by Karen M. Johnson
In a race reminiscent of Rags to Riches beating Curlin by a head in this year’s Belmont Stakes, the Sept. 30 Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational (gr. I) (VIDEO) at Belmont Park featured Curlin catching favored Lawyer Ron in the final yards for a neck win.
The exciting Gold Cup finish is a prelude of things to come when Curlin and Lawyer Ron meet again in four weeks in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge at Monmouth Park Oct. 27.
The $750,000 Gold Cup came down to a two-horse race during the stretch run. Political Force finished third in the 1 1/4-mile dirt race, four lengths behind Lawyer Ron. Bringing up the rear was Sun King, Brother Bobby, Indy Wind and Malibu Moonshine.
Brother Bobby set the pace for three-quarters of a mile, while being pressed on the outside by the 3-5 favorite, Lawyer Ron. The early fractions were 24.26 seconds, 47.88 and 1:11.66. After a mile run in 1:36.30, Lawyer Ron, ridden by John Velazquez, held a narrow advantage. Curlin, with Robby Albarado aboard, raced comfortably in fourth for six furlongs and initiated a three-wide move around the far turn.
Preakness winner Curlin, who was meeting older horses for the first time, needed every inch of the stretch to reel in Lawyer Ron.
The final time was 2:01.20 over a fast track. The winner, a son of Smart Strike, returned $6.20 as the second choice.
Steve Asmussen, Curlin’s trainer, said, “Hopefully, it didn’t take too terribly much out of him and he’ll be sharp for the Classic.”
The Gold Cup’s “Win and You’re In” designation earned Curlin a berth to the Classic. Curlin is owned by Stonestreet Stables, Padua Stables, George Bolton and Midnight Cry Stable.
Asmussen carefully mapped out his fall plans for Curlin after the colt was third in the Haskell at Monmouth on Aug. 5. Asmussen had no interest in running Curlin, who had competed in each of the Triple Crown races, in the Travers at Saratoga. His goal was to have a fresh horse heading into the Breeders’ Cup, with one prep under his belt.
“I think he is an outstanding horse, and he proved so once again today,” Asmussen said. “The third in the Haskell and the third in the Kentucky Derby were against horses whose form had held up. We’ll all meet in a month’s time, probably to decide a lot of honors.”
Curlin will leave New York Oct. 1 for Kentucky, where he will train over Keeneland’s Polytrack for the Classic.
Todd Pletcher, Lawyer Ron’s trainer, was happy with the effort and liked the strong way that the colt galloped out after the race, in front of Curlin. Pletcher also commented that he learned something from the race.
“He is a free-running horse; probably better off letting him go and do what he wants to do,” Pletcher said.
Lawyer Ron, a 4-year-old, entered the Gold Cup off sensational-looking wins in the Woodward and Whitney at Saratoga.