Mott, Pletcher saddle top contenders in Gold Cup

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Change. Sometimes we fear it, and sometimes we embrace it. President Bill Clinton once said that “the price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.”

Few major races have had as much change in their history as the Jockey Club Gold Cup. One of those changes began last year with the race moving to the final weekend of the meet at Saratoga. For many years, it was viewed as the centerpiece of the Fall Championship Meeting at Belmont Park. The Gold Cup is a “Win And You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and it will be featured on NBC’s telecast on Saturday, September 3 from 4:30-6:00 p.m. ET. It is one of two qualifying races for the Breeders’ Cup on the telecast, with the other being the Flower Bowl Stakes, whose winner will get into the Filly & Mare Turf.

The Jockey Club Gold Cup has also had significant distance changes over the years. The first two years of the Gold Cup were 1919 and 1920, and it was run at a mile and a half. The 1920 winner was the immortal Man o’ War.  From 1921 to 1975, it was run at the marathon distance of 2 miles. This was a glorious time in the history of the race, highlighted by the years from 1960-1964, when it was won five consecutive times by the mighty gelding Kelso.  Another major highlight was in 1970 and 1971, when the mare Shuvee defeated the boys. Other legendary winners from this time period included Gallant Fox, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Citation, Nashua, Gallant Man, Sword Dancer, Damascus and the incredible gelding Forego. In 1974, he had a year that will probably never be duplicated. In that year, in addition to winning the 2-mile Gold Cup, Forego won several major stakes as well as the Carter Handicap and the Vosburgh Handicap, both at 7 furlongs. As a result, he was named Champion Sprinter, Champion Older Male Horse and Horse of the Year for 1974.

Because of the growing influence of speed in American breeding, the distance of the Gold Cup was shortened to a mile and a half in 1976. Significant winners at the shortened distance included Exceller, Affirmed, John Henry, two-time winner Slew o’Gold, two-time winner Crème Fraiche and Easy Goer.

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In the mid-1980’s, however, change was again in the wind for the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The inaugural Breeders’ Cup was run in 1984, and the mile and a quarter Breeders’ Cup Classic, with its $3 million purse, almost instantly became the most important race at the end of the year for distance horses. The Gold Cup was no longer the most important race for horse of the year and champion older horse, although it was still a prestigious Grade 1 race with a large purse. In 1989, the distance was shortened to a mile and a quarter, which was the same distance as the Classic. In the eyes of many, it made the Gold Cup into a fancy prep race for the Classic, but it was still a vital race with a great history.

What does the Gold Cup tell us ahead of the Breeders’ Cup Classic?

What can we say about the relationship between the Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic? In the years since the inception of the Breeders’ Cup, three horses have won the Gold Cup and the Classic in the same year. They were Cigar (1995), Skip Away (1997) and Curlin (2007). In 2019, Vino Rosso crossed the finish line first in both races, but in the Gold Cup he was disqualified for interference in the stretch and placed 2nd.

Our friends at Equibase have provided greater detail on the relationship between the two races. In total, 29 Jockey Club Gold Cup winners have run in the Classic, producing three wins, four second-place finishers, two third-place finishers, and five fourth-place finishers. The most striking part of this mathematical puzzle is that 15 of 29 Jockey Club Gold Cup winners who ran in the Breeders’ Cup Classic have finished 5th or worse in that race. One logical reason for this is that it takes a very special horse to win back-to-back Grade 1 races at the 10-furlong distance. For some, the attempt to win both races could be a reason why they didn’t run so well in the Classic, as they may have fired their best shot in the Gold Cup.

This data led me to look at the results from a reverse perspective. We know about the three horses who won both races in the same year, but what about horses that won the Classic, but did not win the Jockey Club Gold Cup?  There are five Classic winners who did not win the Gold Cup but finished on the board in that race as a precursor to a peak effort in the Classic, and some of them yielded good prices at the windows:

2019 – Vino Rosso finished 1st but was placed 2nd by DQ in the Gold Cup. He came back to win the Classic and pay $11.20 for a $2 win ticket.

2012 – Fort Larned was 3rd in the Gold Cup. He won the Classic and delivered a $20.80 win price.

2011 – Drosselmeyer followed up a 2nd in the Gold Cup with a Classic score that paid $31.60 to win. How did a Bill Mott-trained horse get let go at such a big number?

2010 – Blame was the best older male horse that year, but sentiment in the Classic pointed in the direction of a repeat win by the beloved mare Zenyatta. Blame defeated Zenyatta and paid $12.40 to win.

1992 – After stumbling at the start, A.P. Indy finished 3rd to Pleasant Tap in the Gold Cup. He turned the tables in the Classic, finishing 1st as Pleasant Tap was 2nd. A.P. Indy returned $6.20.

So, do we view the Jockey Club Gold Cup as a prestigious Grade 1 race at a classic distance, or, at least to some extent, is it equally important as a prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic? There is no definitive answer to that question, as history has shown that it is a race that can actually be both of those things.

