Carl Nafzger, trainer of Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Street Sense, discussed his reasoning for racing against grade I winner Hard Spun in the Sept. 29 Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II) at Turfway Park during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association media teleconference Sept. 25.
Though he acknowledged Street Sense's past performances on Polytrack played a part in the decision, Nafzger, who is based at Churchill Downs, said it wasn't the main factor in choosing the race.
"The biggest factor, to be honest, was that we go over and we come home," Nafzger said. "We go over that morning, we run, and we come back to our barn that evening. Keeping him in his own surroundings until we go to the Breeders' Cup is prominent in our minds right now."
In March, Hard Spun won the Lane's End Stakes (gr. II) at Turfway as a prep for the Derby, in which he ran second to Street Sense. In his last start, the Danzig colt won the King's Bishop Stakes (gr. I), and he is expected to be the speed in a field that may have only four starters. Both colts are using the Kentucky Cup Classic as their final prep for the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I).
"If I was looking for easy spots, I wouldn't be running this weekend against Hard Spun," Nafzger said. "I want to see (Street Sense) finish off the race strong, and as long as he finishes off the race strong, I know I am going to be OK when I get to where I am going."
Nafzger also tipped his hat to the quality of the 3-year-old crop this year and discussed the expected depth of the Breeders' Cup Classic.
"I think (the Kentucky Cup Classic) is an intriguing match-up, but the biggest thing I think is that it shows the quality of this bunch of horses," he said. "They are still here, they are still running, they are running hard, and they are running good.
"We are looking for the Breeders' Cup to be an unbelievingly competitive dog-eat-dog race. This is a race with speed, tactical speed, and closers. It is going to be a monster of a race."
The Kentucky Cup Classic will be one of five stakes on Turfway’s Kentucky Cup Day of Champions card, which includes the Kentucky Cup Distaff (gr. III), Kentucky Cup Juvenile (gr. III), Kentucky Cup Sprint (gr. III), and Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Though top trainer Todd Pletcher will not be sending a horse in the Kentucky Cup Classic, he is pointing three horses to other races on the card. India, Base Commander, and Chitoz are expected to run in the Distaff, Sprint, and Juvenile, respectively.
"He is a horse that has a bit of a turf pedigree," Pletcher said of the decision to run Chitoz in the Juvenile. "We decided that maybe the race at Turfway made sense because it was over Polytrack, and it seems a lot horses with a little bit of turf in their pedigree tend to handle that well.
"We are not necessarily thinking the (Bessemer Trust) Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I); we are just looking for a spot to run what we think is an improving 2-year-old, and we will see what happens."