by Karen M. Johnson
The $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational (gr.I) at Belmont Park Sept. 30 should answer two key questions.
Can Lawyer Ron, the top older horse in training, continue a string of impressive performances in his final prep for the $5-million Breeders’ Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I) at Monmouth Park Oct. 27?
After eight weeks away from the races, will Curlin show the same form he did in the spring when hitting the board in each of the Triple Crown races, including a victory over Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Street Sense in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I)?
Curlin and Lawyer Ron, along with five others, meet in the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, a “Win and You’re In” designated race for the Classic.
Lawyer Ron, a 4-year-old, will be the favorite based on his eye-catching wins in the Whitney (gr. I) and Woodward (gr. I) at Saratoga. In his lone start at Belmont, Lawyer Ron was third earlier this year in the Metropolitan Mile (gr. I), clearly a race that didn’t suit his need for a distance of ground.
Todd Pletcher, Lawyer Ron’s trainer, said the colt approaches his training “energetically and with enthusiasm.” Because he is a good-feeling horse, Pletcher doesn’t like to give him too much time between races lest Lawyer Ron be too fresh when he runs.
“That is the single biggest reason he is running (in the Jockey Club Gold Cup),” Pletcher said Sept. 28.
On paper, at least, the Gold Cup doesn’t feature any true front-runners. Could Lawyer Ron, who has shown tactical speed, be on the lead?
“I think it depends on how it shakes out. But the race might not have a lot of early speed and we could even be on the lead, and that won’t be a huge issue for us,” Pletcher said.
John Velazquez rides Ron Lawyer from post 6.
Curlin’s trainer, Steve Asmussen, has carefully managed the 3-year-old’s campaign, with an eye on the Breeders’ Cup Classic. After running in each of the Triple Crown races --finishing third in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and second in the Belmont (gr. I), bookend efforts to his Preakness win -- Curlin finished third in the Aug. 5 Haskell Invitational (gr. I). As the Haskell favorite, Curlin was beaten 4 1/2 lengths by winner Any Given Saturday.
Asmussen opted to pass the Travers (gr. I) with Curlin and to focus instead on the Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“Steve put a lot of thought into the schedule,” Asmussen’s main assistant, Scott Blasi, said Sept. 28. “The thought process was he had come so far in a short period of time, from breaking his maiden and to the Triple Crown. He was at his best for a long period of time. Right now, I think he is a better horse than before the Haskell.”
Robby Albarado rides Curlin, who drew directly inside Lawyer Ron.
Trainer Allen Jerkens, who knows a thing or two about posting upsets in major races, will run Political Force. Coming off a subpar performance in the Woodward while finishing fifth, Political Force returns to his favorite surface, where he won the Suburban (gr. I) earlier this year.
Bobby Brother is a consistent performer but was no match for Lawyer Ron when he finished second, beaten four lengths, in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) in April. There is nothing to suggest that Bobby Brother will finish any closer to Lawyer Ron in the Gold Cup.
Lawyer Ron handed Sun King a drubbing in the Woodward, beating him by 8 1/4 lengths. Indy Wind and Malibu Moonshine, restricted stakes winners this year, complete the field.