Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
Keeneland and Shadwell have become synonymous when it comes to the Fall Meet’s opening weekend feature, the Grade 1, $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile. And that it has happened with this race in particular is no coincidence.
Rick Nichols, vice president/general manager of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum‘s Kentucky-based Shadwell Farm, said the boss “has always felt that horses that compete successfully at a distance of a mile are the best breeding stock.”
Given that, Shadwell has entered two runners — Qurbaan and Almanaar — as part of an overflow field for Saturday’s race. Shadwell has won the Turf Mile in the past, but it preceded the operation’s sponsorship of a race that eventually became Keeneland’s first with a $1 million purse.
“It’s something Sheikh Hamdan wanted to do years ago — sponsor a race and build it up into a really prized race — and everything just came together,” Nichols said.
Meaning “gift” in classic Arabic, Qurbaan, a son of Speightstown, will make his second U.S. start in the Turf Mile. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin’s barn saddled him for a win last out in Saratoga’s Bernard Baruch (G2).
Qurbaan will break from post 7 under jockey Mike Smith at 5-1 morning line odds.
“Sheikh Hamdan thought he could do really well over here because he really likes running on firm turf, and you don’t get that a lot in England,” Nichols said. “When we ran him in the Bernard Baruch, we’d tried to enter him in an allowance race to see exactly what we had. Those wouldn’t go at Saratoga. It worked out well.”
Nichols said there’s a future at stud in the U.S. for the former $300,000 purchase who made his other 13 starts overseas.
Almanaar, whose name means “gift,” similarly came from Europe to America in 2016. The Chad Brown trainee won the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) in 2017 but then missed more than a year due to injury. In his second start off the layoff, the son of Dubawi ran second to Robert Bruce in the Arlington Million (G1).
“We think he’ll shorten up OK,” Nichols said. “I know Chad’s not particularly happy with the draw, but I think we have plenty of time from the start to the first turn to get him in position, hopefully mid-pack, and see how things sort out for him. He’s a really talented horse.”
Almanaar drew post 11 and will have Javier Castellano in the irons. He’s 9-2 on the morning line.
Post time for the Shadwell Turf Mile is 5:49 p.m. ET. The race will air on NBC and is a “Win and You’re In” challenge event with a fees-paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup Turf to the winner.