2017 Hawthorne Gold Cup Day Stakes Preview

Thanksgiving is here, and it's time to show our gratitude for the return of three races to Chicago's fall racing schedule this Saturday!

Hawthorne's flagship autumn race, the Grade 3 Hawthorne Gold Cup, returns after a one-year hiatus.  A handicap at the classic distance of a mile and a quarter, the race drew a field of eight, with a mix of shippers and locals to compete for the $150,000 purse.

The day's card also features the return of two Illinois-registered sprint races for older horses, that return after two-year hiatuses: the Powerless Handicap for fillies and mares, and the Lightning Jet Handicap for open company.  Like both of the juvenile sprint stakes earlier this meet, both of these races have $75,000 available for all Illinois-registered horses, and an extra $25,000 to sweeten the pot for any Illinois conceived and foaled runner who finishes in the top five.  In the Powerless, PUNTSVILLE (Cashel Castle), DARLIN ROSIE (Devil Hunter), IMA LITTLE KITTEN (Like Minded), and CHURCH ROAD (Road Ruler) qualify for the extra Illinois money.  In the Lightning Jet, five of the seven runners are Illinois-sired: GONEGHOST (Cherokee Rap), MEXICO MEMORIES (Like Minded), D' RAPPER (Cherokee Rap), CASHEL ROCK (Cashel Castle), and ARMANDO'S STAR (Road Ruler).

Despite a rainy Hawthorne meet, the weather looks mostly dry through the week, and dry for Saturday.  There should be a fast track for the stakes races -- and even a pair of turf miles earlier in the day on the undercard.  This preview focuses on the three stakes races on the card -- though NN's full-card analysis is published at Danonymous Racing.

The preview of the Hawthorne Gold Cup is published jointly with ThoroFan Handicapper's Corner.  Updated Friday, November 24 to link to pieces at Danonymous Racing and ThoroFan.

Race 4: Powerless Handicap, three-year-olds and up, Illinois-registered fillies and mares, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 4:34pm CST

This race honours Powerless, perhaps the most surprising namesake of an Illinois-bred sprint stakes race.  She certainly deserves to be remembered: a hard-knocking daughter of Southern Count, she raced most of her 73 career starts in Illinois, and won twelve of those outings.  Yet, she was bred in Kentucky.  Her lone stakes score, a convincing 10/1 upset in the second division of the Yo Tambien Handicap at Hawthorne, came at a mile and a sixteenth.  Her one stakes-winning daughter, Hight Light (by Slewpy), won the one-mile James Wiggins Handicap at Solano Fair.

The Powerless Handicap was the fall sprint stakes race for Illinois-bred fillies and mares from 2000 through 2014, and returns to the calendar this year.  (The sprint stakes that PUNTSVILLE won in the fall of 2015 was Illinois-preferred, not Illinois-restricted, so it was called the Pershing Handicap.)  The Powerless Handicap winners' list reads as a who's who of excellent Illinois-bred sprinters.  The most accomplished among them is Summer Mis (2003), who won several times in open stakes company, including the 2003 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (G3) at Keeneland.  Summer Mis is also the dam of JOLEE, who will attempt to match her mother's feat this year, and EMPIRESTRIKESAGAIN, who is entered in the Hawthorne Gold Cup.  Current Illinois-bred stakes namesake Third Chance (2011) won this race, as did previous Illinois-bred stakes namesake Pretty Jenny (2006).  Two mares have won this race twice: Denoun N Deverb (2005, 2007 -- and later, the dam of multiple stakes-winning Illinois-bred Sasy Ms Elizabeth) and Missjeanlouise (2012, 2013).

Hats off to Hawthorne -- this race comes far closer than most modern races do to deserving the name "Handicap".  PUNTSVILLE is flat-out the fastest horse here, the most accomplished horse here -- and for that, she has been given the honour of lugging 126 pounds on her back.  The swift grey mare gives her seven foes anywhere between ten and fourteen pounds.  Even so?  She carried 124 last out in the Richard Scherer Memorial, she was her usual rocket self out of the gate, and no one could catch her.  She runs best off a break, something she has gotten here, and handles the dirt as well as the polytrack.  If PUNTSVILLE couldn't handle a fight up front, or if the likes of KALISPELL or SHAR RAN were a little faster early, I'd try to beat her.  But, with the race the way it is, it seems cute for cute's sake to try to beat her.  PUNTSVILLE will be odds-on, but single her and move on, or key her on top and try for some prices underneath.

KALISPELL has already won twice this meet.  After being a perennial undersides type for so much of her career, she has found her winning best going six furlongs on the Hawthorne main.  Though she tired last out after pressing the pace, she showed two back that she could stalk and pounce.  Though trying to go toe-to-toe with PUNTSVILLE would be a recipe for KALISPELL to tire once more, if rider Olaf Hernandez can settle her down and reprise that style from two back, he and KALISPELL have every right to finish in the frame.

