.
The first quarter mile was run in 24 seconds and Get Smokin soon established a lead of four lengths over Santin. Spooky Channel retained his third position while Brendan Walsh’s second-string Verstappen (25/4) was pushed into fourth by Declan Cannon. Red Knight was close behind him with Conor Murphy’s Foreign Relations (14/1) and Kitodan (18/1).
The half mile was run in 49.61 with no major changes in the pack order but a slight reduction in Get Smokin’s lead. The mile was covered in 1 minute 37.99 seconds and it was Santin and Verstappen who chased the leader into the stretch. Spooky Channel was not far behind them with Red Knight on his inside. Foreign Relations and Therapist (5/1) were next with the other runners looking unlikely to improve on their positions.
The small number of bettors who had supported Get Smokin had no cause for concern as he managed to maintain his advantage in the stretch with minimal pressure from De La Cruz. Santin was not able to muster a serious challenge and was ultimately overcome by Spooky Channel who stayed on best of the followers.
Verstappen was fifth leaving Kitodan to take sixth ahead of Me And Mr. C, Therapist and Never Explain in that order. The race was run in 2 minutes 28.66 seconds on turf described as firm.
What next for Get Smokin?
The Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes is a ‘Win and You’re In’ 2023 Breeders’ Cup Turf race. Get Smokin’s connections are yet to announce his next target but Malter’s faith in his courageous, front-running gelding suggests he might pursue the dream.