Where Skychai Racing's Da Big Hoss is going next may still be up for discussion, but where he was headed Sept. 10 was no question.
The 5-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid moved from ninth early on in the $600,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup (gr. IIIT) at Kentucky Downs, commanded the lead near the three-sixteenths pole, and drove clear on his way to the winner's circle under jockey Florent Geroux.
It was a fourth straight win in stakes company for Da Big Hoss, his second grade III in a row for trainer Mike Maker, and a repeat of his Kentucky Turf Cup victory from 2015. While his owners have not yet fully laid to rest the idea of a Melbourne Cup (Aus-I) bid, Maker said Saturday he would prefer to take the former claimer to Santa Anita Park for a run in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) instead. Da Big Hoss ran sixth in that race last year.
"All I can say is he's the second-best marathon horse in the United States," said Maker, ceding the top position to five-time group/grade I winner Flintshire . "I think we just go right to the Breeders' Cup. He runs really well fresh."
Da Big Hoss stayed inside through the early running, racing well off early fractions of :51.87 for a half-mile and 1:43.50 for a mile set by 60-1 longshot Rum Tum Tugger. At the five-sixteenths pole, which comes up just before a sharp turn into the stretch, Da Big Hoss swung outside for a clear shot at the leaders. The trip was similar to the one he had in this race last year, and he ended with the same result—Da Big Hoss straightening on the outside and powering home a strong winner.
"I've been riding him all year long and got some big wins with him, and he's just a very unique horse to ride," Geroux said. "You need to ride confident, but you also cannot give him too much to do and make things impossible."
Da Big Hoss completed 1 1/2 miles over the undulating turf course officially rated "good" in a hand-timed 2:35.08, holding over Bullards Alley by 1 1/4 lengths. He paid $3, $2.40 and $2.10. Although stewards labeled the course "good," Equibase listed it as "yielding" on the official chart.
"The only thing I would have liked would to have been 1-2, but I'm not complaining," said Maker, who also finished fourth with graded stakes winner Greengrassofyoming. "I just have so much confidence in this horse. Some people get nervous. It's hard to get nervous when he's accomplished what he's done. He owes us nothing. Just enjoy everything we can."
Bullards Alley, forwardly placed throughout, stayed on gamely for the place spot, 2 1/2 lengths ahead of early pacesetter Rum Tum Tugger, who held third. After Greengrassofyoming came Power Foot, Life's Journey, Behesht , Verger, and Seve's Road.
Da Big Hoss, out of the Touch Gold mare Lady Struck Gold, boosted his earnings to $1,551,696 with his 12th win from 21 starts. He has won eight races, including seven stakes, since being claimed for $50,000 at Churchill Downs' 2015 spring meet.