The Hawthorne Gold Cup (G3) came back to the calendar today after a year's absence. In its glorious return, it was only fitting that its winner was a horse who returned to graded stakes glory after some time out of the limelight. Scuba dominated the long-distance dirt division last year, but entered today's Hawthorne Gold Cup winless in six starts on the year. A change to rider Alonso Quinonez and training focused on teaching him a more patient running style paid off for the Brendan Walsh charge, as he forged on to take the $150,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup by half a length.
The day's stakes races also featured a pair of $100,000 sprints for Illinois-breds. Both of them had odds-on favourites -- one ran to the money, but another just missed. In the Lightning Jet Handicap, Buck's Boy Handicap winner Goneghost proved he could cut back to one turn in stakes company, posting an easy and swift wire-to-wire score. In the Powerless Handicap for fillies and mares, however, sophomore Kentucky shipper Shar Ran nipped favourite Puntsville at the shadow of the wire.
Hawthorne Gold Cup: SCUBA finds his best form, and finds the wire in time
Like so many in today's Grade 3 Hawthorne Gold Cup, Scuba had questions hovering over him as he loaded into the starting gate. Could he get back into the form he showed last year when he dominated the dirt marathon division? Could he cut back to a mile and a quarter -- long for so many horses running nowadays, but on the short side for him?
Just about two minutes later, Scuba answered those questions with a resounding affirmative, as he rolled to the wire half a length in front of Futile to win the 2017 Hawthorne Gold Cup.
As expected, the three shippers took most of the interest at the windows. Though Futile opened the favourite, the largest share of the money fell on Eagle, who went off the tepid 2/1 choice. Scuba went off 2.1/1, Futile drifted up to 2.6/1, and Van Damme (9.8/1) was the only other horse who went off at single-digit odds in the eight-horse field.
Local Side Pocket, who opened 9/2 but drifted to 16/1 by post time, eased along to take the initiative on the front end. Futile stalked just to his outside flank, with Van Damme and Scuba strung out behind him. Big grey Side Pocket led the field through comfortable, uncontested fractions: 24.66 for the quarter, 50.13 for the half, and 1:38.72 for the mile.
Entering the far turn, Scuba began to make his rally up the rail. He swung out and closed up the gap on Futile, with Hay Dakota in range even wider. Turning for home, Side Pocket kept the lead, and he dug in. Still, just past the furlong pole, Futile got his head in front of Side Pocket. Scuba was still coming on the outside, though Futile looked well clear past the sixteenth pole.
Futile's stamina gave out in the final few strides, however -- and Scuba, still so fluid in his stride, had the stamina to carry the day. He hit the wire a half-length in front of Futile, with Side Pocket holding third two and a quarter lengths back. Favoured Eagle ran merely evenly late, checking in another two and a quarter length back in fourth. Volgograd, Hay Dakota, Empirestrikesagain, and Van Damme completed the order of finish.
Scuba stopped the clock in 2:03.12 for a mile and a quarter over fast dirt, and paid $6.20 to win. The exacta with Futile second (8-2) returned $13.30 for a $1 wager. The $0.20 trifecta with Side Pocket third (8-2-3) paid $21.02. The superfecta with Eagle fourth (8-2-3-5) returned $54.72 for each $0.20 base wager.
Scuba is a gelded six-year-old grey or roan son of Tapit out of the Smoke Glacken mare Cuaba. Bred by Palides Investments N.V., Inc., he is campaigned by DARRS, Inc. of David Ross, who purchased him for $105,000 out of the Keeneland November 2014 sale. He is trained by Brendan Walsh, and was ridden for the first time in a race by jockey Alonso Quinonez. The victory in the Hawthorne Gold Cup was Scuba's first win in seven starts this year, and his third in graded stakes company. the $90,000 winner's share of the purse brought his career earnings to $671,210. On paper, it looked like Scuba would be the speed. However, it was a deliberate, strategic move. Remarked trainer Brendan Walsh after the race, "that was the plan: to drop him in behind and ride him like a turf horse."
Though Quinonez had not ridden Scuba in a race before the Gold Cup, he had been working the horse in the mornings in preparation for today's race, in order to get to know the horse, and in order to get Scuba accustomed to the running style they planned to use in the Gold Cup. Even so, Scuba still had to get used to his running style. "He wanted to go, the first part" remarked Quinonez after the race. "I was like...boy, please, just wait. Then I dropped him behind, and he came back a little to me." From there, he relaxed well enough to make his run late. "He's got a big heart. that's why he never stopped, and he got the job done."
Lightning Jet: GONEGHOST runs fastest six furlongs of the year at Hawthorne
Thirteen months ago, you could have claimed Goneghost for $12,500 at Hawthorne. Today over that same course, he won his second stakes race of his career, and his second of the fall meet. He did so in 1:08.20, faster than any horse has gone six furlongs at Hawthorne this year. He also became the first two-time stakes winner of the meet, as Goneghost also won the Buck's Boy Handicap at Hawthorne on November 4.
