Saturday's $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup, as expected, shapes up as a head-to-head showdown between Bobby Frankel and Nick Zito. Frankel and Zito train four of the seven starters entered for the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup, including the three standouts – Albert the Great and A P Valentine, from Zito's barn, and Aptitude, from Frankel's barn. Frankel's other starter, Sumitas, was scratched from last week's Meadowlands Cup to make sure Albert the Great does not have an easy time on the lead.
The other three entries are Scorpion, winner of the Jim Dandy Stakes; Generous Rosi, a former English-trained horse who has found a new life on the dirt at age 6; and Country Be Gold, a well-beaten fourth in the Woodward Stakes.
Albert the Great, with his record of six victories in eight starts at Belmont, is expected to go off as the solid favorite, followed by Aptitude, who finished second in last year's Belmont Stakes. A P Valentine also has shown his liking for Belmont, winning the Champagne Stakes last year and finishing second in this year's Belmont Stakes. The Belmont oddsmaker has installed Albert the Great as the even-money choice, followed by Aptitude at 8-5 and A P Valentine at 8-1.
With a forecast of showers beginning late Friday and continuing into Saturday, there is a good possibility of an off track. There are many degrees of slop and mud at Belmont, so until it can be determined what type of track we'll have for the Gold Cup, it's impossible to predict who would benefit the most from it. In 1998 and '99, sloppy tracks for the Gold Cup took their toll on top horses such as Skip Away, Gentlemen, Lemon Drop Kid, and Behrens, and paved the way for longshot Wagon Limit to win by daylight in '98.
If the track is wet and deep on Saturday, it levels the playing field a great deal, and moves up a die-hard stayer like Sumitas, who won four straight over soft going in Germany early in his career, and if you can handle soft going in Germany, you can handle anything. Remember, this horse has finished ahead of Silvano, was right behind Timboroa, and finished second to Dubai Millennium. The horse he beat in the Caesar Rodney, Runspastum, is no slouch. Also, look for Generous Rosi to move up. He is a group III winner over the soft going at Sandown, a very testing course. He also was second to Chester House in a group III there, and has turned in some strong numbers in his dirt races. Both these horses are hard-knocking stayers, and if either one is in front turning for home, they're going to be extremely tough to catch.
A P Valentine drew the rail, with John Velazquaez aboard, with Aptitude and Jerry Bailey right next to him in post 2. Albert the Great, under new rider Gary Stevens, will break from post 6, outside the only two horses who could challenge him for the lead – Sumitas and Generous Rosi. The latter captured the grade III Turfway Park Fall Championship Stakes wire-to-wire in his last start on Sept. 8. The German import, Sumitas, pressed the pace in his only career dirt race, a victory in the Caesar Rodney Handicap at Delaware Park on July 8.
Last year, Albert the Great won the Gold Cup wire-to-wire by 6 lengths, and his time of 1:59.24 was the fastest mile and a quarter ever run by a 3-year-old in New York. It seems unlikely that either of the two longshots could outrun Albert the Great if Stevens is intent on getting the lead. But by breaking outside of them, Stevens has the luxury of tracking the pace, knowing he could take the lead at any time. With Aptitude a confirmed stretch runner, pace will be critical to him, which is why Edgar Prado, on Sumitas, is likely to keep his sights set on Albert the Great for as long as he can.
The forgotten horse is A P Valentine, who did finish a fast-closing second to Point Given in the Preakness, as well as his runner-up performance in the Belmont. The son of A.P. Indy could have the best trip, sitting in the second flight and eyeing all the activity up front. If he simply disliked the Saratoga surface, over which he was fourth in the Travers and Jim Dandy, a return to Belmont could make him a threat.
The big question mark is Scorpion, who scored a surprising victory in the Jim Dandy Stakes before finishing up the track in both the Travers and Jerome Handicap. The son of Seattle Slew is bred for an off track, but, until he proves the Jim Dandy wasn't a fluke, it's anyone's guess what he's going to do.