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Smokin’ T Chases Graded Win in $200,000 BWI Turf Cup
G3 Event Tops Six Stakes Worth $650,000 in Purses Saturday
BALTIMORE – DATTT Stable homebred Smokin’ T, a stakes winner last month that came within a half-length of earning a million-dollar payday just two weeks ago, wheels back for another chance at picking up graded credentials in Saturday’s $200,000 Baltimore-Washington International Turf Cup (G3) at historic Pimlico Race Course.
The 17th running of the one-mile BWI Turf Cup for 3-year-olds and up is the headliner of an 11-race program featuring six stakes, three each scheduled for grass and dirt, worth $650,000 in purses on the penultimate weekend of Pimlico’s boutique nine-day fall meet.
Other scheduled turf stakes are the $100,000 All Along for fillies and mares 3 and older going 1 1/8 miles and $75,000 Ben’s Cat for Maryland-bred/sired 3-year-olds and up sprinting five furlongs.
Rounding out the stakes action are a trio of six-furlong dirt sprints – the $100,000 Lite the Fuse for 3-year-olds and up, $100,000 Weather Vane for 3-year-old fillies, and $75,000 Shine Again for fillies and mares 3 and up that have not won an open sweepstakes.
First race post time is 12:25 p.m.
Smokin’ T, a 4-year-old son of War Front and grandson of Hall of Famer Ghostzapper, will be making his 17th start and first in Maryland for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who previously won the BWI Turf Cup with Mr Speaker in 2015 and Doctor Mounty in 2018, both at Laurel Park.
The bay colt exits three consecutive stakes, having run second by less than a length as the favorite to Big Everest in the May 27 Cliff Hanger at Monmouth Park before forging a neck victory in the Aug. 5 Lure at Saratoga, both going 1 1/16 miles, the latter over a yielding course. McGaughey cut Smokin’ T back to a mile and shipped him to Kentucky Downs for the Mint Million (G3) Sept. 2, a race where he wound up third just a head behind runner-up Stitched.
“He shows up every time. You’ve just got to put the bridle on him and take him over there. He seems to always run his race,” McGaughey said. “He ran really well to win the Lure in Saratoga and ran a bang-up race at Kentucky Downs. He’s coming back a little quick, but he seems to be training good so we’ll take a shot and see what happens.”
Smokin’ T has put together a strong 2023 campaign where he has run third or better in all six of his starts, two of them wins, having also captured a one-mile optional claiming allowance on Kentucky Oaks (G1) day at Churchill Downs. He began the year running third in a pair of races at Gulfstream Park, one each on the turf and all-weather Tapeta.
“I think racing has helped him,” McGaughey said. “Naturally he has matured some from 3 to 4 and I think we’ve got a pretty good bead on him right now, and he’s responded to it.”
Feargal Lynch gets the call on Smokin’ T from Post 7 in a field of nine that includes main-track-only entrants Business Model (Post 6) and Grade 1 winner Doppelganger (Post 1).
“The post is fine,” McGaughey said. “He won’t be laying too far off the pace so then he can finish when the speed develops.”
Woodslane Farm gelding Wolfie’s Dynaghost, a homebred son of Ghostzapper, beat Smokin’ T in their last meeting, the Carousel Club Handicap Jan. 28 at Gulfstream, which the 5-year-old bay won for a second straight year. Wolfie’s Dynaghost won the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park in his next start, also over the Tapeta, and exits a head victory in a one-mile allowance Aug. 31 at Kentucky Downs.
“He’s what everybody would love to have in their barn. He’s just a hard-trying, honest, very reliable horse,” trainer Jonathan Thomas said. “He’s been a lot of fun to train and most times we lead him up there, we lead him up with some confidence. He’s a neat horse and we were happy to see him get his head back up in front the other day.”
Jevian Toledo is named to ride from Post 4 at topweight of 126 pounds, giving four to 10 pounds to his rivals.
Willow Lane Stable, Inc.’s Highestdistinction will take a two-race win streak into his graded debut. The 6-year-old Point of Entry gelding was a popular winner of a 7 ½-furlong allowance July 14 at Delaware Park before finding stakes success for the first time in the 1 1/16-mile Oceanport Aug. 13 at Monmouth.
