FRANKLIN, Ky. -- Horses away from racing for a year or more are typically unlikely winners. But Saturday at Kentucky Downs, such layoffs were, surprisingly, the path to victory.
Cloudy's Knight, unraced since finishing eighth in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer on Sept. 7 of last year at Woodbine, returned a winner in the featured $150,000, Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Turf -- following Danzon's triumph in the Kentucky Cup Ladies earlier on the Kentucky Downs card.
In an odd coincidence, both winners had been out of action going back to the same day of 2008, Sept. 7, when each raced on the turf course at Woodbine in separate stakes races.
Cloudy's Knight showed no signs of rust in the Kentucky Cup Turf. A long-striding, 9-year-old Lord Avie horse, he settled in a comfortable rhythm in midpack, as Guadalcanal and Rumor Has It dueled on the lead in the 1 1/2-mile race, and once they were weary from the efforts, Cloudy's Knight quickly surged to the lead in midstretch.
From there, he coasted to victory, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over fast-closing longshot Rezif. Silver Mountain was third and 5-2 favorite Deal Making was fourth.
Winning jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. said she didn't ride Cloudy's Knight any differently in the race despite knowing he was returning from a tendon injury that necessitated his yearlong absence.
Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard, who took over Cloudy's Knight's this year, "is the king of the turf," Homeister said.
It was Sheppard's third win in the Kentucky Cup Turf, following Rochester's back-to-back triumphs in 2002 and 2003.
The winner raced 1 1/2 miles on a good turf course in 2:33.96 - well off General Jumbo's track record of 2:26.98 in this race in 2007, but over a tiring course that was producing slow times. He returned $12.20.
A further surprise was the performance of runner-up Rezif, who crashed the exacta at 33-1, the highest price on the tote board. He had been fourth in his preceding start against starter $7,500 runners at Ellis Park, but relished the stretch out in distance in the Kentucky Cup Turf, and was the only horse gaining on Cloudy's Knight at the finish.
"He was full of run," jockey Jose Calo said.
Cloudy's Night improved his record to 11 for 37 in winning the Kentucky Cup, elevating his earnings to over $2.1 million for Chicago-based owners Shirley and Jerrold Schwartz of S J Stables.
Ladies Turf: Danzon rockets past rivals
Back class overcame recency in the $50,000 Bell-Meade Plantation Kentucky Cup Ladies Turf, when Danzon -- a Grade 1 placed filly unraced for over a year -- rallied to victory with an eye-catching stretch burst.
Although 11th of 12 early coming into the stretch, once Danzon saw daylight, the race was quickly over. She exploded through a hole, took command in midstretch and maintaining the lead for a 1 1/2-length victory over longshot Secret Kin.
Lady Carlock rallied for third, and was followed by Unspoken Word in fourth. Favored Happiness Is was eighth.
The winner, a 6-year-old daughter of Royal Academy, raced a mile on a turf course rated good in 1:40.70 in the Kentucky Cup Ladies Turf, the first of three stakes on the Kentucky Downs card. She paid $52.80.
The Kentucky Cup Ladies was her first race since finishing 11th in the Grade 2 Canadian Handicap at Woodbine last September, and her first win since taking the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Distaff on Turfway's Polytrack in 2007. She was also third vs. males in the Grade 1 Wood Reserve Turf Classic that same year.
"It looks like she is back on her game," Mena said.
Olly Stevens, assistant to winning trainer Kellyn Gorder, credited Danzon's owner, Joseph Allen, with the win.
"It was very sporting of Mr. Allen to keep her in training and roll the dice," said Stevens.
She had previously been trained by Todd Pletcher and Patrick Biancone.
Turf Dash: Fort Prado takes photo
Fort Prado did more than win the Kentucky Cup Turf Dash. He might also have run himself out of retirement.
After Fort Prado edged fellow Chicago invader Yankee Injunuity by a head, with two-time Kentucky Cup Turf Dash winner Hold the Salt in third, winning trainer Chris Block said plans to send him to stud next year in Illinois might need to be reevaluated.
Fort Prado, an 8-year-old millionaire by El Prado, didn't run like an old, past-his-prime horse in the Kentucky Cup Turf Dash. Under an astute ride from Eduardo Perez, he advanced steadily up the inside in the six-furlong dash and gamely outfinished Yankee Injunuity in a head-bobbing photo.
It was the second win of the year for Fort Prado, a multiple graded stakes winner who last won the one-mile Black Tie Affair Handicap for Illinois-breds in June over the Polytrack surface at Arlington Park.
It is turf racing that is his bread and butter, however, and he showed it in notching his 16th grass victory in the Kentucky Cup Turf Dash. He raced six furlongs in 1:11.49, paying $13.60.
Block, who trains Fort Prado for Team Block -- comprised of David, Patricia, and Ryan Block -- said he had targeted the Turf Dash ever since last year, when the horse "got beat a zap by Hold the Salt" and felt the six-furlong distance of the race, longer than most turf sprints, was perfect for him.
Block said the Grade 3 Woodford Stakes Oct. 10 at Keeneland will likely be up next for Fort Prado before a decision is made whether to race him next year or send him to stud. He won the Woodford in 2007.