Why I'm Betting Longshot Kulin Rock in the Mac Diarmida

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

February 28th, 2019

Sometimes, it seems like trainer Mike Maker is able to work miracles with little-known grass runners, turning them into graded stakes winners seemingly overnight.

His strategy tends to be simple, at least to the casual observer. It goes something like this—find a nice, solid competitor, stretch him or her out in distance, and see what happens. That exactly what Maker will do with #9 Kulin Rock in Saturday’s $200,000 Mac Diarmida Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park.

When trained by Barclay Tagg, Kulin Rock was a decent miler who was always “right there,” hitting the board time and time again without winning. In fact, he’s crossed the wire first on just one occasion in his career, winning a one-mile maiden race at Gulfstream in December 2017.

But since being claimed by Maker in October, Kulin Rock has shown some promise. A close fifth-place finish in a one-mile starter allowance race at Gulfstream was followed by a nose defeat in a similar race going 1 1/16 miles on January 21. That race was noteworthy because Kulin Rock was disadvantaged by a slow early pace and a fast finish, but nevertheless threw down an eye-catching 111 BRIS Late Pace rating to fall just short of victory.

Now, Maker will stretch out Kulin Rock over 1 3/8 miles, and I’m curious to see the result. Maker has secured the services of top jockey Jose Ortiz for this race, hinting that he’s expecting a good run, especially when you consider that Maker and Ortiz have teamed up to win four of their last five races together.

Even if Kulin Rock fails to handle the jump in class, Maker might still win this race with #6 Zulu Alpha, another former claimer who recently won the W. L. McKnight Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream in an impressive performance over a yielding turf course. After an unremarkable career as a miler, this son of Street Cry has proven to be very effective running long and is the horse to beat on paper. #5 Vettori Kin and #11 Channel Maker are other graded stakes winners who have excelled in extended turf routes; Vettori Kin is coming off a layoff, and Channel Maker’s last two runs have been a bit disappointing, but on their best day, either is good enough to win.

Since Kulin Rock’s overall record should ensure that he starts at a big price, I’m going to make him the focus of my plays, betting him to win and keying him in the exotics with Zulu Alpha and the logical choices:

$10 to win on #9 Kulin Rocks $2 exacta: 6,9 with 6,9 ($4) $2 trifecta: 6,9 with 6,9 with 5,11 ($8) $2 trifecta: 6,9 with 5,11 with 6,9 ($8)

Good luck!