Kiaran McLaughlin won't be on hand when Kentucky Downs hosts its Millions Day program Saturday. In fact, none of the key members of McLaughlin's team will be anywhere near Franklin, Kentucky, when Side Road goes in the signature event of the program, the $400,000 Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes.
Darley's Side Road is in good hands though and McLaughlin is thankful he won't need to worry about the Street Cry colt as he tends to business with five horses entered Saturday at Belmont.
"No, I'm not going down and nobody from my team is going down," McLaughlin said shortly after training at Belmont Park Friday morning. "Greg Burchell, he's my friend for life, we've been buddies forever and he's going to handle things for me down there."
Burchell is a trainer based in Kentucky and the son of longtime trainer James Burchell, who McLaughlin worked for early in his career in racing after a year at the University of Kentucky. The younger Burchell and McLaughlin have worked together for years. Burchell's resume in the horse business is lengthy and successful, he played a role in raising future champions like Ghostzapper and Ginger Punch and started young horses for McLaughlin and other prominent owners and trainers for years.
"I trust him, he'll do a great job," McLaughlin said. "It's nice to have someone like that you can trust and I can stay here at Belmont for the Grade 1."
McLaughlin will run Darley Stable's With Sugar On Top, a near anomaly as an off-the-pace winner on the turf last time out at Saratoga, in the Grade 1 Garden City. Side Road also comes into the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup off a turf try at Saratoga and a good one at that. He finished second to Hyper in the restricted John's Call going 1 5/8 miles July 31, a race that looked even better when Hyper won last weekend's Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont.
McLaughlin started thinking about the Turf Cup after that race, wanting to get Side Road back to what he feels is his optimal distance. He wasn't tempted to run in the Bowling Green either.
"We felt like he needed further than a mile and a quarter, so this is right spot," McLaughlin said of the 9-2 fourth choice in the morning line for the 1 ½-mile Kentucky Cup Turf. "We've been training for the last five weeks for this race."
McLaughlin's name doesn't appear often in the entries at Kentucky Downs, but he's won the signature race at the all-turf track located on the border of southwestern Kentucky and Tennessee. The Irish-bred Fahris won the Kentucky Turf Cup for longtime McLaughlin client Shadwell Stable back in 1999, a start that precluded a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont and eventually a tenth in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Gulfstream.
Side Road would seemingly appear to be on a similar path. McLaughlin's run him in graded company on the grass already this year, sending Side Road to a second-place finish in Keeneland's Grade 2 Elkhorn and then a seventh in Belmont's Grade 1 Manhattan. Hell take it one race at a time for now, with plans to bring Side Road back to Darley's upstate New York base at the Greentree Training Center adjacent to Saratoga Race Course after Saturday's race.
"I'll worry about where he might go after Sunday," McLaughlin said.
And as for how he might fare Saturday?
"He's training great," McLaughlin said. "We feel like he's a true mile-and-a-halfer, so that's why we waited and didn't run back in allowance race somewhere. We thought this suit him well, the distance and the course."
Temeraine is the morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Turf Cup at 3-1 off a close fifth in the Grade 1 Arlington Million last time out for Tom Proctor. Najjaar and Suntracer, third and second, respectively, in the American St. Leger on the Million undercard are next at 7-2 and 4-1.
The Kentucky Turf Cup is one of five stakes on the Millions Day card along with the $150,000 Franklin-Simpson Mile, $150,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile, $150,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies and $150,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Dash.
A full field of 12 was entered - with one on the also-eligible list - for the Turf Dash going 6 furlongs. The group includes 4-1 morning-line favorite Ancil, making his first stakes appearance since the 2011 Dixiana Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland off a big win sprinting on the grass at Ellis Park, and 2011 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Regally Ready, who seeks his first win since that race.
The Franklin-Simpsom attracted 11 entries with Coalport and The Pizza Man, one-two earlier this year in the Black Tie Affair Handicap for Illinois-breds, vying for favoritism.
Entries for Saturday's Kentucky Downs Millions Day.
Watch the John's Call Stakes.