JOLEE's form is a bit muddled; though she has only raced seven times, she has tried just about every surface and distance that regularly appears in the Chicago condition books over that time.  Her two career wins, however, have a lot in common: they were stalk-and-pounce trips going one turn over the Hawthorne main.  Though she finished off the board in a sprint allowance at Hawthorne earlier this year, that was her first start against older and her first start in four months.  JOLEE has a few races under her this fall, and she finished a good enough second going a route of ground last out to suggest that she is in form.  The cutback may just be what this daughter of star sprinter Summer Mis needs to come back to her best.



#1 KALISPELL (10/1)

#5 JOLEE (9/2)

Longshot:  #8 SHAR RAN (10/1) disappointed as the favourite in an allowance at Keeneland last out, but may have needed that race.  After all?  Earlier this year the daughter of Munnings was well-beaten on debut, but then aired second out at Churchill.  That victory at Churchill did come against older horses, and also showed a smart stalk-and-pounce style.  A run back to both that speed and that style gets SHAR RAN in for a share in her first try against Illinois-restricted company.  The rider assignment is also a positive; though Edgar Perez has not ridden SHAR RAN before, he does well at Hawthorne, and he does well with forwardly placed horses.  They should be a good fit.

Race 6: Hawthorne Gold Cup (G3), three-year-olds and up, one and one quarter miles on the dirt, post time 5:30pm CST

After a one-year hiatus, the Hawthorne Gold Cup returns to the racing calendar this year.  Inaugurated in 1928, it carried a Grade 2 from the introduction of grades through its last running in 2015, with the exception of 1997-2000, when it carried a Grade 3.  It was once again changed to a Grade 3 after the 2015 season ended, so this will be its first running back at that level.

Over the years, its winners' list has been replete with Hall of Fame inductees.  Three-time champion older male Sun Beau won the Hawthorne Gold Cup in all three of his championship seasons: 1929, 1930, and 1931.  Equipoise, once a stakes namesake at Arlington (the Hanshin Cup was previously the Equipoise Mile), won the 1933 running despite being bumped around and carried out by Gallant Sir down the stretch.  The mighty Kelso romped through the mud to win the 1960 edition, and Dr. Fager toyed with a hard-trying Whisper Jet to win the Gold Cup in 1967.

Though the Hawthorne Gold Cup has always been a dirt race, some champions of the turf have won it as well.  Round Table, a Hall of Fame inductee and a three-time Eclipse Champion Grass Horse (1957, 1958, 1959), won the Hawthorne Gold Cup in both 1957 and 1958.  Both years his class carried him to easy open-length victories -- and both times, past Arlington stakes namesake Swoon's Son came home second.  Buck's Boy, also most famous for his work on the turf, won the 1997 Hawthorne Gold Cup in wire-to-wire fashion.  It was his first career graded stakes victory.  In his next start he would finish fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) -- but the following year, the Illinois-bred gelding would win two Grade 1 races on turf, including the Breeders' Cup, en route to being named the Eclipse Award winner for Champion Grass Horse of 1998.

The eight-horse field in the Hawthorne Gold Cup abounds with more questions than answers.  The class of the field comes with SCUBA and EAGLE; on class, both have arguments at least for a defensive use.  A mile and a quarter may be short for SCUBA, and he has been a bit off form this year.  EAGLE has been in a bit better form this year, and gets a bit of a class drop -- but, on the other hand, he hasn't proven that he can get a mile and a quarter, and he comes in off a subpar effort at Churchill, a track over which he has run well in the past.  Between the two more favoured horses, this space likes SCUBA just a little better.  Without a lot of speed in the race, SCUBA's forward style should pay dividends. Despite the spotty form, it isn't as if EAGLE's form is so rock-solid this year as to allay the distance concerns -- SCUBA seems a bit more likely to get a better pace setup, and to get the distance.

But, on top?  Both are going to be short prices, and neither provide enough confidence to make them attractive at the likely odds.  This looks like the right place to take a bit of a shot with FUTILE.  More than anything, it stands out that FUTILE absolutely loves to win horse races: though the four-year-old son of Broken Vow has only run twelve times, he has won six times.  Though SCUBA likely sets the early pace, FUTILE should be close behind, and should get first run if SCUBA falters.  Though dam Stormy Kiss was a graded stakes-winning sprinter, and FUTILE himself started as a sprinter, he has shown through the fall that he can be just as effective going two turns.  Of course, there are questions with FUTILE.  He has been strong at a mile and a sixteenth, but now he stretches all the way out to the Classic distance, a new challenge for him.  Furthermore, there's always a question with a horse going first off the claim away from Mike Maker, because that can be playing with fire.  But, new trainer Chris Hartman is good enough first off the claim to allay that fear (22%, with a positive ROI). About as many questions hang over FUTILE's head as over SCUBA's or EAGLE's -- but unlike the others, the price will be right with FUTILE.


