2016 Gold Cup at Santa Anita and Triple Bend Stakes Preview

Saturday’s card at Santa Anita features a pair of Grade I races, which form the focus of this piece.  The handicap division takes the spotlight in The Gold Cup at Santa Anita, a mile and a quarter test that offers a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to its winner.  Extended sprint specialists also get a chance to shine at the top level in the Triple Bend Stakes.

For his focus this weekend, Paul Mazur stays in the Midwest. Arlington’s Saturday card features the Grade III Chicago Handicap, a polytrack sprint for distaffers. He also takes a road trip to Thistledown for the Ohio Derby.  Though that race still carries merely listed status, it offers a $500,000 purse and has been stretched out to a mile and an eighth this year.

Calracing.com offers a live stream of these races, and all races at Santa Anita, to anyone who creates a free account.  NBC Sports Network will also air the G1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita live as part of its telecast, which airs from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm PDT.

Morning lines were not available at original publish time.  Updated June 23 to include pre-scratch morning lines.

Race 8: Triple Bend Stakes (GI), three-year-olds and up, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 5:00pm PDT

Inaugurated in 1952, the Triple Bend Stakes was originally run at Hollywood Park, and moved to Santa Anita in 2014 after its original host track closed.  The race was originally a six-furlong sprint called the Lakes and Flowers handicap.  In 1973, it was stretched to its current distance of seven furlongs.  In 1979 it took its current name in honour of the versatile Triple Bend: the 1972 winner of both the Santa Anita Handicap at the Classic ten-furlong distance, as well as the Vosburgh, which was seven furlongs at the time.

The race has been graded since 1988, and a Grade I since 2003.  Though no Triple Bend winner has gone on to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI), several horses who have won it have finished third: Robyn Dancer (1991) and Street Boss (2008) were third in the BC Sprint later in the same year they won the Triple Bend.  Bedside Promise (1997) performed that feat the year before his Triple Bend win, and Smiling Tiger (2011) was third in the BC Sprint in both 2010 and 2012.  Curiously, Sabona (1986) achieved the best Breeders’ Cup finish by a Triple Bend winner when he finished 2nd in the 1989 Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI).

SUBTLE INDIAN is one fast horse, but at seven furlongs, this space is going to take a stand against him.  At six furlongs and shorter, SUBTLE INDIAN at his best will likely run anyone off their feet.  No one here has enough early zip to go with him early.  But, whether he wants an inch past six furlongs is questionable at best.  He tried an extended sprint for the first time last out in the Kona Gold (GII), and went out the odds-on chalk.  Though he asserted himself strongly on the front end early, he could not hold off Wild Dude late.  Were this a true sprint, it would be hard to play against SUBTLE INDIAN.  With the extra furlong, this space is tossing him at a short price, and looking to the true seven-panel types instead.

LORD NELSON should get first run, making him dangerous here.  He comes in second off a five-month layoff, and that first race back was a sharp allowance victory on June 3.  Though that came at six furlongs, he has a win and two more money finishes in his three tries going seven.  LORD NELSON also has form over the local course, with three of his four career wins having come over the Santa Anita main.  The connections also inspire confidence: trainer Bob Baffert is a 23% winner in graded company, and regular rider Rafael Bejarano is firing at 24% this meet.  All of this makes LORD NELSON look well primed to make his first Grade I score.

Consider also a pair of greys who should be rallying from a bit farther off the pace: COASTLINE and KOBE’S BACK.  COASTLINE should be rallying late — though the addition of first-time blinkers make his stalking style likelier to show up than his midpack style.  Blinkers on is a strong move for trainer Phil D’Amato: going first-time blinkers, he is a 26% winner with a positive ROI.  This versatile sort can run on any surface at just about any distance — but with a 4-2-1-0 line going seven furlongs on a main track, this may well be his game.  COASTLINE was fourth behind Wild Dude in the Kona Gold last out — this start, second off the lay, could reflect improvement.  Dedicated closer KOBE’S BACK is the truest seven-furlong horse of this bunch, with a 10-3-2-2 line at the distance.  He also has a strong record over the Santa Anita course, with three wins and two seconds in six attempts.  His speeds are excellent for this field, and his late pace shines.  The question here — as with anytime he runs — will be whether he breaks well.  A good break probably wins him this race.  But, a poor break is far more likely.  And, with a true pace meltdown unlikely, seeing KOBE’S BACK finish second or third would be a bit more likely than a win.

Selections:

#4 LORD NELSON (3/1)

#8 COASTLINE (6/1)

#2 KOBE’S BACK (5/2)

Longshot:  #5 AMBITIOUS BREW (8/1) may be ambitiously spotted here, but there are suggestions that he could outrun his odds.  For one, he is a consistent sort: his 16-6-6-0 record suggests he runs his race far more often than not, and even some of those out-of-the-money finishes had him beaten just a length or two for in total.  AMBITIOUS BREW has done most of his work coming down the hill at Santa Anita, and has never run on the dirt there.  In fact, he has only run on dirt anywhere twice.  But, those two dirt tries at Los Al were a win and a second in Cal-bred stakes company going a mile.  And, in his only try going seven furlongs, he was beaten just half a length in a Cal-bred stakes over the old Del Mar polytrack.  AMBITIOUS BREW should be able to handle the distance, his career-best Brisnet speed figure came on dirt, and trainer Martin Jones fires at a respectable 21% in graded stakes.  He merits a shot.

