By Norm Wood, firstname.lastname@example.org | 757-247-4642
7:14 PM EDT, June 13, 2012
Scooter Hughes doesn't get too worked up about post positions when he prepares Rahystrada for races. At 8 years old, Rahystrada is positively geriatric in thoroughbred racing terms, but he's also just about seen it all in the racing game and broken from every spot in the post.
For an old guy, Rahystrada still has a little kick in him, too.
Last June, he entered the Colonial Turf Cup at Colonial Downs as the oldest competitor in an eight-horse field. He came away with the win. He'll have a chance to defend his title Saturday — and continue the trend of being the oldest horse in the field — in the eighth running of the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup, a 1 3/16-mile turf race for horses that are 3 years old and up.
"We're looking for a big effort from him," said Hughes, who has trained Rahystrada for the last five years and who will bring Rahystrada from Lexington, Ky., to Colonial Downs early Friday afternoon. "It was a pretty tough race last year for an ungraded stakes, but he came through it just fine."
Rahystrada and Air Support, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred colt who won the Grade II Virginia Derby last July, will headline a field of 12 horses in the seventh race of a 12-race program slated for a 6 p.m. first post. The Turf Cup is scheduled to post at about 8:36 p.m.
Five of the horses in the field already have run at Colonial Downs, including Rahystrada, Casino Host, Air Support, Silver Tie Affair and Smart Bid, but none has started more than one race at the New Kent track.
In addition to Rahystrada and Air Support, Virginia-bred gelding Silver Tie Affair also has been the class of a race-day field at Colonial Downs, logging a victory last July in the Daniel Van Clief Stakes.
For the second straight year, the Turf Cup is open to thoroughbreds that are 3 years old and up. Morning line odds for the race will be released Thursday.
In the first six years of the race, it was open to only 3 year olds. The change in conditions last year caused the race to lose its Grade II status, but it'll be eligible to regain graded stakes status next year if the conditions remain the same. A race must have the same conditions for two years before it's eligible to become a graded stakes.
Rahystrada, who has career earnings of $948,800, will be ridden by jockey Sheldon Russell. Rahystrada will start the Turf Cup from the No. 2 post.
He started last year's Turf Cup from the No. 1 post. Russell, who is the defending thoroughbred jockey champion at Colonial Downs, navigated Rahystrada along the rail to victory.
"I'm not too worried about the post," said Hughes, whose horse bounced back from a 12th-place finish last October in the Grade I Canadian International due to a hind-foot abscess with a third-place finish last month in a $100,000 allowance race at Churchill Downs. "Sheldon knows his way around there. Last year, he managed to get through on the rail, which I was impressed with on his part. I think Sheldon will do a good job getting him wherever he needs to be."
Air Support will be ridden by Alex Solis, who also was atop the horse when he won last year's Virginia Derby. Air Support has four wins and six finishes in the money in 11 career starts. He's run twice this year, failing to finish better than fifth in either race, including a sixth-place showing last month in the Grade 2 Dixie Stakes at Pimlico.
Rahystrada will see at last one familiar competitor from last year's Turf Cup. Smart Bid, a 6-year-old Pennsylvania-bred horse, entered last year's Turf Cup as the favorite, but he finished second — 1 1/2 lengths behind Rahystrada.
Smart Bid, which won in February in the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap, is back this year in the Turf Cup field. He's one of five horses in the field that has won a race since the start of the year, including Forte Dei Marmi, Casino Host, Turbo Compressor and Silver Tie Affair.
Other than Smart Bid, Casino Host is the only other horse to have won a graded stakes this year — the Grade II Mervin Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap in April at Fair Grounds.
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