Da Big Hoss will face eight rivals Sept. 10 when he tries to become only the second horse to capture the $600,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup (gr. IIIT) twice.
Rochester won the 2002 and '03 editions of the 1 1/2-mile race that is the signature event at Kentucky Downs' five-date all-grass meet. Rochester, trained by Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard, actually finished second in 2003 but was moved up to victory via disqualification. The $1.2 million-earner ran in the race three more times, with two seconds and a close third in 2006 at age 10.
Da Big Hoss, a 5-year-old by Lemon Drop Kid , already has earned almost as much as Rochester going into Saturday's $600,000 stakes, the headliner of a gangbuster four-stakes card.
"I remember Rochester," said Dr. Harvey Diamond, head of the Louisville-based Skychai Racing partnership that claimed Da Big Hoss last year for $50,000 and now has won six stakes with the gelding. "Maybe when Da Big Hoss grows up he can still run in races like that."
One of the horses Da Big Hoss will have to beat is his Mike Maker-trained stablemate Greengrassofyoming, himself a $62,500 claim this spring. In two starts for Maker and owner Michael Hui of Little Rock, Ark., the 6-year-old Quest runner won the Stars and Stripes (gr. IIIT) at Arlington International Racecourse and was a late-running and close fourth in the Arlington Million (gr. IT).
"He's real nice," Diamond said. "They have similar running style, the whole bit. That was a nice claim for Mike Hui."
Both of Maker's Kentucky Turf Cup horses worked Sept. 3 at his Trackside Training Center base near Churchill Downs, Da Big Hoss tooling five-eighths of a mile in 1:01 4/5 and Greengrassofyoming going the same distance in a livelier 1:00 4/5. Diamond is a regular at the barn but wasn't at that workout.
"I'm superstitious," he said. "I haven't been to his last work before a race while he's on this win streak."
After starting his season by winning the John B. Connally at Sam Houston, Da Big Hoss was tripped up in a stakes at Gulfstream Park but since then has reeled off victories in the Elkhorn Stakes (gr. IIT) at Keeneland, the $300,000 Belmont Gold Cup (running the two miles in a course-record 3:17.29), and the American St. Leger (gr. IIIT) last time out Aug. 13.
Other than not looking ahead too far—say to a potential trip to Australia's Melbourne Cup (Aus-I)—Diamond's superstition doesn't go much farther than avoiding the pre-race workout. For instance, he's not worried about wearing the same attire.
"I wouldn't even remember what I had on last time he ran," he said. "I'm thinking about maybe wearing shorts down there."
Apparently Da Big Hoss trains himself. "When I asked the other day how he worked, Mike said, 'He worked the way he wanted to work,' " Diamond said with a laugh. "Mike always says he trains himself. I said, 'In that case, can I get a break on the day (training) rate?' He said he lets him do whatever he wants to do out there. He's just very professional and mature. So we're hoping to get one more good race.
"Before the last race, I said to the trainer, 'You know, I really don't expect him to win. It's hard to win a graded stakes. It's hard to win two of these in a row, and three of these in a row is pretty unusual. So I'm expecting him to take a step back, 'bounce,' whatever, and not run his race today.'
"Darned if he didn't step right up a run his race. I keep saying that every race, 'Sooner or later they all get beat. It's just going to be his day, and we move forward off that.' Every time he seems to come back and run his race, so that's all I'm going to ask him to do: Just run his race. If there's somebody better than him, we'll find out."
Maker said he's pleased with how both of his horses are coming up to the Kentucky Turf Cup.
"Both are on target," he said after they worked, adding of Greengrassofyoming, "He's like Da Big Hoss, pretty easy to manage, trains himself, too. Gorgeous horse, flashy horse. He just goes out does his stuff. He's on top of his game right now, too."
Others in the field include Bullards Alley, winner of Churchill Downs' Louisville Handicap (gr. IIIT) for trainer Tim Glyshaw; graded stakes-placed Power Foot, a full brother to last year's Kentucky Turf Cup runner-up Power Ped; Calumet Farm's French import Behesht, seventh in Churchill's Firecracker (gr. IIT) in his last start; and California shipper Seve's Road, a money-won allowance winner. Sheppard returns with stakes winner Rum Tum Tugger, and Life's Journey rounds out the field along with maidne winner Verger.