Race 9: The Gold Cup at Santa Anita (GI), three-year-olds and up, one and one quarter miles on the dirt, post time 5:30 pm PDT

From 1938 through 2013, this race was known as the Hollywood Gold Cup; its name changed when Hollywood Park was closed, and the race moved to Santa Anita.  Its winners over the years have been a who’s who of horse racing royalty.  The very first running went to Seabiscuit (1938).  Two Triple Crown winners won this race later in their careers: Citation (1951) and Affirmed (1979).  The mighty Cigar’s win streak stretched through the 1995 Hollywood Gold Cup.  A pair of superstar California-breds have won this race three times each: Native Diver (1965-1967) and Lava Man (2005-2007).  Game On Dude (2012-2013) is the only other multiple-time winner of this race, though HARD ACES will attempt to join that exclusive club this Saturday.


2015 Hall of Fame inductee Lava Man romps in the 2005 Hollywood Gold Cup, the first of his three wins in the race.

The Gold Cup offers a $500,000 purse, and the winner also receives a Win and You’re In berth to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  Last year it was HARD ACES who gained those spoils, and he tries again here.  However, without a lot of speed likely in front of him, he may be up against it.

One horse who looks to be in the perfect spot is MELATONIN.  This race drew little in the way of front-end speed: LIEUTENANT COLONEL needs it, and MELATONIN can either show it or just sit a bit back.  He is a perfect three-for-three over the Santa Anita dirt, and won the Santa Anita Handicap (GI) at this Classic distance earlier this year.  He has had a two-month break since his second-place finish in the Oaklawn Handicap (GII), but has some strong and long works in that time, and has typically fired very well fresh.  Whether MELATONIN gets to wire this race or is left getting first run on LIEUTENANT COLONEL, he is squarely the one to beat in the Gold Cup.

SECOND SUMMER has emerged a new horse this year at four.  The Summer Bird gelding was running mainly on turf before, but all four starts this year have come on dirt.  He has blossomed.  All four of his races this year have been quality outings: he finished second behind frontrunning LIEUTENANT COLONEL in a February allowance, and then won his next three starts.  That included a victory in the Californian (GII) last out, in which he ran down LIEUTENANT COLONEL and held safe from HARD ACES.  SECOND SUMMER can rally from a few lengths off a relatively slow pace, a plus here.  He has never tried a mile and a quarter, but being by Summer Bird out of a Street Cry mare, it is worth a try given his current form.

The third slot was a tough call between proven dirt horse HOPPERTUNITY and first-time grass horse BAL A BALI.  Flavien Prat made it difficult.  He has been the regular rider of both, even shipping to Dubai to ride HOPPERTUNITY.  Yet, today, he turns up on BAL A BALI.  There is an argument to be made for BAL A BALI between the solid works, the presence of Prat, and the fact that he has some wins at even longer than a mile and a quarter.  But, this still has an air of “he’s not quite getting there on turf, so let’s just try this”.  Whereas, HOPPERTUNITY is as dependable a handicap-division horse as you’re going to see, particularly at Santa Anita.  He does not always win, but he just about always gets a share, no matter what is going on in front of him.  Over the Santa Anita dirt course, HOPPERTUNITY has three wins and six more money finishes in ten starts.  Though he has not raced since finishing third in the Dubai World Cup in March, he has fired well fresh, and has some long and solid works leading into the race.  And, it isn’t as if he got a joker in the irons: big-race ace Mike Smith gets the leg up.  Advantage, HOPPERTUNITY.

Selections:

#7 MELATONIN (7/2)

#2 SECOND SUMMER (4/1)

#6 HOPPERTUNITY (3/1)

Longshot:  Some trainers, they put a head-scratcher in a Grade I, and you can comfortably shrug and move on.  But when others do so, particularly ones with a reputation for cautious placement, you have to take notice.  Jerry Hollendorfer fits squarely in the latter category, so #4 LIEUTENANT COLONEL (8/1) demands respect despite failing as the odds-on favourite in the Californian (GII) last month.  The pace scenario may end up suiting this one: though MELATONIN has speed, he also has some solid lines coming from just a bit off.  That could leave determined front-end type LIEUTENANT COLONEL on a comfortable lead without a zippy longshot like El Huertano to wear him down this time.  With some solid works since that start, and new rider Martin Garcia firing at 21% with The Dorf over the last two months, LIEUTENANT COLONEL may prove the bane of anyone yearning to dust off the same tired puns everyone used after the Big Cap.

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