#2 FUTILE (6/1)

#8 SCUBA (9/5)

#5 EAGLE (8/5)

Longshot:  The Gold Cup drew a handful of intriguing locals.  There's classy HAY DAKOTA, with proven stamina but a far better record on turf.  There's lightly-raced VOLGOGRAD, by Classic sire Curlin, but with all sprint underneath.  There's SIDE POCKET, on a tear but getting a class test.  And, there's the horse to whom SIDE POCKET's regular pilot Santo Sanjur has defected: #7 EMPIRESTRIKESAGAIN (15/1).  Though EMPIRESTRIKESAGAIN was a bit flat last out, it was his first race in five and a half months, and he always needs one off the lay.  Expect him to be sharper here.  He has shown some good form over the Hawthorne dirt, and though his dam was star sprinter Summer Mis, his two-turn form has been good enough to suggest that he took a little bit more after sire Empire Maker or even damsire Summer Squall.  Pace is the question, as EMPIRESTRIKESAGAIN's late-running style means he hopes the likes of FUTILE or VAN DAMME will make SCUBA go too fast early.  But, if he gets a bit of pace and the ones with distance questions sputter late, EMPIRESTRIKESAGAIN has the dirt form and the late pace to get a piece of the Gold Cup at boxcar odds.

Race 8: Lightning Jet Handicap, three-year-olds and up, Illinois-registered, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 6:26pm CST

Illinois-bred Lightning Jet never won a stakes race, and only started in stakes races twice.  He earned almost $150,000 on the track the hard way: with 21 wins and another 31 money finishes in 99 career starts from ages two through nine, bouncing between the claiming, allowance, and handicap ranks.

The Lightning Jet Handicap was the fall sprint stakes race for Illinois-bred older horses from 2000 through 2014.  Though Hawthorne did run a fall sprint stakes in 2015, since it was open to Illinois-preferred company (not just Illinois-registered), the race was run as the Blackhawk Handicap.  Among Lightning Jet winners, one star shines brightest at the national level: Work All Week, the 2014 Eclipse-winning male sprinter, won this race the year before.  That day he defeated a pair of previous Lightning Jet winners: Signsealndeliver (2012) and Four Left Feet (2011).  The latter is still a mainstay in the Chicago claiming and starter ranks, with a win at Hawthorne as recently as last month.  River Bear, an ageless fan favourite who won almost a million dollars running mainly in Illinois, won the 2010 edition of the Lightning Jet.  Like its fillies' complement, the Lightning Jet has a pair of two-time winners: Magic Doe (2000, 2001) and Mighty Rule (2007, 2009).

The major question hanging over the Lightning Jet Handicap is whether both Scott Becker entrants will remain in the race.  He entered both GONEGHOST and D' RAPPER, but both of those runners have fast early running styles that may be compromised if both remain in the race.  GONEGHOST is the faster of the two -- the rail post means he will likely have to send, but his cracking speed and sharp recent form make him impossible to discount completely.  Both Becker entries have a bit of pressing ability as well, but the pace will be particularly sharp should both enter.  Then again, even if one of the Becker horses were to scratch, the remaining one would not have it easily on the lead.  MEXICO MEMORIES is fast enough early to make sure of that, and ARMANDO'S STAR stands to be pressing from the outside at an honest clip.

In other words, the pace should be hot -- setting up for DEVILEYE, an off-pace horse who always fires.  Last out he lost for the first time in six career starts, but he ran a game, hard-trying second behind a slop-loving GONEGHOST in a short field.  Back on a fast track, and with even more speed in front of him, things should set up better for DEVILEYE this time around.

ARMANDO'S STAR has made a career out of getting underneath shares behind nice Illinois-breds at long odds, but has finally found his way into the spotlight through the late summer and the fall.  Winless for over two years from the summer of 2015 until this summer, ARMANDO'S STAR has won two of his last three starts, including a last-out score against state-bred allowance horses.  That victory came over the same course and distance as the Lightning Jet.  The outside post draw in the field of seven should give him the perfect place to stalk just off all that fiery speed inside him, and give him a clean first run at the speed.


#4 DEVILEYE (7/2)

#1 GONEGHOST (2/1)


Longshot:  #6 CASHEL ROCK (10/1) is the other credible dirt closer in this field.  (REIGNING CATFISH has an off-pace style, but has typically been better across town on the polytrack.)  Though CASHEL ROCK has been on a bit of a second-itis streak -- winless in 12 starts this year -- he rallied for a good enough third last out to add credence to the idea that he can still do his better work over the Hawthorne main.  The rider change to Jose Lopez is also a positive.  Lopez has made a name for himself as a rider who can get the best out of any of his mounts (from favourites to longshots), and he has gotten win pictures both times he has ridden for trainer Doug Matthews in the last two months.  Furthermore, both jockey and trainer are high-percentage connections: Lopez is winning at 23% this Hawthorne meet (23-101), and Matthews has a 29% win rate (4-14).  With a return to his favourite surface, the advantageous pace setup, and the right people behind him, CASHEL ROCK may turn things around at solid odds.


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