Prior to his current streak Highestdistinction hadn’t won since a dirt allowance in the fall of 2020 at Delaware for previous trainer Tom Proctor. He also spent time with trainers Randy Morse and Robert Medina before joining Lindsay Schultz in the spring, for whom he ran second by a length behind Catnip May 27 at Monmouth. Catnip would go on to win the Monmouth Cup (G3) and run second in the United Nations (G1).
“When we got him over to Monmouth he ran second to Catnip who ended up winning a big next start, and that was very encouraging,” Schultz said. “That kind of made us think that maybe he is a little better than he’s shown. We found him a nice spot at Delaware and it was on soft ground, which I’m not sure he loves, but he really put a good effort in and got the win.
“I think with these older horses, when they get a win they get a little confidence. Training up to the Oceanport he was as good as he could be. He worked massive the week before,” she added. “He’s just been really exciting. He’s gotten placed well and found some good spots to run in. The owner has been very conscientious about running him in the right spots. He’s not trying to put him in over his head, so he really had to show us that he was ready for a stakes race.”
Jairo Rendon, aboard for both his recent Monmouth races including the Oceanport, rides back from Post 3.
“We’re taking a big step up. We’re running against some really nice horses this weekend but the horse has kind of pushed us to this spot and he’s doing really well so we’ll take a shot,” Schultz said. “He’s never run at Pimlico but he’s run at quite a few different tracks. He’s a pretty cool horse to have around. I’m excited to give him a chance.”
He’spuregold, bred and owned by John Bowers Jr., is a multiple stakes winner on turf, having captured the one-mile Irish War Cry Handicap each of the past three years, as well as the Charles Hesse III Handicap last summer on dirt, all for New Jersey-breds at Monmouth. Trained by Kelly Breen, the 5-year-old gelding rallied on the inside to get within a length of Highestdistinction at the top of the stretch in the Oceanport and settled for third, beaten three lengths.
HPG Thoroughbreds’ King Vega is a 5-year-old British-bred gelding based with Graham Motion at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. He raced seven times last year after coming to the U.S. with two wins, including the 1 1/8-mile Buckland on the Colonial Downs turf, and was fourth by three lengths as the favorite in the 1 3/8-mile Singspiel (G3) at Woodbine.
King Vega returned to Colonial for his season debut Aug. 3, leading all the way around under jockey Forest Boyce in the 1 1/8-mile optional claiming allowance and finishing in a dead-heat for first with Commandeer – his first start in 285 days.
“He was very game, I thought,” Motion said. “He ran a very brave race and Forest gave him a great ride. We’ve always thought he was that kind of horse, but it’s a lot to do coming off that long layoff.
“I think he’s just a very honest horse; very talented and very honest,” he added. “The main thing is he settles. I didn’t necessarily expect him to be on the lead last time, but if there’s not much pace in the race he’s going to be on the lead. It’s just how he is.”
Boyce gets the return call from outermost Post 9 on King Vega, who Motion said was also under consideration for last weekend’s Singspiel.
“Honestly I wish this race was a little further but I don’t exactly know what his best distance is,” he said. “I considered running him a mile and a quarter in Canada, but I just focused on this race because it’s close to home and I thought it would be great that Forest could ride him back.”
Completing the field are David Jacobson-owned and trained Cazadero, a winner of the 2022 Nearctic (G2) at Woodbine sprinting six furlongs on the grass that has never raced beyond seven furlongs and is winless in four tries this year; and Mastic Beach Racing’s Tee At One, the lone 3-year-old that has raced just four times with two wins and two seconds, including a runner-up finish in the July 15 Kent going 1 3/8 miles over soft turf at Delaware.
This marks the third straight year the BWI Turf Cup will be run at Pimlico after being contested at Laurel Park from 2015-19. It was run as the Colonial Turf Cup from 2005-13 at Colonial Downs, returned to the schedule in 2015 at Laurel as the Commonwealth Cup, was renamed the Commonwealth Turf Cup for 2016 and was shelved in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Past winners of the BWI Turf Cup include champion English Channel; fellow millionaires Showing Up, Battle of Hastings, Paddy O’Prado, Rahystrada, Mr Speaker and Field Pass, who captured the $75,000 Find Aug. 19 at Laurel in his first try against Maryland-breds. Last year’s BWI Turf Cup was won by Set Piece, who earned Grade 1 credentials Aug. 12 in the Arlington Million.