Eastern invaders Go Between and grade I hero Student Council could have a big say about the outcome, as could a trio of top older geldings: Perfect Drift, 9; California-bred McCann’s Mojave, 8; and recent grade II winner Big Booster, a 7-year-old.
Heatseeker, the 123-pound high weight and 7-5 morning-line favorite in the Gold Cup, will spot Tiago two pounds and his other rivals as much as 10 pounds while breaking from post 3 for jockey Rafael Bejarano. Trained by Jerry Hollenforfer, Heatseeker won the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 1 and is coming off a cruising 5 1/4-length triumph over Tiago on Hollywood's Cushion Track in the Californian (gr. II) May 31. The 5-year-old Giant's Causeway horse has won seven of 17 starts with earnings of $1,180,223.
“He seems to be doing very well,” said Jerry Hollendorfer, just one of four trainers to saddle 5,000 winners. “He’s been training very well for quite a while now and he’s been a very consistent horse for me. I hope he’s coming up to this race in as good a form as I think he is.
“Bejarano is very pleased with the way he’s been breezing and he’s been on him every single time,” Hollendorfer added. “We’re happy with the way our horse is holding his form and holding his weight.”
Tiago, the half-brother of 2005 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Giacomo, won the 2007 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), Swaps Stakes (gr. II) and Goodwood (gr. I) before tangling with Heatseeker this year. Prior to the Californian, the 4-year-old Pleasant Tap colt finished fourth in the Big ’Cap and upset his rival by a head in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II).
“Unless Heatseeker is carrying an anchor, I don’t know how we’re going to catch him,” said John Shirreffs, trainer of Tiago recently. Tiago lines up just to the outside of Heatseeker and will be ridden by Mike Smith.
The remainder of the Gold Cup field lines up as one of the strongest in years. The race will be televised on ESPN with a 4:43 p.m. (PDT) post time.
Go Between, a grade II winner on grass, finished second in the Big ’Cap, beaten less than one length, while carrying two pounds more than Heatseeker. He won the Sunshine Millions Classic in January on the synthetic track at Santa Anita Park. He is trained by Bill Mott, who saddled two-time Horse of the Year Cigar to win the 1995 Gold Cup (gr. I) en route to matching Citation’s 16-race winning streak. Go Between, a 5-year-old son of Point Given , enters the Gold Cup with seven wins in 24 starts for earnings of $2,033,880.
Student Council, from the powerful Steve Asmussen stable, won the Pacific Classic (gr. I) when saddled by Vladimir Cerin in 2007, and captured the Pimlico Special (gr. I) in his most recent start. The 6-year-old son of Kingmambo has made $1,307,731 with eight wins in 27 starts.
Perfect Drift is the eldest of the group, and the richest. He has made $4,699,321 with 11 wins in 47 starts, but has not won since capturing the 2005 Washington Park Handicap (gr. II) at Arlington Park. The third-place finisher under Eddie Delahoussaye in the 2002 Kentucky Derby, he also won the 2003 Stephen Foster Handicap, his only grade I win in 20 tries.
Perfect Drift makes his second start for trainer Richard Mandella following a ten-month layoff. He finished fourth in the Shoemaker Mile (gr. IT) on the grass on Memorial Day.
“I was looking for a prep for the Gold Cup, if he ran well enough," said Mandella, who won the Gold Cup twice. "I knew he used turf for comebacks throughout his career. I thought if he ran well at all, I’d consider the Gold Cup.
“I’ve only gotten him beat once," Mandella added. "I know he’s got the capability of winning a grade I race. In the Shoemaker Mile, this horse was very competitive. Considering he hadn’t run in a long time and it was not his preferred surface, I decided what the hell, let’s do it. But Heatseeker is going to take some beating.
“He looks like a much younger horse," Mandella noted. "He’s all dappled out and shiny. I couldn’t ask him to look any better. He’s really full of vim and vigor, to put it politely.”
McCann’s Mojave, attempting to become the 14th California bred to win the Gold Cup, has made $1,468,565 with 12 wins in 34 starts. Most successful sprinting early in his career, the son of Memo scored his biggest win at nine furlongs in the 2007 Sunshine Millions Classic at age 7. He comes off a win in the 1 1/16-mile Berkeley Handicap (gr. III) May 26 at Golden Gate Fields.
Big Booster, claimed for $62,500 last winter by trainer Mike Mitchell at Gulfstream Park ran third in last year's Gold Cup when he was beaten less than one-length by three-time winner Lava Man. Best the longer he goes, he enters the Gold Cup with successive wins in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT) on turf and the marathon Gallant Man over Hollywood's main track. Overall, the 7-year-old has won 10 of 44 starts for earnings of $701,373.
Trainer Bobby Frankel will be represented by the outsider Mast Track, fifth in the Shoemaker Mile. The 4-year-old Mizzen Mast colt won an allowance race on Santa Anita’s synthetic track one start prior to that.
Racketeer was in Frankel’s New York division before being purchased by trainer Barry Abrams and partners earlier this month. The 5-year-old son of Awesome Again ran second over the track last fall to Heatseeker in the Native Diver Handicap (gr. III).
Spice Route, a 4-year-old import from Great Britain, makes his U.S. bow for trainer Paddy Gallgher.
$750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I, Race 10, 4:30 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey, ML Odds
1. Mast Track (KY), 113, Tyler Baze, 20/1
2. Perfect Drift (KY), 115, Victor Espinoza, 15/1
3. Heatseeker (IRE), 123, Rafael Bejarano, 7/5
4. Tiago (KY), 121, Mike E. Smith, 9/2
5. Racketeer (KY), 113, Joel Rosario, 15/1
6. Student Council (KY), 117, Shaun Bridgmohan, 6/1
7. Go Between (FL), 118, Garrett K. Gomez, 7/2
8. McCann's Mojave (CA), 115, Frank T. Alvarado, 20/1
9. Big Booster (KY), 116, Corey S. Nakatani, 15/1
10. Spice Route (GB), 113, Alex O. Solis, 20/1