Gio Ponti

The purpose of opening up the Grade II Turf Cup at Colonial Downs was to change the race from a prep for its big brother – the $600,000 Virginia Derby Gr. II – to an opportunity for former Derby winners and other top older grass horses to either return to the site of former glory or to experience the turf course and southern hospitality at the Virginia’s only racetrack for the first time.

Almost every winner of the Virginia Derby has voiced the desire to come back…Why wouldn’t they? 

Obviously, both these horses and their connections have an affinity for Colonial Downs’ renown turf course.  Every year, trainers voice their desire to bring their other top older turf horses to the New Kent, VA racetrack, but up until 2011 there simply wasn’t a suitable stakes race for many of these horses.

So for 2011 and moving forward, the $500,000 Colonial Downs Turf Cup (to be run Saturday, June 18 at 1 3/16 miles) will be open to three-year-olds and up.  Let’s take a look at the perfect field…

Paddy O’Prado
Top of the list has to be previous Virginia Derby winner and multiple Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti. The six-year-old son of Tale Of The Cat, trained by Christophe Clement, has earned just over $5 million while winning or placing in 18 stakes events.  Besides the Virginia Derby, his resume includes victories in the Grade 1 Arlington Million, Man O’ War (twice), Shadwell Stakes, Manhattan and Kilroe Mile.

Next on the list comes last year’s Virginia Derby winner Paddy O’Prado.  Donegal Racing’s four-year-old by El Prado (IRE) appeared with trainer Dale Romans at Colonial Downs last June after a solid Triple Crown run – third in the Kentucky Derby and sixth in the Preakness.  He promptly won the Turf Cup and followed that up with victories in the Virginia Derby Gr. II and the Secretariat Gr. I.  Paddy O’ Prado has earned $1,601,297.

Mike House’s Battle of Hasting didn’t turn his Virginia Turf Double in 2009 into the gold that previous winners Kitten’s Joy, English Channel and Gio Ponti did, but he clearly has talent and likes Colonial’s Secretariat Turf Course.  The now five-year-old by Royal Applause (GB) has a bankroll of $1,361,216 with two other graded stakes wins to go with this Colonial Turf Cup and Virginia Derby trophies.

Battle Of Hastings
In addition two New York graded turf stakes winners, last year’s Virginia Derby place and show horses, would also look good in the starting gate – Interactif ($563,700, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Stakes Gr.II) and Krypton ($211,870, Hill Prince Stakes Gr.II).

When we cast the net outside the realm of success in the Old Dominion, the welcome mat is out for the likes of General Quarters who won the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Gr.I last year.  The 5-year-old veteran by Sky Mesa had his 2010 campaign cut short by injury, but he’s back in training and being prepared to return in this year’s version on Kentucky Derby Day.

Other high profile runners worthy of consideration for the new Colonial Turf Cup include the Grade I winners Champ Pegasus, The Usual Q, Telling and Sidney’s Candy.

Last, and most certainly not least, the starting gate could welcome two Grade 1 winning Virginia-breds as well.  Both Bert and Diana Firestone’s homebred multiple Virginia-bred champion and former M. Tyson Gilpin Virginia-bred Horse of the Year Winchester (2010 Manhattan and Turf Classic Invitational) and Victor’s Cry (2010 Shoemaker Mile and Citation Handicap), who was bred by Virginian R. Larry Johnson, would both be well suited for the race.

It’s a few minutes to the hypothetical post of the new $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup so let’s load the gate:  Gio Ponti, Paddy O’Prado, Battle Of Hastings, Interactif, Krypton, General Quarters, Champ Pegasus, The Usual Q, Telling, Sidney’s Candy, Winchester and Victor’s Cry.

Not bad.  With a field like that, Grade I status is sure to be part of the race’s future.

(Colonial Downs photos by Coady Photography)