SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Donegal Racing, Joseph Bulger and the Estate of Peter Coneway’s multiple graded-stakes winner Arklow returns off a nearly 10-month layoff in Sunday’s Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green, an 11-furlong inner turf test for older horses at Saratoga Race Course.
Trained by Brad Cox, the 8-year-old Arch bay was last seen in October at Belmont Park finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, a race he won in 2019 over multiple Grade 1-winner Channel Maker.
Arklow worked a bullet half-mile in 48.19 seconds Sunday over the Oklahoma turf training track in preparation for his return.
“He’s doing well. He had a good move here on the turf and I’m excited about getting him back started,” Cox said. “He’s shown the ability to run big races off the layoff, so we’ll need him to be at his best. He certainly doesn’t look like he’s 8-years-old. He looks amazing.”
Arklow finished second in the 2020 Grade 3 Louisville at Churchill Downs off a five-month layoff and returned the following year to win the same event from a six-month absence, rallying from off-the-pace to best Red Knight by one length in the 12-furlong test.
He boasts a consistent record of 36-9-8-2 for purse earnings in excess of $2.9 million, posting additional graded wins in the 2017 Grade 2 American Turf at Churchill; the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup in 2018 and 2020 at Kentucky Downs; and the 2020 Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar.
“He’s a very sound horse. We’ve had him in training off-and-on for six years, mostly on,” Cox said. “He’s doing great. Physically, he looks amazing. He has the capability of running big off the layoff and we’ll see if we can get him to do it again.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will pilot the Kentucky-bred horse from post 2.
Mrs. Fitriani Hay’s Irish-homebred Highland Chief (IRE) captured the Grade 1 Man o’ War in May at Belmont, besting multiple Grade 1-winner Gufo and Yibir, the reigning Champion Turf Male.
Last out, Highland Chief finished fourth to the victorious Tribhuvan in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Resorts World Casino Manhattan, a race that runner-up Adhamo exited to capture the Grade 1 United Nations last weekend at Monmouth Park.
Trainer Graham Motion said the 5-year-old Gleneagles bay may not have benefitted from cutting back in distance last out while racing on one month’s rest.
“I thought he ran well, but it’s possible he regressed a little bit,” Motion said. “I ran him back in a month off a huge effort when he won the Man o’ War, but he ran a credible race, especially after running his best race in the Man o’ War. If we can get him back to either one of those performances, I think he’ll be very competitive on Sunday.”
Highland Chief was group-stakes quality in England in 2020 when traveling 12-furlongs for former conditioner Paul Cole, finishing second in both the Group 3 John Pearce Racing Gordon at Goodwood and the Group 2 Great Voltigeur at York. He won the 10-furlong Golden Gates Handicap that same year at Royal Ascot.
Motion said the stretch back out in distance should favor Highland Chief.
“I have a feeling a mile and three-eighths to a mile and a half is more in his wheelhouse. This suits him a little better,” Motion said.
Trevor McCarthy has the call from post 3.
Three Diamonds Farm’s millionaire New York-bred Cross Border has won the last two renewals of the Bowling Green for trainer Mike Maker, who entered Thursday’s card just three wins shy of 3,000 for his career.
Cross Border was elevated to victory in 2020 following the disqualification of Sadler’s Joy and won outright last year by 1 1/4-lengths over returning rival Rockemperor.
Bred in the Empire State by Berkshire Stud and B.D. Gibbs, the 8-year-old English Channel ridgling sports a ledger of 42-11-8-5, including a perfect in-the-money record on the Saratoga turf of 8-6-1-1.
Tyler Gaffalione will have the call from post 4.
Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb, Wonder Stables, Michael Kisber and Michael Caruso’s Rockemperor drew off to a two-length score in last year’s Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont. The 6-year-old Holy Roman Emperor bay hasn’t hit the board in four starts since, entering off an even fifth in the Grade 1 Manhattan.
Brown said Rockemperor has trained forwardly into Sunday’s test, including a bullet five-eighths breeze in 1:01.44 on July 17 over the Oklahoma training turf.
“He hasn’t been able to regain his form from last fall, but he’s training really well,” said Brown, who won the Bowling Green previously with Hyper  and Flintshire . “He does prefer firm ground. If it’s firm, I feel like he has finally, in his works, rounded into the best form at least in the mornings that I’ve seen this year from him. He’s getting up there in age a little bit, so you always wonder if he’s tailed off some. I do really like his last two works in particular, so I’m hoping he can get back on the winning track here.”
Madaket Stables, Wonder Stables and Robert V. LaPenta’s French-bred L’Imperator won an optional-claimer here last summer ahead of a third-place finish over yielding Spa going in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap.
The 5-year-old gelded son of Holy Roman Emperor made the grade in gate-to-wire fashion in the Grade 2 Fort Marcy in May over yielding ground at Belmont ahead of a seventh-place finish in the Manhattan after exiting the inside post in a field of 10.
“He won on a very soft turf wire-to-wire a couple back, which is a totally new dimension for him,” Brown said. “Last time, in the Manhattan, he just really didn’t have a good trip. I’m not sure what he would’ve done ultimately, but he was sort of bottled up the whole way. I never really got to see him run, so it was hard for me to judge how he was going to run that day. He sort of ran in place. We’re going to try him at this distance, which is new for me and him to try together. We’re going to see how he handles it.”
Rockemperor exits post 6 under Flavien Prat, while L’Imperator leaves the inside post in tandem with Manny Franco.
Rounding out the field is Colonel Stable and Jonathan Wilmot’s stakes-placed Cibolian [post 5, Luis Saez], who removes blinkers and cuts back significantly in distance from a fourth-place finish last out on June 10 in the two-mile Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup.
The Bowling Green is slated as Race 8 on Sunday’s 10-race card which also features the Grade 2, $200,000 Amsterdam in Race 9. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
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Photo: Arklow winning the 2019 edition of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. (NYRA/Coglianese)