Photo: Four Footed Fotos
The first time I ever laid my eyes on Suntracer was in a maiden special weight at Arlington Park in the summer of 2010. He ran fourth that day on the Polytrack in his second career start. Perhaps you’ve heard of the horses who finished 1-2 in that one. The winner, Willcox Inn, went on to be a multiple graded stakes winner, while the second place finisher, Animal Kingdom, counts the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup among his victories. I guess you could say it was a key race. Sure enough, Suntracer would not wait too much longer for his first career victory, as he dominated a turf maiden in New Orleans in his next outing.
Our paths next crossed at the Spring meet at Keeneland. Coming off a smart win over a young colt named Fort Larned in Florida, the Illinois-bred, Chris Block charge was not fully respected in a short field that included the very talented, but ill-fated, Banned. Suntracer charged down the Keeneland turf to win the loaded allowance race going away. My appreciation for the late running homebred was cemented that afternoon in Lexington, Kentucky.
Since then, I have had the pleasure of seeing Suntracer run numerous times. Like most deep closers, he has his days where he just can’t seem to make a big dent against the horses running free on the lead, but more times than not, the now five-year-old turf specialist comes charging hard down the stretch.
Amazingly, at least to yours truly, Suntracer enters tomorrow’s $400,000 Kentucky Cup Turf at Kentucky Downs still winless in graded stakes racing. Flashback to the summer of 2011, and more of the story unfolds.
If you were a fan of the aforementioned Willcox Inn, the summer and fall of that year, were good ones. Three important turf stakes in Chicagoland were taken down by the Michael Stidham trained runner. In May, it was the Arlington Classic. In July, it was the American Derby. Then finally, in October he won the Hawthorne Derby. It was one of the best seasons for a three-year-old in Chicago for many years. Lost in all those Willcox Inn wins was the colt rallying for second each time. He wasn’t exactly the Alydar of 1978, but 2011 could have been a whole lot better to Suntracer, if not for Willcox Inn.
It hasn’t been all second place finishes for the son of Kitten’s Joy, though. Six times, in 24 lifetime turf tries, Suntracer has come out on top. Besides the easy maiden victory, and those two nice allowance wins I mentioned earlier, Suntracer made it to the winner’s circle in three stakes races, taking the Woodchopper at Fair Grounds late in 2011, the Illinois Owners at Arlington Park, and Robert F. Carey at Hawthorne, both last year. Winless in four starts in 2013, the late runner could only manage filling out the superfecta in his first two runs of the season, but has turned things around of late.
Once again, Suntracer looks to be in wonderful form as the summer nears the fall. In his last two starts, Suntracer ran bang-up races only to finish runner-up twice more. Further investigation into those two efforts shows that they were among the best races of his solid career. In the Stars and Stripes, he chased home Dark Cove, who had a clear tactical advantage in the 1 ½ mile affair. Then in the $400,000 American St. Leger, he ran huge to miss against European invader, Dandino. Facing two of the best long-distance runners in the world, finishing a competitive second to Dark Cove and Dandino demonstrates just how good Suntracer is going right now.
In the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Turf, there is no Dark Cove, and there is no Dandino. Listed as the 4-1 third choice in a competitive field, I believe this is Suntracer’s race to win. He certainly has paid his dues, now it is time to collect the first graded stakes win of his career.