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Storylines to watch in 2022 Jockey Club Gold Cup

The long-range significance of this year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup depends greatly on two horses who will not be in the race. Life is Good and Flightline are, respectively, No. 1 and No. 2 in the NTRA’s Top Thoroughbred Poll at this point. Both horses, however, present question marks at the mile and a quarter distance. Life is Good, while proven at a mile and an eighth, had the weakest performance of his career when he tried 10 furlongs in the Dubai World Cup and finished 4th. The undefeated Flightline has never gone beyond a mile. Both horses are scheduled to test their distance limitations prior to the Classic. Life is Good is probable for the mile and an eighth Woodward at Aqueduct on October 1. Flightline will be tested for distance in the mile and a quarter Pacific Classic at Del Mar, which will be run a few hours after the Gold Cup.

But what about the horses who will actually be in this year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup? The headliner is Olympiad, from the barn of Bill Mott. He had won four in a row, including the Stephen Foster Stakes at Churchill Downs, when he entered the July 2nd Whitney Stakes. The aforementioned Life Is Good was sent off as the favorite in the Whitney, but Olympiad was the 2nd choice at just under 2-1 odds. It was not his day, however, as Olympiad couldn’t work out his usual stalking trip, and he finished 4th, beaten by over nine lengths. This race is his chance for redemption and to prove that he belongs in the upper echelon of horses for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The Gold Cup occupies an unusual place in the career of trainer Todd Pletcher. His only win in the race came in 2020 with Happy Saver. From his 25 lifetime starters in the race, however, he has also finished 2nd a remarkable eight times, and he’s been 3rd three times.

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This year, he could have as many as four starters, headlined by Americanrevolution and Dynamic One. Americanrevolution was 2nd to Olympiad in the Stephen Foster, and he won the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in early December at Aqueduct. Performances of that type prove that he definitely can be a factor in this race. Dynamic One scored in the Suburban Stakes at Belmont in his last start, which proved his ability at the Gold Cup distance of 1 ¼ miles. He’s won his last two starts, and he could be rounding into his best form approaching the Gold Cup. The other Pletcher possibles are Untreated, who was 3rd in the Suburban Stakes and Pimlico Special, and Keepmeinmind, who was 2nd in last year’s Jim Dandy Stakes and posted an Allowance win at Saratoga in his only start this year.

The other major contender to look at is the Shug McGaughey trainee First Captain. He won the Pimlico Special and was 2nd by a nose to Dynamic One in the Suburban Stakes. He has posted some eye-catching workouts since that race, and he could be peaking at just the right time.

Despite the dominance of Life Is Good and Flightline in the Thoroughbred poll, neither is a certainty to either run in or win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. For the time being, the trainers of horses in the Gold Cup would be best off to forget about those two and focus on the mile and a quarter Grade 1 race that will be contested at Saratoga on Saturday. A win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, as always, will be a major achievement on a horse’s resume and could set him up perfectly for the Classic.

Watch the 2022 Jockey Club Gold Cup, a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series race for the Classic, on Saturday, September 3 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

Breeders’ Cup spots on the line this weekend, top trainers hold keys to 2-year-old tests

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Sometimes, in assessing stakes races, it is best to look at the history of the race and see if there is a dominant factor in that history. This weekend’s racing features both the Champagne Stakes and the Miss Grillo Stakes, two Win and You’re In races for the Breeders’ Cup (coverage begins Saturday at 4 pm ET on NBC). For both races, you need to look no further than the “winning trainer” column, which provides some unavoidable facts:

  1. Since 2004, Todd Pletcher has won the Champagne Stakes a record-setting six times.
  2. In recent times, Chad Brown has asserted himself in this race, winning 3 of the last 6 runnings.
  3. In the 14 runnings of the Miss Grillo since 2008, Chad Brown has been the winning trainer 8 times.

All observations and handicapping of these two races must begin with these facts. Is there something that makes horses from these barns better than others? Not necessarily. But history tells us that these two barns have high-quality and expensive horses and they tend to get them to peak at this time of year. You can try to beat them at the betting windows, but be aware of the history that you are running into.

Further research brought up some interesting notes about these two races and their Breeders’ Cup divisions.

First, a look at the 2-year-old colt division. Since 2004 (when Todd Pletcher won the first of his 6 Champagne Stakes), three 2-year-olds have won the Champagne, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old Eclipse Award. They were War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010) and Shanghai Bobby (2012).  Pletcher trained Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby, and Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito handled War Pass.

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Looking at the 2-year-old turf fillies, the dominance of Chad Brown is even more striking. Since 2008, when Chad Brown captured his first Miss Grillo and the first running of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, four 2-year-old fillies have captured the Miss Grillo and the Juvenile Fillies Turf. They were Maram (2008), Lady Eli (2014), New Money Honey (2016) and Newspaperofrecord (2018). All four fillies were trained by Chad Brown.

