Grade I stakes winners Meteor Storm, Sweet Return, and Perfect Drift head a field of ten accomplished turf runners entered for Saturday's $400,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs.The Turf Classic is one of three grade I races on a Kentucky Derby Day racing card that includes record stakes purses of $3.05 million. The 1 1/8-mile race precedes the 131st running of the $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Michael Jarvis, Gary Margolis, and Ken Smole's Meteor Storm - winner of the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan (gr. IT) for trainer Wally Dollase last June - has been installed as the 3-1 favorite. "This guy couldn't be doing any better," said Dollase. "We have big plans for him later in the year, but he's coming into this race good." The British-bred son of Bigstone will carry 119 pounds and jockey Corey Nakatani. Red Oak Stable's Sweet Return, also a British import trained by Ron McAnally, looms as the second choice in the morning line at 4-1. The son of Elmamuul won the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) at 3. The 5-year-old just missed last time out against Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) winner Singletary in the Arcadia (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita. Alex Solis will ride at 119 pounds. Another major contender is Stonecrest Farm's Perfect Drift, a 6-year-old Dynaformer gelding who finished third in the 2002 Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic the following year. The Murray Johnson trainee, who is rated at 9-2 in the morning line, won the 2003 Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs and scored an emphatic victory in a turf allowance last time out at Keeneland. He finished fourth to Honor In War in the 2003 Woodford Reserve. Perfect Drift has a record of 10-8-3 in 28 starts with earnings of $3,210,240, easily the highest total in the field.
A horse to watch is Shadwell Stable's Mustanfar, a royally bred son of Unbridled who comes into the Woodford Reserve off a third-place finish behind Prince Arch in the $250,000 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IT).
"He's doing very well," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "We're looking forward to the race. He couldn't be doing any better."
Jose Santos has the mount on Mustanfar, who has fashioned a record of 5-3-2 in 16 lifetime starts and has earned $474,596. Other Woodford Reserve contenders include Richard, Bertram, and Elaine Klein's G P Fleet, winner of the River City Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs last November; Mansell Stable's Pan American Handicap (gr. IIT) runner-up Quest Star; and Robert and Beverly Lewis' Senor Swinger, a winner in four of five lifetime starts over the Matt Winn Turf Course.A To The Z and America Alive, the second and third place finishers in the Mervin Muniz Handicap (gr. IIT) at the Fair Grounds, add spice to the line-up. A To The Z, at a cost of $20,000, was a supplemental nominee to the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic.$400,000-added Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. IT, Race 9, 4:52 p.m.), 3 & up, 1 1/8 miles (turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, ML Odds
1. Meteor Storm (GB), Corey S. Nakatani, 119, 3/1
2. G P Fleet (FL), Rafael Bejarano, 121, 10/1
3. Sweet Return (GB), Alex O. Solis, 119, 4/1
4. Quest Star (KY), Edgar S. Prado, 115, 12/1
5. Perfect Drift (KY), Gary L. Stevens, 115, 9/2
6. Place Cowboy (IRE), Mike E. Smith, 115, 50/1
7. Senor Swinger (KY), Jerry D. Bailey, 121, 5/1
8. Mustanfar (KY), Jose A. Santos, 121, 5/1
9. America Alive (KY), Robby Albarado, 117, 12/1
10. A to the Z (CA), Patrick A. Valenzuela, 121, 8/1