In his first start since the Jan. 26 Pegasus World Cup (G1), Kukulkan rallied four wide off the turn at Churchill Downs and went on to win Friday’s particularly deep allowance optional claiming feature.
Could a return to US stakes company be next for Mexico’s popular Triple Crown winner?
Under Brian Hernandez Jr., the 4-year-old son of Point Determined improved his record to 15 wins in 16 starts, with the last three races now on American soil. Before finishing 11th in that sloppy renewal of the Pegasus, Fausto Gutierrez-trained Kukulkan won Gulfstream Park’s Dec. 8 Clasico del Caribe.
Despite the resume, Kukulkan didn’t garner much support at the windows Friday. Off at 11-1 in a field that included previous graded stakes winners My Boy Jack and Hawaakom, he returned US$24.
Hawaakom ran third behind Ballard High as My Boy Jack failed to hit the board, hitting the wire ninth of 10 in his second start of the season.
Ignacio Correas harbored Kukulkan in the run up to this race at his Keeneland barn with Gutierrez, the trainer of record, based in Mexico. If connections really want to take another shot — and certainly the Pegasus proves they’re not opposed to it — Churchill Downs hosts the Stephen Foster (G2) on June 15 as its automatic qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Gutierrez said after Friday's race that "we'll probably look at the Foster next," placing him in a prospective field that includes graded winners Yoshida, Seeking the Soul, Quip and Tenfold.
"If he can win the allowance race at Churchill, maybe it’ll be worth it for him to stay (in the United States) and have a campaign here,” Correas had said last month. “You need to beat those types of horses before you can jump into stakes. It’s not going to be easy, but he has faced tough competition before.
"If a horse can win 14 straight races, he’s going to be able to race anywhere in the world.”