Robert S. Evans' Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Tonalist returned to winning ways Sept. 27 at the site of his greatest triumph, defeating older horses in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) at Belmont Park by a widening 1 3/4 lengths (VIDEO).
It was the first victory for the 3-year-old son of Tapit since his June 7 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) win for trainer Christophe Clement. He came off a third behind V. E. Day and Wicked Strong in the Aug. 23 Travers Stakes (gr. I) after finishing second in the July 26 Jim Dandy (gr. II) to Wicked Strong.
Tonalist was sent off as the lukewarm 3-1 favorite over Wicked Strong.
Wicked Strong caused some moments of concern in the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup when he clipped heels and dropped jockey Rajiv Maragh. After an inquiry, stewards ruled that Whitney Handicap (gr. I) winner Moreno caused the spill by coming over to the inside and cutting off Wicked Strong's path; Moreno was disqualified from his fourth-place finish and placed last in the field of 11.
Maragh was taken to North Shore Hospital complaining of pain in his right arm; Wicked Strong ran on riderless in the center of the track, well clear of the other horses, and was eventually apprehended by an outrider.
California shipper Big Cazanova put Moreno off his front-running game when he struck out for the early lead in the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup. Clicking through fractions of :23.60 and :47.42, the 24-1 shot opened up by about two lengths with Moreno in close pursuit. Tonalist, racing without blinkers for the first time since his second start, was unhurried by jockey Joel Rosario and galloped along near the back of the pack.
"I probably should have removed the blinkers before the Travers," Clement remarked. "He obviously was a bit too aggressive in the Travers. He doesn't need the blinkers anymore. I should have realized before that he was more mature."
The Belmont winner managed to avoid the fallen rider when the incident occurred with Wicked Strong on the turn, and closed willingly after three-quarters went in 1:11.36, setting his sights on those in front turning for home.
"I thought I would be laying third or fourth, but he didn't break that quick," Rosario said. "He didn't get out very quick, but I just let him run on his own. When I passed the half-mile, and (Maragh) fell in front of me, it scared me a little bit and I was just trying to get out of the way. After that I tried to save ground. I was hoping to go through on the inside, but [the opening] closed up and I had to go around.
"He relaxed very nicely. I was probably a little far back but I wasn't worried about it; I didn't want to make him do something he didn't want to do. I could see turning for home they were coming back to me and he found a way through. I'm happy we got the money. He's a one-paced horse, and when he starts going, he goes forever. I was really happy with the trip."
Long River had taken the lead from Moreno through a 1:37.11 mile, but Tonalist was closing to his outside and passed him en route to a 1 3/4-length victory in 2:02.12. Suburban Handicap (gr. II) winner Zivo got the runner-up spot after recovering from a hard check; jockey Jose Lezcano was forced to steady to miss Maragh after the rider fell. Long River held for third.
"I can't believe I ran second," Lezcano remarked. "I had to completely stop at the three-eighths pole, and he still came back and finished second. It was a very good effort for him."
The victory provided Tonalist with an automatic berth in the Nov. 1 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park, along with a travel stipend and paid entry fees. Clement said a Classic bid is likely for the colt, and trainer Chad Brown said the same for Zivo.
"I thought my horse was eliminated at that point (when Maragh fell), and then when he comes with a second run after really just taking up down the backside, I was just really glued to my horse to see if he could get through," Brown remarked. "I'd love to take him out to the Classic. I think he fits. I have to speak to the owner, Tom Coleman, about it, but I didn't see anything that would deter him from going there.
"I feel like we have one of the better older handicap horses going a mile-and-a quarter on the dirt in the country. With that said, he deserves a shot in the Breeders' Cup Classic in my opinion. As long as he is healthy and doing well and Mr. Coleman wants to go, I'd prepare the horse to do so. I thought he ran terrific."
The winner returned $8.10, $4.30, and $3.40 while Zivo paid $5.10 and $3.80 with Long River bringing $17.40. Stephanoatsee , elevated to fourth following the disqualification of Moreno, was next, followed by V. E. Day , Last Gunfighter , Big Cazanova, Speak Logistics, and Moreno. Micromanage was eased. Prayer for Relief was a late scratch after the veteran campaigner got loose in the paddock.
Tonalist is now 3-for-3 at Belmont, having won the May 10 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) there following his Jan. 18 maiden victory at Gulfstream Park.
Tonalist was bred by Rene and Lauren Woolcott, whose 240-acre Woodslane Farm is located near The Plains, Va. Originally into steeplechasing, they got involved with flat racing in 2006 and purchased Settling Mist at the 2007 Keeneland November sale through agent Patrick Lawley-Wakelin.
After breeding Settling Mist to several stallions with slants toward stamina they wanted to "inject a little speed into her," according to Lauren Woolcott. Unable to get to Speightstown in 2010, they went instead with Tapit.
Tonalist was offered for sale at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale in 2011 through the consignment Sweezey and Partners, agent, where he was an RNA. Evans purchased him later back at the barn.