FLORENCE, Ky. -- If 2009 ended right now, it still would have been a phenomenal year for WinStar Farm.
"Anytime you win the Dubai World Cup, you've had a great year," said Elliott Walden, racing manager for the powerful Kentucky breeding and racing operation owned by Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt.
But even aside from Well Armed romping in the $6 million World Cup in March, the year has unfolded in sensational fashion for WinStar. The perpetual success of its stallions Tiznow and Distorted Humor has been underscored by the feats of its formidable racing stable, which also includes Colonel John, Hold Me Back, and a host of promising 2-year-olds.
Saturday at Turfway Park, it will be Hold Me Back looking to boost the stable's stock toward the Nov. 6-7 Breeders' Cup, when he goes out as a standout favorite in the Grade 2, $200,000 Kentucky Cup Classic. Hold Me Back, trained by Bill Mott, most recently was second to Summer Bird in the Aug. 29 Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
"This will be our final prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic," said Walden. "We were looking for a race that hopefully he'd run well in and stamp his ticket. We're looking for something good to set us up right."
In March, Hold Me Back won the Lane's End Stakes here before finishing second three weeks later in the Blue Grass Stakes. Both of those races came over Polytrack, and although Mott and Walden believe the colt is adept on any surface, the fact the BC Classic will be run over the Pro-Ride synthetic at Santa Anita was a consideration in deciding on the Kentucky Cup.
Hold Me Back, the only 3-year-old in the field, will have eight opponents when he breaks from post 2 in the 1 1/8-mile KC Classic. He will be ridden by Julien Leparoux, one of a handful of nationally prominent jockeys in for the day. Leparoux began his rise to stardom by setting all kinds of riding records at Turfway in 2006, including a 167-win season at the winter-spring meet.
Hold Me Back, who arrived Wednesday morning at Turfway following a flight from New York, will seek to become the third horse to win both marquee events at Turfway. Perfect Drift won the 2002 Lane's End and the 2003 KC Classic, while Hard Spun swept both races in 2007.
Since his rallying effort in the Travers, Hold Me Back has had two workouts at Mott's main training base at Belmont Park, finalizing his preparations with a five-furlong breeze Monday in a minute flat.
The strongest challengers for Hold Me Back appear to be Dubious Miss and Wicked Style, the two-three finishers from the Sept. 5 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park. That 1 3/16-mile race was run in extremely slow opening fractions of 25.87 seconds, 52.42, and 1:19.25, with Gran Estreno prevailing wire to wire.
"In my 31 years as a trainer, I don't think I've ever seen a race like that," said Rusty Arnold, trainer of Wicked Style. "It was ridiculous."
Likewise, trainer Paul McGee believes Dubious Miss may have been compromised by the curious pace in the Washington Park. In any case, the effort was far better than how the gelding performed in his previous start, the Aug. 1 Governor's Handicap on the West Virginia Derby undercard at Mountaineer Park. Dubious Miss barely completed the course that day, wearing shoes that McGee now says were wrong for the horse.
Other upset-seekers of note in the Classic include Furthest Land, who adds Garrett Gomez after disappointing as the odds-on favorite in the Claiming Crown Jewel in his last start; Sligovitz, a steady Stronach Stables homebred shipping in from Canada for Roger Attfield; and Timeless Fashion, a lightly raced, locally based gelding who has never finished worse than third.
Completing the field are Jazz in the Park, Your Round, and Godolphin Gray.
The Classic anchors a Kentucky Cup series that also includes the Distaff (race 10) and Sprint (race 12). Inaugurated in 1994, the series was downsized to just three races this year when the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies were canceled for financial reasons.
The Classic goes as the 13th of 16 races on an expanded Saturday card that includes six interspersed simulcasts from Kentucky Downs. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern, with the Classic set for 6:22. TVG will provide exclusive live television coverage.
The Saturday forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of rain and a high temperature in the mid-70s.