2014 Handicapping Feast: Hawthorne Gold Cup Preview

For additional information on this race, please consult Paul Mazur (PM)’s preview for Blood-Horse.

Image courtesy Hawthorne Race Course.

For about a decade, the Hawthorne Gold Cup occupied the first Saturday of October on the calendar and served to kick off the Hawthorne Fall meet.  As a result, it also functioned as a Breeders’ Cup prep race. For the second straight year, the Hawthorne Gold Cup moves to November and goes to an old-school position on the calendar, one that the Gold Cup held for most of the eighties and nineties.

The purse on this year’s Gold Cup takes another trim, down from a half million two years back to a quarter million this year, the lowest purse since 2008.  However, it’s intact as a Grade Two race and serves as the only graded stakes and only open stakes of the Hawthorne Fall meet.  With the exception of a 1979 running at now-razed Sportsman’s while Hawthorne was rebuilt from fire, it’s always been ten furlongs on the dirt: a full run through the stretch and a lap around.  There are a few historical gaps, for things like Depressions, Wars, and (aforementioned) track fires, but the Hawthorne Gold Cup dates to the late 1920s.

The Hawthorne Gold Cup has a nifty honor roll of winners, from local stakes namesakes of the past like Equipoise (1933), Royal Glint (1975) and Cryptoclearance (1988, 1989) to the present like Black Tie Affair (1990) and Buck’s Boy (1997).  Hall of Famers like Sun Beau (1929-31, the race’s only three time winner), Round Table (1957, 1958), Kelso (1960), and Dr. Fager (1967) have taken down Hawthorne Gold Cups as well.

While the G2 Hawthorne Gold Cup is the feature, it should be noted that the Gold Cup is the middle day of a three-day NTRA qualifier tournament on the grounds of Hawthorne.  Further, it’s part of Picks & Ponderings‘s three-day Thanksgiving Weekend Handicapping Feast (which could help contest players), that includes Thursday and Friday stakes races. There’s additionally Nicolle’s preview of the Cigar Mile Day program and Paul’s preview of the Hollywood Turf Festival from Del Mar. also on Gold Cup Saturday.

Morning line odds were not available at original publish time.  This race is scheduled for Saturday November 29th.

Updated November 27 to include morning lines.

Hawthorne Race Course — Race 8 — G2 Hawthorne Gold Cup — 1 1/4 miles on Dirt — post time 5:20 pm CT

The pace was hotter than an iPad at a Black Friday sale when CARY STREET smartly stayed away from the upfront action and rolled in a last-to-first move by nine-plus lengths to take down the G2 Las Vegas Marathon on Breeders’ Cup Friday.  Three back a winner at three turns in the G3 Greenwood Cup, when the pace was more sensible and he made a sustained run to win.  CARY STREET will once again have Miguel Mena to pilot, and he enters the Gold Cup having found new life as a long-winded marathon type.  Ten furlongs could be too short given his wins were at twelve and fourteen panels, but he should get an honest pace from ABRAHAM on the front end.  Still, Mena won the Gold Cup two years back with Pool Play so he does have an idea how to negotiate the dirt on West 35th. Maintenance work on the 16th of November at Churchill suggests he hasn’t lost his starch.  RED RIFLE is from the Todd Squad.  Pletcher doesn’t ship to Hawthorne very often, but when he does point a runner here they are well meant, as he’s won the Hawthorne Gold Cup, Illinois Derby, and Sixty Sails Handicap (the latter two more than once) in the past.  RED RIFLE was second last out in a grassy twelve furlong G3 Sycamore at Keeneland.  After a summer/fall campaign on the green, he’s back on the dirt in this Grade Two.  His most recent dirt start was at a mile, where he was beaten (like the other rivals) by a zip code by Palace Malice.  He did win a minor stakes earlier in the year at Sam Houston.  With Giant’s Causeway in the pedigree line, this one looks to get a good pressing trip and grind on for ten furlongs or get the lead should the main speed horses all flinch.  Pletcher is 26% wins when going turf to dirt and recruits Florent Geroux to ride.  Chris Block-trained MISTER MARTI GRAS has been aiming for this race ever since Keeneland’s fall meet.  He scratched from the Sycamore when that course came up a bog, and redirected to the G2 Fayette on the Keeneland dirt.  He was wide on the second turn all the way throughout and still managed to pass a couple rivals.  MISTER MARTI GRAS needs some pace on the front end, and if not you get so-so efforts like the G3 Arlington Handicap or G3 Washington Park.  He’ll get his pace and with main stable rider Eduardo Perez having left for warmer climes at Tampa Bay Downs, Tim Thornton (who has worked with Block in the past) takes the mount.

Selections:

#4 CARY STREET (4/1)

#3 RED RIFLE (5/1)

#10 MISTER MARTI GRAS (6/1)

Longshot: One more time with feeling this corner backs #7 STREET SPICE (20/1). Third in last year’s Hawthorne Gold Cup, he makes a return engagement in this G2 before taking off for New Orleans for the winter.  He may have one run in him that needs to be timed just right, in the words of his trainer.  But this four-year-old has three career wins, and all have been over the Hawthorne dirt.  He’s six of eight in the money over the West 35th strip, with a clunker and wide Illinois Derby the outliers.  Been working sharply over the local oval in the mornings, too.  The record looks blah at first blush, but Street Spice is a horse who likes dirt (so throw out the Arlington starts) and may have moved too soon last time in a three-other-than on this course.  His best figure came a year ago in the Gold Cup and here he gets back to a distance more suitable to his breeding and plodding running style.  Dismissed at 30-1 odds last year, he could be in that neighborhood again on the tote.

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