Though Picks and Ponderings is devoting most of its space this weekend to Fall Stars at Keeneland, as there are graded stakes there on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. However, we take one detour this weekend. Absent from the plethora of Breeders' Cup preps in Lexington is a race for the handicap division. That set, instead, congregates at Belmont.
This year marks the 97th running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, first run in 1919. Originally restricted to three-year-olds and run at a mile and a half, the race struggled in its first two incarnations. It found its bearings starting in 1921, when it was stretched to two miles and opened up to older horses in 1921. It shortened back up to a mile and a half from 1976-89, and then to its current mile and a quarter distance in 1990. The roster of Jockey Club Gold Cup winners abounds with all-time greats. The undisputed king of the race was Kelso, who won every year from 1960 through 1964. Man o' War (1920) won the second incarnation of the race. Five Triple Crown winners have won the Jockey Club Gold Cup as well over the years: Gallant Fox (1930), War Admiral (1938), Whirlaway (1942), Citation (1948), and Affirmed (1979). John Henry, who had won the first Arlington Million over the grass earlier that year, also showcased his stamina and dirt talents by winning the 1981 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
During the Breeders' Cup era, it has produced three Breeders' Cup Classic winners: Cigar (1995), Skip Away (1997; also won the JCGC in 1996), Curlin (2007; also won the JCGC in 2008). Easy Goer (1989) posted an emphatic win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup before proceeding to the Breeders' Cup Classic, but missed catching his rival Sunday Silence by a "desperate neck", in the words of the great Tom Durkin.
Curlin wears down Lawyer Ron to win the 2007 Jockey Club Gold Cup. In his next start, he would romp home through the Monmouth slop to win the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Free live HD video of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and all NYRA racing, is available at NYRA.com with a free account. The Jockey Club Gold Cup will also be on national television, along with the Breeders' Futurity (GI) and the Shadwell Turf Mile (GI). This telecast will run on NBC from 5:00pm-6:00pm EDT.
Race 10: Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI), three-year-olds and up, one and one quarter miles, post time 5:28pm EDT
This year's edition of the Jockey Club Gold Cup offers a purse of $1,000,000, and the winner receives the final Win And You're In berth to the Breeders' Cup Classic. The race drew a compact field of six, including a pair from the Jimmy Jerkens barn (WICKED STRONG and EFFINEX) and a pair of Todd Pletcher trainees (CONSTITUTION and COACH INGE). Christophe Clement sends TONALIST to try for the repeat, as well. Illinois-bred longshot LOOKS TO SPARE rounds out the field; he is still owned by local trainer Otabek Umarov's O'zbekiston Racing, but comes here under the auspices of New York trainer Gregory DiPrima.
TONALIST looks tough in his repeat attempt. He has a 6-4-2-0 record over the Belmont track, and rallied from well off the pace to post his only win in four 1 1/4 mile starts when he ran in last year's Jockey Club Gold Cup. He is versatile enough to post a sharp effort from just about anywhere in the field, and his speeds are consistently what he would need to muster in order to compete against the types he faces in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
That said, TONALIST trying to send with the likes of either COACH INGE or CONSTITUTION early would be begging for a repeat of the Travers last year. TONALIST will have to sit midpack here. At a short price, which he will inevitably be, it will be worth trying to beat him in a short field. COACH INGE and CONSTITUTION seem the most likely candidates, as neither WICKED STRONG nor EFFINEX have a lot in the way of early speed. CONSTITUTION probably has the better early speed of the two, and could well improve second off a lengthy lay. However, he has not tried a mile and a quarter yet, and may not be able to rein in his early speed quite enough to stay the entire way. A win would not be a complete shock, assuming he controls his speed better in the Jockey Club Gold Cup than he did in his attempt in the Bernard Baruch (GII) last out. Still, that's a big question; in light of that, the longer-priced stablemate appeals more. If CONSTITUTION runs out of gas, COACH INGE will be well placed to inherit the lead. Should CONSTITUTION attempt to rate off the pace, COACH INGE could lead the field wire-to-wire. Unlike his shorter-priced stablemate, COACH INGE has proven his stamina, winning the Brooklyn (GII) at a mile and a half earlier this year, and finishing third beaten only 1 1/2 lengths in the 1 1/4 mile Suburban after dueling early with Street Babe -- a horse who faded to finish 33 1/2 lengths up the track. He showed last out in the Whitney (GI) that he did not have to be right on the front to stay interested; though he could not catch the freakish Liam's Map that day, he tracked a few lengths off and crossed the wire a clear second. COACH INGE has the speed -- and the tactical speed -- for this short field to suit him well.
Among the Jerkens trainees, EFFINEX appeals a bit more as a possibility on top, given his pair of wins at a mile and a quarter, as well as his game victory over TONALIST and COACH INGE in the Suburban earlier this year. That came in a field just as short as this one, six horses, and had EFFINEX showing he could succeed making an earlier move than usual. If he runs back to that, he stands a strong chance here. If CONSTITUTION and COACH INGE do end up getting locked into it a bit early, and the pace gets a bit hot, EFFINEX has the speed, stamina, and gameness to be a factor late. Stablemate WICKED STRONG is often in the mix, but has been so frequently a "not quite" type, and by no means towers over this field. Leave him for undersides once again.
#2 COACH INGE (5/1)
#6 TONALIST (6/5)
#4 EFFINEX (4/1)
Longshot: Anything can happen in a short field. So, in the unlikely situation that #5 LOOKS TO SPARE (30/1) runs back to his race at Mountaineer last out and a few of the heavyweights have a bad day, maybe he'll clunk in for third or fourth. The speed he posted at Mountaineer was certainly competitive enough to do that, though likely aided by the fact that he closed outside on a day when the rail was dead as could be. He has shown some versatility, winning races anywhere from the front end to well off the pace, and everywhere in between. However, class remains the question. If this Illinois-bred son of Pollard's Vision actually wins the Jockey Club Gold Cup, you will hear this writer screaming in shock and awe from Hawthorne Race Course, the site of his triumphant neck victory over 49/1 longshot M J Seeker in a $5,000 N3L last December.
You can take "Picks & Ponderings" with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Hawthorne Race Course. And you can get "Picks and Ponderings" in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking "Create Subscription." It's a FREE service, and you'll never get any unwanted spam.