Team Valor International’s Animal Kingdom could return to Churchill Downs on the anniversary of his greatest triumph as the 2011 winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) is joined by defending winner Get Stormy, 2011 Eclipse Award champion older male Acclamation and trainer Charlie Lopresti’s powerhouse duo of Wise Dan and Turallure on a roster of 61 older grass stars nominated to compete in the 26th running of the $500,000-added Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI).
The 1 1/8-mile race for 4-year-olds and up, run over Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course each year on Kentucky Derby Day, has attracted many of America’s most accomplished turf stars in the quarter-century since reigning Eclipse Award turf champion Manila won its inaugural running in 1987. Other American turf champions that have competed in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic include Paradise Creek, who took the race during his 1994 championship season, and 1992 champion Sky Classic, runner-up to Cudas in the Turf Classic during his title year.
The 2012 running of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, which will be run on Saturday, May 5, attracted 61 horses during its early nomination phase, a total that is down from the 79 horses made eligible for the race during the same period in 2011. A late nomination period, which requires a $1,000 nomination fee, will close on Wednesday, April 11. Supplemental nominations may also be made at the time of entry for a fee of $25,000. Six nominees were added during the 2011 late nomination phase for the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, which is limited to 14 starters.
The sponsor of the Turf Classic, Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, is the “Official Bourbon” of the Kentucky Derby. It is bottled by the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Ky., and is a product of Brown-Forman Corp. of Louisville, Ky.
A return to Churchill Downs for a run in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic would make Animal Kingdom the first Kentucky Derby winner to compete at Churchill Downs on the subsequent Derby Day since 1994 Derby champion Go for Gin ran third in the 1995 Churchill Downs Handicap (GIII). Animal Kingdom’s 3-year-old campaign ended when he suffered an injury during a sixth-place run in the Belmont Stakes (GI), but he returned to racing on Feb. 18 with a victory in an allowance race on turf at Gulfstream Park. Trainer Graham Motion’s colt is expected to run in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (GI) at Dubai’s Meydan Race Course in late March, but any change in that plan could make the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic a back-up option.
Animall Kingdom, who was named champion 3-year-old of 2011 despite his injury-shortened season, has a career record of 4-3-0 in eight races and has earned $1,967,500.
Sullimar Stable’s Get Stormy, winner of last year’s Woodford Reserve Turf Classic for trainer Tom Bush and Eclipse Award-winning jockey Ramon Dominguez, is nominated for a bid to join Einstein (2008-2009) as the only two-time winners of the Derby Day race. The 6-year-old Get Stormy launched his 2012 campaign with a victory in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (GI) and has a career record of 11-4-3 in 27 races with earnings of $1,493,083. The record includes Get Stormy’s triumph as a 3-year-old in Churchill Downs’ 2009 Commonwealth Turf (GIII).
Peter and Mary Hilvers and E.W. and Judy Johnston’s versatile Southern California-based star Acclamation was scheduled to make the cross-country journey to Churchill Downs last fall to run in either the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) or Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI), but was sidelined by injury shortly before that event. But the California-bred son of Unusual Heat is nominated to the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic following a 2011 campaign for trainer Don Warren highlighted by turf victories in the Charles Whittingham Memorial (GI), Eddie Read (GI), Jim Murray Handicap (GI) and the Clement Hirsch Turf Cup (GI). He transferred his brilliant turf form to the synthetic Polytrack surface at Del Mar, where he won the Pacific Classic (GI). Acclamation has fashioned a record of 9-3-6 in 28 races and has banked earnings of $1,628,048.
Kentucky-based trainer Charlie Lopresti enjoyed a career-best year in 2011 and he has nominated two of his brightest stars to the Turf Classic. They are Mort Fink’s Wise Dan, winner of Churchill Downs’ Firecracker Handicap (GII) in his debut on grass and the track’s historic Clark Handicap (GI) on dirt in his season finale, and Four D Stables’ Turallure, winner of Canada’s Woodbine Mile (GI) and Bernard Baruch (GII) at Saratoga, who concluded 2011 with a narrow loss to Court Vision in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI). Wise Dan, a 5-year-old gelding by Wiseman’s Ferry, has a career record of 8-0-0 in 14 races and has earned $919,601. The career slate for Turallure stands at 6-3-3 in 16 races and with earnings of $1,267,465 heading into his 5-year-old season.
Other stars nominated to the 2012 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic include Live Oak Plantation’s Toyota Blue Grass (GI) winner Brilliant Speed, who also won the Saranac (GIII) and finished third in both the Belmont Stakes (GI) and Breeders’ Cup Turf (GI); Stuart S. Janney III’s Air Support, winner of the Virginia Derby (GII); Phipps Stable’s Red Smith (GII) winner Boisterous; Stronach Stable’s Don Cavallo, winner of Woodbine’s Dominion Day (GIII); WinStar Farm’s Canadian Turf (GIII) winner Doubles Partner; Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s trio of Dean’s Kitten, runner-up to champion Cape Blanco in Belmont’s Turf Classic Invitational (GI), Coolmore Lexington (GIII) winner Derby Kitten and Big Blue Kitten, winner of Saratoga’s National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (GII); Sagamore Farm’s Humble and Hungry, winner of the 2011 Commonwealth Turf (GIII); Harvey Clarke and W.C. Robertson III’s 2011 Fountain of Youth (GII) winner Soldat; B.J. Wright’s Citation Handicap (GII) winner Jeranimo and Ultimate Eagle, winner of the Strub (GII); Roger Attfield and William Werner’s Simmard, winner of the Mac Diarmida (GII); Augustin Stable’s Fair Grounds Handicap (GIII) winner Smart Bid; Priscilla Vaccarezza’s Little Mike, winner of the Sunshine Millions Turf; Lothenbach Stable’s Mister Marti Gras, winner of Churchill Downs’ Ack Ack (GIII) and the Washington Park Handicap (GIII); Windy Hill Farm’s Mineshaft Handicap winner Nates Mineshaft; Black Rock Stables’ Silver Medallion, winner of the Fort Lauderdale (GIII) and Tropical Turf Handicap (GIII) and Harvey Clarke and Andrew Abstein’s Yankee Fourtune, winner of the 2010 Commonwealth Turf (GIII).
Nominees to the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic based in Europe include Mrs. John Magnier and Michael Tabor’s Await the Dawn, winner of the Group II Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot and third to Twice Over-GB and Midday-GB in the Group I Juddmonte International at York for trainer Aidan O’Brien, and Mrs. James Bolger’s Banimpire-IRE, a 4-year-old filly who ran third to Nahrain-GB and Announce-GB in the Group I Prix de l’Opera at Longchamp for trainer Jim Bolger. Banimpire is the only female among the 61 early nominees.