Returning to the site of his most recent victory, Juddmonte’s multiple graded-stakes winning homebred Set Piece duplicated the effort with a last-to-first 1 1/2-length victory in Saturday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Baltimore-Washington International Turf Cup at historic Pimlico Race Course.
Ridden by Sheldon Russell for Brad Cox, the two-time defending Eclipse Award-winning trainer, Set Piece completed the one-mile distance in 1:35.70 over the firm course. Pao Alto, a group stakes winner in France and Qatar, was second, a half-length ahead of 8-5 favorite Public Sector, in the 14th running of the race for 3-year-olds and up.
“That’s kind of his race. He’s not super-fast, but he comes running at the end,” Cox’s assistant Katie Tolbert said. “You just have to kind of keep him relaxed and save some ground and find a good spot. He loves it here. He ran great here on Preakness weekend. That’s kind of his race and Sheldon rode him perfect. We’re super happy with him.”
Set Piece rallied to win the 1 1/16-mile Dinner Party (G2) May 21 on the undercard of the 147th Preakness Stakes but had since finished off the board in the Forbidden Apple (G3) and Arlington Million (G1), the latter Aug. 13 following a slow start over a surface rated good.
Aboard for the first time, Russell was unhurried on Set Piece and trailed the field as Grade 3 winner Bizzee Channel, racing first time off the claim for owner-trainer Lacey Gaudet, went the opening quarter-mile in 24.05 seconds and a half in 48.26 pressed by 21-1 long shot English Tavern. Russell began to move on Set Piece around the turn and straightened for home with sights set on the lead, rolling through the stretch to pass horses on the far outside.
“On paper there wasn’t a whole lot of pace and I think that was my biggest worry. They went lot faster than I thought they would have,” Russell said. “I thought Lacey’s horse was the only one that would show some speed. (Set Piece) was nice and relaxed and I was never really worried because every furlong he sort of caught up to them.
“At the half-mile pole I had a double handful, and it was just whether or not I could keep him in the clear. I got him outside and he took off,” he added. “Very, very nice. I think it helped that he won over this course before. I got really lucky and was fortunate to be able to ride him today.”
Stakes winner Sifting Sands, the Chad Brown-trained stablemate of Public Sector who had been undefeated in three starts at one mile, finished fourth followed by English Tavern and English Channel. Field Pass, the defending BWI Turf Cup champion, was scratched.
It was the sixth career stakes win and third in graded company for Set Piece, a 6-year-old English-bred son of Dansili. For Russell, it was his first stakes win since coming back in July from a 10-month absence due to injury. He finished first on English Tavern in the July 16 Prince George’s County at Laurel Park, but the horse was disqualified and placed second for interference.
Represented by agent Marty Leonard, Russell rode in all four stakes Saturday finishing second with Grade 3 winner Jaxon Traveler in the Lite the Fuse, third on Lake Lucerne in the All Along and eighth aboard Peyton Elizabeth in the Shine Again.
“It’s always nice. (Set Piece) is a really, really nice horse,” Russell said. “Today I had some really live chances and, to be fair, all the horses ran good they just maybe found one better. He gave me a great trip. Thank you to Brad and his team and Juddmonte for the opportunity and fair play to my agent for getting me on this type of horse.
“After every race I’m flicking the page going on to the next page and it’s just a better horse, a bigger race, another opportunity,” he added. “This was the biggest one of the day so this one counts and this one felt good.”
The BWI Turf Cup began as the Colonial Turf Cup in 2005 at Colonial Downs. It was cut back to one mile and renamed the Commonwealth Cup after being moved to Laurel Park in 2015, contested as the Commonwealth Turf Cup in 2016 and under its current name since 2017. The race was not run in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic altered the stakes schedule.
The BWI Turf Cup was the last of four stakes worth $475,000 in purses following the $75,000 Shine Again won by Swayin to and Fro, $100,000 All Along where In a Hurry earned her elusive first stakes victory, and $100,000 Lite the Fuse won in a runaway by Sibelius.