With eye on $1.7M FanDuel Turf Cup, Spooky Channel stays home to prep

3/25/2023 – Spooky Channel, with Joel Rosario aboard, wins the 31st running of the Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Classic at the Fair Grounds. Hodges Photography / Amanda Hodges Weir

HENDERSON, Ky. — Spooky Channel, running in Ellis Park’s Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup for the second time, is an example of money talking.

NBS Stable’s gelding, an $80,000 claim in April of 2021, finished second in his third start for his current connections in the KDP Turf Cup, then worth $125,000. As a Kentucky-bred, Spooky Channel will compete for the full $250,000 offered in Sunday’s stakes.

Trainer Jason Barkley, who grew up in Evansville and is the son of retired trainer Jeff Barkley, has horses this summer at Ellis Park and Saratoga, with a few at Churchill Downs’ Trackside Training Center. He kept Spooky Channel at Ellis with an eye on Kentucky Downs’ $1.7 million FanDuel Kentucky Turf Cup, a Grade 2 race on Sept. 9 whose winner will get a free spot in the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita on Nov. 4.

“I don’t like to ship him around too much,” Barkley said. “We were able to stay home and run here for $250,000 as a stepping stone to Kentucky Downs. And if he, hopefully, were to win that, then on to the Breeders’ Cup.”

Spooky Channel comes into Sunday’s 1 1/4-mile stakes off a three-month freshening since he was a rallying third in Churchill Downs’ $1 million Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic, the Grade 1 race before the Kentucky Derby.

Preview weekend “keeps horses in the state,” Barkley saYS

Naturally Barkley is a fan of what Kentucky Downs Preview Weekend has become, including serving as fees-paid qualifiers for the corresponding Kentucky Downs stakes.

“The locals, it gives them a shot to be ready for Kentucky Downs without having to ship around,” he said of the Ellis stakes. “It keeps horses in the state. Just like Spooky. He ran in a Grade 1 last time and we’re staying here. We could have gone to the Bowling Green at Saratoga for the same $250,000, but why ship for the same money when you could stay home? If this race had been a $100,000, I think we’d have had to change our options. The added money definitely keeps people around.”

Spooky Channel had just given Barkley the first graded-stakes score of his career in Keeneland’s Grade 3 Sycamore two races after the Ellis stakes in 2021 when the English Channel gelding suffered a tendon injury. While such soft-tissue injuries often send a horse into retirement or racing at a cheaper level, Spooky Channel has thrived since his return 14 months later this past Dec. 22. He won the Fair Grounds’ $100,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial in his first start back, was third in Sam Houston’s John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3) then returned to New Orleans to take the Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Classic for his 13th career victory in 29 starts. Barkley said the three-month layoff since the Old Forester was planned.

“Win, lose or draw, we were going to give him two or three weeks at the farm and then set him up for the summer,” he said. “He had a long winter, coming off an injury. He shipped to New Orleans, then he shipped over to Houston, back to New Orleans and shipped back up here. He can get a little light, so we just wanted to let him get a few weeks in a paddock and have him ready for a summer-fall campaign.

“I think he’s better than before he went out” with the injury, Barkley said. “He’s doing really well. His last couple of works have been pretty sharp. Time-wise on him, he’s never been a horse that’s going to work in a minute. But a mile-and-a-half turf horse doesn’t need to work a minute. But he’s been finishing up well and his gallop-outs have been pretty strong.”

James Graham has the mount.

With eye on $1.7M FanDuel Turf Cup, Spooky Channel stays home to prep - Kentucky Downs