Pacesetting Ball Four held off a determined late charge from the veteran Perfect Drift to win the $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II) on the Turfway Park all-weather track by a half-length Saturday.
Willie Martinez, aboard the 12-1 outsider Ball Four, did a great job of milking the pace, spurting away in the stretch and finishing with something left. Perfect Drift, launching a late bid between horses under Julien Leparoux, came up a bit shy. Good Reward, also closing with interest in the 1 1/8-mile test for Mike Smith, was a good third, three parts of a length farther back. The final time was 1:48 1/5.
"I was able to control the pace, and once I got him comfortable, I knew he would be very tough to beat," said Martinez, who enjoyed the second of his three stakes victories Saturday in the Classic.
Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor own Ball Four, who notched his first graded stakes win in his first start since April 20.
Kent Desormeaux, rider of the even-money favorite Premium Tap, lodged an objection against the winner that was disallowed. Premium Tap was making a strong bid along the inside on the final turn and clipped heels with Ball Four. The Woodward (gr. I) winner fell back to the rear of the compact field after the incident but re-rallied in the stretch to approach the leaders before tiring.
"I was all the way inside of Ball Four, and the door closed on me," Desormeaux said. "So my horse clipped heels and almost fell."
Martinez said he was blameless in the incident. "I didn't hear (him) on Premium Tap, but I heard something - so I pulled out (farther from the rail."
Ball Four, a 5-year-old Grand Slam
gelding, set soft fractions of :23 3/5, :47 2/5 and 1:11 2/5 while leading Greeley's Galaxy through the first six furlongs. Coming off the turn, Ball Four picked up steam to lead by a couple of lengths and Perfect Drift, at the rear early, emerged from the pack late with the best hope of catching him.
"There was nowhere to go," Leparoux said. "I had to be patient and he came on very good, but too late. He's a very good horse. Hopefully, we will get him for the Breeders' Cup."
Dr. William Reed, owner of Perfect Drift, said he would give "real serious thought" to a record fifth run in the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs. Perfect Drift won this race in 2003.
Martinez rode Ball Four because trainer Patrick Biancone decided to run too late in the process to gain the services of his usual jockey, Leparoux. It was the first time that Leparoux rode in a race against his mentor.
"(Ball Four) worked extremely well this week, and we knew he loved Polytrack," Biancone said. "There were only six horses entered, so we decided to take a shot and see if we could win. I'm not surprised he ran so well off the layoff."
Ball Four ran second in the Kentucky Cup Classic last year after setting the pace and giving way to Shaniko. Coming off a fourth-place finish in a classified allowance race on the turf at Keeneland last spring, he's won five of 16 overall. Saturday's win doubled his career earnings to $422,420.
He paid $27.80, $9 and $4.40. Perfect Drift returned $3.40 and $2.40. Good Reward was $2.80.
Alumni Hall finished fourth, followed by Premium Tap and Greeley's Galaxy. It's No Joke scratched.