Trainers Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher could have 3-year-old colts running side by side in two $500,000 turf stakes at two different tracks Saturday afternoon.
In the inaugural running of the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup at Colonial Downs in Virginia, Pletcher trains morning-line favorite English Channel (5-2), who drew post position seven. Mott trains Classic Campaign (7-2), who drew post position nine.
Spring House is co-entered in the $500,000 Kent Breeder's Cup Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Delaware Park along with other Colonial Turf Cup entrants Interpretation, Touched by Madness, Wallstreet Scandal, and maiden El Viaje. In the Delaware stakes, Pletcher's Killenaule (10-1) has the post 1, while Mott's Seeking the Slew (8-1) drew post 12.
Mott has won a $500,000 3-year old race on Colonial's Secretariat Turf Course before without setting foot in Virginia. With Orchard Park and Silver Tree having captured the 2002 and 2003 editions of the Virginia Derby (gr. IIIT), respectively, why change the format?
"We've been lucky at Colonial," Mott said. "We're bringing a different horse but we hope that everything works out."
Classic Campaign races for Kinsman Stable, which is owned in part by New York Yankee patriarch George Steinbrenner. The Rahy-sired colt is coming off a blanket finish in the $100,000 Hill Prince Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park in which he finished third. With 15 days between starts, Mott recognizes what he is asking of his developing colt.
"We know we're squeezing him a little bit but with the big purses coming up within a two- to three-month window," he said. "We're going to make as many as we can. He has been steady without being brilliant, yet improving."
With two 3-year-old turf runners, Mott had to decide where to send each colt. "Classic Campaign is more seasoned, which makes him more apt to get the extra sixteenth of a mile," Mott said.
The Colonial Turf Cup is at 1 3/16 miles, while the Kent is at 1 1/8 miles.
The two horses Pletcher has started at Colonial Downs since opening day both won. With his high-profile turf colt Dubleo retired, Pletcher reloads with English Channel.
"He's a horse we've been high on during the spring," Pletcher said. "Dubleo was a tremendous overachiever, best designed as a turf sprinter. His exceptional talent allowed him to go longer than he was suited. English Channel had a setback, or he would have been in the same races as Dubleo."
An injury to a hind pastern kept English Channel from racing until March of this year after an impressive maiden-breaking win at Saratoga last August in his first start. His four-length win in the $100,000 Woodlawn Stakes at Pimlico Race Course five weeks ago has made that setback a memory.
"Turf races aren't usually won by big margins, so the Woodlawn race was a pretty emphatic win," Pletcher said.
The creation of the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup, a $250,000 increase to $750,000 for the Virginia Derby, and a $250,000 increase in the Kent purse amounts to about $1 million in additional money for the 3-year-old turf division. Next year, the Virginia Derby and the Colonial Turf Cup will be $1 million races.
"It thinks it's great," Mott said. "I've had a lot of good turf horses and rarely have I had a lot of opportunity to race them in races like this on the turf. It has been competitive. There is no standout. It's a fairly evenly matched bunch."
"There are now tremendous opportunities for 3-year-old horses with the two Colonial races and the Delaware race to go along with the races in New York and Arlington later in the year," Pletcher said. "We've had our eye on the Virginia Derby and think we can learn something about the track from this race. Hopefully, we can pick up a piece of a few of these races."