Attempting the rare distance of two miles on turf for the first time, Charming Kitten overcame 10 rivals to win the inaugural $200,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational by one length at Belmont Park (VIDEO) June 6.
Running over a Widener turf course rated good, Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred Charming Kitten was timed in 3:21.52 with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez aboard. The course mark for the distance of 3:20 2/5 was established by King's General on July 4, 1983.
Todd Pletcher trains the winning 4-year-old son of Kitten's Joy who was coming off a fourth-place finish in the Longines Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT) at nine furlongs on Preakness Stakes (gr. I) day at Pimlico Race Course May 17. Charming Kitten raced without blinkers while posting the second stakes win of his career.
The Ramseys bred the winner in Kentucky out of the Wild Again mare Iteration.
Said Ken Ramsey: "I've got the sire, and a rising tide raises all ships, you know? So that makes all the rest of them worth something, and it increases the distance factor—I mean, two miles, that's good advertising."
Ramsey and Pletcher weren't sure what would be next for Charming Kitten.
"Where do you go from a two-mile race," asked a pleased Pletcher. "I guess you try to stay stretched out and look at mile-and-a-half type races. We'll put all of those in play. Kind of cool winning a two-mile race."
The dark bay or brown colt raced mid-pack from between horses in the field of 11 for much of the journey, before angling out rounding the final turn under urging from Velazquez. He reached the top of the lane four paths wide and took aim at the leaders, overtaking Irish Mission and Reflecting in deep stretch to score as the 5-1 third choice.
Comes the Dream set a predictably deliberate pace in the true marathon event while tracked by Twilight Eclipse and Mambo Man, getting a half mile in :52.57, a mile in in 1:43.84, and 10 furlongs in 2:09.28. Mambo Man, challenging on the outside, got the advantage briefly.
Twilight Eclipse took over heading into the drive with the stalking filly Irish Mission, benefiting from a ground-saving trip before angling off the inside for Irad Ortiz Jr., challenged and took a narrow lead in the final furlong. But Charming Kitten had all the momentum while pushing past on the far outside in deep stretch, drawing away in the final few jumps.
"He was going well the whole way around and when we got to the half-mile pole, I tried to move him a little bit and put him in the clear," Velazquez said. "He was tugging me so long that when I went to ride him, it took him an eighth of a mile to get back into the race. Finally, when we got down the lane he started running again, so it worked out good."
Irish Mission nosed out the quickly closing Reflecting for second, with second choice Twilight Eclipse (3-1) weakening to fourth, another 3 1/4 lengths farther back. Then came Sky Blazer, Spy in the Sky, Auld Alliance (IRE), Eagle Poise, Draw Two, Comes the Dream, and Mambo Man.
"She ran well," said trainer Christophe Clement of Irish Mission, then joked, "She needs a little bit farther."
Draw Two, the slight 3-1 favorite over Twilight Eclipse, came up empty in the stretch after a stalking trip.
Winner of an allowance/optional claiming race on the Keeneland Polytrack as the favorite April 24 previous to the Dixie, Charming Kitten improved his career line to 5-5-2 in 19 lifetime starts with earnings of $706,250.
Besides the Dixie, the well-traveled Charming Kitten placed in the Hawthorne Derby (gr. IIT), Virginia Derby (gr. IIT), Penn Mile Stakes, and Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) last year. He also competed in the 2013 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), finishing ninth following a third-place effort in Keeneland's Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I),
Charming Kitten paid $13, $6.80, and $5.20, topping a $131.50 exacta with Irish Mission, who returned $10.80 and $7. Twilight Eclipse paid $12.80.
Wings of Fortune scratched.