Robert S. Evans' Tonalist rated early and exploded late to win the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (gr. I) Oct. 3 at Belmont Park. Watch Video The 4-year-old Tapit colt won the Gold Cup last year as well.
Trained by Christophe Clement and ridden by John Velazquez, Tonalist won by 4 3/4 lengths over Wicked Strong , who took the lead at the head of the stretch but could not contain the winner. Effinex finished third.
Tonalist covered the 1 1/14 miles on a sloppy, sealed track in 2:02.16. He paid $4 to win as the heavy favorite.
The Gold Cup is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" event for the Oct. 31 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), to which Tonalist is being pointed. It was a major confidence-booster for Tonalist, who won the Westchester Stakes (gr. III) in May in his 2015 debut, but then had to settle for two seconds and a third in grade I and grade II company despite quality efforts.
"I'm delighted for Mr. Evans," Clement said. "Obviously, he believed in us all along. And mostly I'm delighted for the horse; I've never lost my faith in the horse. I never thought he was disappointing, he was a bit unlucky for the year, but the way he won today was very impressive.
"I was very happy with the way he was traveling. He always looked very comfortable. I thought that at any stage of the race, he could've taken them on. He's back to what I always believed. He's a top-class horse."
The early pace in the Gold Cup was set by Constitution and Wicked Strong, who took shots at each other through fractions of :24.35 for the opening quarter-mile, :48.17 for the half-mile, and 1:12.48 for six furlongs. Wicked Strong, who had inside position from the rail, gave it up and moved to the outside on the backstretch and far turn, and at head of the lane it appeared he might be hard to collar.
Wicked Strong clocked one mile in 1:36.90 as Tonalist, who rated fourth early and took the rail route, rallied on the inside and quickly took over. Velazquez wrapped up on the 2014 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner nearing the finish.
"I think (in the Suburban Handicap, in which Tonalist was second to Effinex) I let him do what he wanted to do instead of taking hold of him, and he got caught," Velazquez said. "Today he was in the bridle and I kept him behind horses. He was so much better today. Everything worked out perfect. He was so good and traveling so well throughout the race."
Jimmy Jerkens, who trains Wicked Strong and New York-bred Effinex, said the latter ran a strong race.
"From where the gate is, if you're (in post 1), even if you don''t want to be on the lead you should come out of there and make the horses run a little bit to cross over in front of you or else you're not taking advantage of the post," Jerkens said. "I was glad (jockey Joel Rosario) let the other horse go, and Wicked Strong looked like he liked being up close. It looked like he tried and kept on a bit better than he usually does."
The Gold Cup was the sixth victory in 14 starts for Tonalist, who ran his Belmont Park record to five wins and two seconds in seven starts for earnings of $3,097,000.