Whitney Invitational (gr. I) winner Fort Larned, runner-up Ron the Greek, and third-place finisher Flat Out are expected to headline the $1 million TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational (gr. I), the centerpiece of "Super Saturday" Sept. 29 at Belmont Park.
The packed card at Belmont features four additional grade I races—the $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, $400,000 Beldame Invitational, and the $400,000 Vosburgh Invitational—along with the Kelso Handicap (gr. II). Each is a "Win and You're In" event for the Nov. 2-3 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park.
Fort Larned, trained by Ian Wilkes for owner Janis Whitham, earned a career-high 110 Beyer speed figure in the Aug. 4 Whitney, the best this summer at Saratoga Race Course for all races beyond a mile and tied for fifth nationally this year. The E Dubai colt, who won the Whitney by 1 1/4 lengths, is going for his third straight graded stakes score.
Looking to turn the tables on Fort Larned in the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup will be Whitney runner-up and beaten favorite Ron the Greek and his stablemate, Flat Out, who finished third. Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Ron the Greek has been first or second in all five 2012 starts, including grade I victories in the Santa Anita Handicap and Stephen Foster Handicap,. Flat Out seeks his first victory since a 2 1/2-length score in last year's Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, a three-time Gold Cup winner, will be represented by Stuart S. Janney, III's Hymn Book. The 6-year-old Arch gelding won the grade I Donn Handicap in February at Gulfstream Park and most recently was fourth in the Whitney.
Three-year-olds have taken 38 of the 93 previous runnings of the Gold Cup, the most recent of which was 2009 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and Travers (gr. I) winner Summer Bird. Looking to continue that success will be Fast Falcon, whom Hall of Famer Nick Zito saddled to finish a close-up third to the dead-heated duo of Golden Ticket and Alpha in the Travers this year, and the Ken McPeek-trained Atigun, who was fourth in the "Mid-Summer Derby."
The Gold Cup is one of the few races on the NYRA circuit to have eluded trainer Todd Pletcher, who will saddle the improving San Pablo, the Philip Iselin (gr. III) winner who hit the board in 11 of his 12 career starts. Under consideration from Pletcher's barn as well is Repole Stable's 2011 Travers winner Stay Thirsty, most recently fifth behind winner To Honor and Serve in the Woodward (gr. I) at Saratoga Sept. 1.
Ruler On Ice, the 2011 Belmont Stakes winner, is also questionable for the Gold Cup.