Bill Farish's Pool Play proved the most long-winded of the six runners in a pokey renewal of the Grade 2, $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup on Saturday. Despite trailing by as much as 9 1/4 lengths while chasing a slow pace, the veteran turned in an effective stretch kick and grinded his way to a half-length win over Cease.
The final time for 1 1/4 miles was 2:06 1/5, the slowest running of the Gold Cup since Moss Vale captured the 1965 edition in a time of 2:07 4/5.
Alternation, the 4-5 favorite, was expected to enjoy an uncontested lead from the rail following the scratch of Nates Mineshaft, but Eldaafer disputed the pace with the odds-on choice for the opening six furlongs. Alternation only held a head advantage over that rival through splits of :24 3/5, :49 2/5 and 1:13 4/5, and by the time the pair reached the quarter pole it was apparent Alternation would have little left for the stretch.
Although Eldaafer held tough through the lane after posting a mile in :1:40 1/5, it was the closers Cease and Pool Play who had more to give in the final furlong. Less than a length separated the pair passing the eighth pole, with Eldaafer on the inside, Cease in between and Pool Play on the outside. Pool Play held a narrow advantage after nine furlongs and he maintained that all the way to the wire under Miguel Mena.
Dismissed at 16-1, Pool Play paid $34, $8 and $8. Cease finished second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Eldaafer, with Mister Marti Gras, who's inside rallied faltered in the stretch, 1 1/4 lengths farther back in fourth. The three-year-old Fly Lexis Fly finished fifth while Alternation rounded out the order of finish.
Pool Play has won at least one stakes each of the past four calendar years. He notched his first black-type score in the Grade 3 Durham Cup at Woodbine in 2009, and captured the same track's Valedictory in 2010. In 2011, the Mark Casse trainee pulled off a 36-1 upset in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs for his only win of the season. Unfortunately, Pool Play went to the sidelines soon after with an unspecified injury and was out of action more than a year.
Pool Play has placed in four other graded events, including the Grade 2 Elkhorn, Grade 2 Autumn and Grade 3 Dominion Day. He returned from his year-long layoff on July 2, finishing fourth in the Ontario Jockey Club at Woodbine, and preceded this win with another fourth in the Grade 3 Seagram Cup and a third in the Grade 3 Washington Park Handicap. His record now stands at 32-7-6-6, $1,240,615.
Bred in Ontario by Windfields Farm, Pool Play was produced by the Cox's Ridge mare Zuri Ridge, making him a half-brother to the stakes-placed Swift Wings. Zuri Ridge is herself a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 queen Voodoo Dancer.
Pool Play's fifth dam was Leallah, the co-champion juvenile filly of 1956.