A review of charts from the Champagne back to 2004 (the year of Todd Pletcher’s first winner in the race) reveals that he had 20 starters, with 6 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third. That means he has won 30% of the time and been in the money 50%.

A review of the charts from the Miss Grillo dating back to 2008 (Chad Brown’s first winner in the race) shows that he has had 23 starters, with 8 wins, 1 second and 4 thirds. That means he has won approximately 35% of the time and been in the money 56%.

RELATED: Olympiad cruises to Jockey Club Gold Cup victory

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Champagne Stakes

So, what does this mean for this year’s editions of these two “Win and You’re In” races for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup?

In the Champagne, it seems that the dominant trainers in the sport are putting forth the major contenders.

  • 2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is likely to start Verifying, who was a solid winner at Saratoga as a big favorite in his only career start.
  • The sport’s all-time winningest North American trainer is Steve Asmussen, who is rapidly closing in on 10,000 career wins. Asmussen, who won this race in 2020 with Jackie’s Warrior, will send out Gulfport, a very impressive son of Uncle Mo. Gulfport won his first two races by an average winning margin of almost 10 lengths. Then, he had some real misfortune in his next two starts, finishing 2nd in both races at Saratoga. In the Saratoga Special, he had major traffic problems that led to losing several lengths at the top of the stretch. As the favorite in the Hopeful, he endured a wide trip on a sloppy surface to be 2nd best again. With a clean trip, he will be a major contender in the Champagne.
  • As previously stated, Chad Brown has won the Champagne in 3 of its last 6 runnings. He is likely to enter Blazing Sevens, who is a son of Good Magic, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. After a big win in the first race of his career at Saratoga, Blazing Sevens endured a wide trip on a sloppy track in the Hopeful Stakes, and he should improve here, especially on a fast track.
  • The horse who beat Gulfport in the Hopeful was Forte, trained by the 6-time winner of this race, Todd Pletcher. The stretchout to a one-turn mile in the Champagne would have seemed to be made to order for his closing kick. At entry time, Pletcher chose to not enter Forte in the Champagne Stakes, in all likelihood because he plans to enter the horse in the Breeders’ Futurity next Saturday at Keeneland. The Breeders’ Futurity is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and can be seen on CNBC.

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Storylines to Watch for 2022 Miss Grillo Stakes

Moving on to the Miss Grillo, Chad Brown is likely to enter Free Look, who was an impressive late-closing winner of a Maiden race in her second career start. In her first start, she was a victim of a slow pace, and the best she could do from the back of the pack was close to be 3rd. She seems to be a horse who is likely to improve with more racing. Free Look is a daughter of the leading sire Tapit.

Two others to watch in the Miss Grillo are Be Your Best and Pleasant Passage. Be Your Best is undefeated in two starts for trainer Horacio DePaz. Her last start was the P.G. Johnson Stakes, and she displayed the stalking style that has led to wins in both of her starts. Another with a license to improve is Pleasant Passage, from the barn of legendary trainer Shug McGaughey. In her only career start, she rallied up the rail and endured a stretch battle to get up for a narrow win. She has outstanding grass breeding, and the experience of that win should work in her favor in this race.

It is hard to predict outcomes with lightly-raced 2-year-olds. What we do know is that two horses will win their way into two Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday. That’s the great thing about these “Win and You’re In” races… they are running for something other than purse money, and it often produces some outstanding outcomes.

Lookahead to 2022 Breeders’ Cup

These races lead up to two of the 14 championship races on November 4th and 5th. For those who have never watched an entire Breeders’ Cup, get ready for the rush of witnessing a world championship event every 35 minutes or so. It’s like the Olympics of our sport. Be ready to watch and wager, and you’re sure to come away with some great memories. If you pick some winners, you might come away with a nice profit, as well. The Breeders’ Cup…there’s nothing like it!

Pegasus on Jan. 28, Florida Derby on April 1 at Gulfstream

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Gulfstream Park announced the schedule for the 2022-23 Championship Meet, highlighted by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 28.

Also on Pegasus day: The $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, as well as the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Gulfstream’s top Kentucky Derby prep race, the $1 million Florida Derby, will be run on April 1 as part of a card with 10 stakes races. Other top 3-year-old preps at Gulfstream in early 2023 include the $150,000 Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 1, the $250,000 Holy Bull on Feb. 4 and the $400,000 Fountain of Youth on March 4.

The Pegasus is returning for a seventh time. The format has changed several times in the race’s infancy; the purse structure for the Pegasus World Cup no longer requires owners to put up $1 million apiece for a spot in the starting gate for what was, at its inception, the world’s richest race with a purse that reached $16 million.

This much has remained constant: Winning the Pegasus changes a horse’s resume. No Pegasus winner has ever finished worse than sixth in the yearlong earnings among North American horses, and two past winners – Arrogate and Gun Runner – are two of the three highest-earning thoroughbreds in U.S. history.

Gulfstream’s Championship Meet runs from Dec. 26 through April 2, featuring 60 stakes races, 35 of them graded, and worth a combined $13.6 million.