Out of the gate smoothly, Goneghost rolled to an easy early lead. As he ticked off an opening quarter in 21.68, Armando's Star and Devileye settled behind him to stalk closest, with the rest taking order further back. Through the turn, as Goneghost marked a 44.48 half-mile, Devileye continued to stalk along the rail. Cashel Rock swung out for a briefly threatening three-wide bid into the stretch, with Armando's Star between the two. Approaching the final furlong Devileye found his next gear, but by then, Goneghost was too far clear, and maintained a three and three quarters length advantage to the wire. Devileye came home another four and a quarters lengths clear of D' Rapper, so often a frontrunner, but who instead settled midpack and finished best of the rest. Reigning Catfish, last early, came on well enough late for fourth, another three quarters of a length back. Cashel Rock, Armando's Star, and Mexico Memories completed the order of finish.
Goneghost paid $3.80 to win. The $1 exacta over Devileye (1-4) returned $4.60. A trifecta with D' Rapper placed third (1-4-5) paid $2.46 for each $0.20 base bet. A $0.20 superfecta with Reigning Catfish fourth (1-4-5-3) came back with $8.92.
Goneghost is a four-year-old grey or roan gelding by Cherokee Rap out of the Silver Ghost mare Ghost White. Bred by owner William Stiritz, he is trained by Scott Becker, and was ridden by Victor Santiago. The victory was his second career stakes win, and the ninth win of his twelve-race career. The $60,000 winner's share of the purse brought his lifetime earnings to $235,610.
Rider Victor Santiago remarked after the race that he did not know Goneghost was going quite as fast as he actually was. "He's smooth," said Santiago. "He was playing. He was looking for somebody to hook up."
For a horse who had some issues earlier in his career and who started with such modest expectations, it was his racing performance that got trainer Scott Becker convinced that Goneghost was the quality of horse that he has proven to be. "He started settling down and getting in a good rhythm in his races, and he showed that he could over run at Arlington and here, on the dirt. The only bad race was in the springtime, he broke through the gate before the start." Thinking back to that race, this year's Robert S. Molaro handicap made Becker a little tongue-in-cheek. "There was a very good horse in there that day, Recount -- we were just glad he wasn't ready for this!"
Trainer Scott Becker indicated that Goneghost would not join his Fair Grounds string this winter. Instead, he plans that Goneghost will have a layoff on the farm for the winter, and return to train in Chicago come February or March.
Powerless Handicap: Up-and-coming SHAR RAN wins her stakes debut
At Churchill Downs in April, making her second career start, Shar Ran looked like a promising new face. Ignored at 8.5/1 that day, she rated well, and kicked clear of Miss Kentucky to win a five and a half furlong maiden special weight with authority. Off for the summer, the sophomore daughter of Munnings was well beaten in her sloppy October 28 return at Keeneland. Even so, they thought enough of her to send her to Hawthorne -- her first try against stakes company.
Multiple stakes winner and 126-pound highweight Puntsville, sent off the favourite at 1/5, broke slowly; Shar Ran broke on top. Yet Puntsville soon rushed up to take her customary position on the lead. Jolee tracked closes, about a length and a half behind, with Shar Ran behind and to her outside.
Puntsville continued to dictate terms, ticking off a 21.71 opening quarter and a 44.29 half. Jolee dogged her through the turn, trying to get past. Puntsville gave Jolee the slip, and opened up an advantage of about four lengths in shallow stretch. The 126-pound weight combined with the rush after a slow start began to take its toll on the grey. Shar Ran stalking outside, sliced into her advantage with every step. Into the final sixteenth, Puntsville still carried a two-length advantage, but Shar Ran kept coming. And, by the wire, it was Shar Ran in front, a neck over the heavy favourite.
Dr Winn Kyi, at the back early, rallied for third another two and a half lengths back. Ima Little Kitten, also well off the early going, came home fourth, another three quarters of a length back. Darlin Rosie, Jolee, Church Road, and Kalispell completed the order of finish.
Shar Ran stopped the clock in 1:09.41 for six furlongs on fast dirt, and paid $13.00 to win. An exacta with Puntsville second (8-3) returned $14.40 for a $1 base bet. A $0.20 trifecta with Dr Winn Kyi third (8-3-2) came back with $26.98. A $0.20 superfecta with Ima Little Kitten fourth (8-3-2-6) paid $309.72.
Shar Ran is a three-year-old dark bay or brown daughter of Munnings out of the Silver Deputy mare Mean Imogene. A homebred for Suzanne Stables, she is trained by Michael Tomlinson, and rider Edgar Perez rode her to victory. Her start in the Powerless Handicap was Shar Ran's first in stakes company, and today marked her second victory in four career starts. She is the first stakes winner out of the mare Mean Imogene, who also produced the dazzlingly fast yet injury-plagued Mean Season (Henny Hughes).
Said Edgar Perez after the race, as translated by Leo Gonzalez, "As soon as we left the gate, we were in good position. The filly was doing everything on her own. Right then I knew we had a chance. At about the sixteenth pole, I could see the gray filly coming back to us a little bit and I thought then that we could catch her."
All photographs courtesy of Four Footed Fotos.
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