Highestdistinction looks for hat trick in G3 BWI Turf Cup

Willow Lane Stable, Inc.’s Highestdistinction will take a two-race win streak into his graded debut. The 6-year-old Point of Entry gelding is 3-1 on the morning line for Saturday’s Grade 3 BWI Turf Cup at Pimlico Race Course.

The Turf Cup tops a day with six stakes at Old Hilltop and is carded as the tenth of 11 races. Among the supporting stakes are are two others on the turf, the Ben’s Cat for Maryland-bred or -sired sprinters and the All Along for older filly-and-mare routers.

Highestdistinction was a popular winner of a 7 ½-furlong allowance July 14 at Delaware Park before finding stakes success for the first time in the 1 1/16-mile Oceanport Aug. 13 at Monmouth at odds of 10-1.

He arrives at the Turf Cup in “razor sharp” fashion, according to trainer Lindsay Schultz. Highestdistinction’s only defeat in his last three came in a second-level allowance to Catnip, who returned to win the Grade 3 Monmouth and then was a very good second in the Grade 1 United Nations.

Prior to his current streak Highestdistinction hadn’t won since a dirt allowance in the fall of 2020 at Delaware for previous trainer Tom Proctor. He also spent time with trainers Randy Morse and Robert Medina before joining Lindsay Schultz in the spring, for whom he ran second by a length behind Catnip May 27 at Monmouth.

“When we got him over to Monmouth he ran second to Catnip who ended up winning a big next start, and that was very encouraging,” Schultz said. “That kind of made us think that maybe he is a little better than he’s shown. We found him a nice spot at Delaware and it was on soft ground, which I’m not sure he loves, but he really put a good effort in and got the win.”

Highestdistinction was 9-10 in the race at Delaware, and Schultz acknowledged the win was “a grind.” But grind or not, it also helped Highestdistinction recapture some of the promise he’d shown as a three-year-old, when he won twice in four starts.

“I think with these older horses, when they get a win they get a little confidence. Training up to the Oceanport he was as good as he could be. He worked massive the week before,” she added. “He’s just been really exciting. He’s gotten placed well and found some good spots to run in. The owner has been very conscientious about running him in the right spots. He’s not trying to put him in over his head, so he really had to show us that he was ready for a stakes race.”

Highestdistinction won the $100,000 Oceanport Stakes at Monmouth Park. Photo By Ryan Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

Jairo Rendon, aboard for both his recent Monmouth races including the Oceanport, rides back from Post 3.

Highesdinction’s win in the Oceanport was Schultz’s first open stakes win as a trainer and came amid a torrid stretch. It started July 15 with Alex Joon winning the state-restricted Edward P. Evans Stakes at Colonial Downs. On August 13 came Highestdistinction’s win in the Oceanport. Then, on August 19, Schultz got her first graded win when Whelen Springs won the Grade 3 Iselin, also at Monmouth.

Schultz went out on her own in late 2021, starting off with just a handful of horses. Now she has 25, and her barn has logged 23 wins and more than $1.2 million in purse earnings in 2023 from just 93 starters.

Highestdistinction is 3-1 on the morning line, the third choice in a field of seven (excluding main-track-only runners). The morning line favorite is Smokin’ T (2-1), a stakes winner recently third in the Grade 3 Mint Million at Kentucky Downs. Feargal Lynch will ride for trainer Shug McGaughey.

The second choice, at 5-2, is Wolfie’s Dynaghost for trainer Jonathan Thomas. A multiple stakes winner and earner of more than $700,000, the Ghostzapper gelding won a Kentucky Downs allowance last out and scored in a Turfway Park allowance earlier this season. Jevian Toledo will ride.