With most of the big-name older horses having been retired this year, horses of all ages and from every locale seemingly are eyeing the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). Twelve of those will be hoping to earn their way into America’s richest race with a big effort in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) Sept. 27.
The Gold Cup will be the headliner on the Belmont Park Super Saturday card, which features five grade I stakes and one grade II. The race, the 10th on the cardwith a 5:50 p.m. ET post, carries an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic for the winner.
This is one of those rare runnings of the Gold Cup when 3-year-olds appear to be the dominant force against the leading older horses that remain in training after several recent retirements. While Shared Belief and California Chrome are still the two biggest name sophomores in America, grade I winners Wicked Strong (Wood Memorial), Tonalist (Belmont Stakes), and V. E. Day (Travers Stakes) bring strong credentials into the 1 1/4-mile race.
Of the remaining older horses, Last Gunfighter is a multiple graded stakes winner who has been off form since July; Prayer For Relief is a hard-knocker who always seems to pick up a piece of it in big races; Big Cazanova is shipping in from California, where he’s coming off a pair of huge efforts in allowance company over the Del Mar Polytrack surface; Micromanage has excelled recently in races over 1 1/2 miles and farther; and the regally bred Stephanoatsee ran a big race in the Woodward to be beaten 3 1/2 lengths despite a troubled trip.
It seems as if post positions have played a major role in recent stakes and the Gold Cup is no different. The two horses with early lick—Moreno and Big Cazanova—drew posts 11 and 12, respectively. And because of the off placement of the starting gate on the turn in 1 1/4-mile races at Belmont, both horses will have to be extremely sharp coming out of the gate or get left hung out to dry going into the long run down the backstretch.
Moreno, trained by Eric Guillot, also drew post 11 in the 10-furlong Suburban and had to be rushed up to the lead after breaking a step slowly. He had little to offer in the final furlong when Zivo came rolling by him on the inside.
As for the 3-year-olds, Wicked Strong, coming off a gutsy nose defeat in the Travers Stakes, drew post 3 under Rajiv Maragh; Tonalist will break from post 8 under Joel Rosario and will race without blinkers after a second to Wicked Strong in the Jim Dandy (gr. II) and third in the Travers; and V.E. Day, from the same Jimmy Jerkens barn as Wicked Strong, drew post 10 with Javier Castellano aboard.
Wicked Strong has been sharper and more professional since blinkers were added, and many feel he was too close to the pace in the Travers, chasing Bayern and Tonalist. He then wound up on the lead earlier than usual and just failed to hold off his stablemate, who nailed him right on the wire.
Tonalist just got up to win the Belmont Stakes in the final stride, but wasn’t able to quicken in his next two starts and ran evenly down the stretch in both races. Trainer Christophe Clement obviously feels the son of Tapit will fare better without the blinkers he as worn since his maiden victory.
V. E. Day has catapulted onto the 3-year-old scene in a hurry after racing mostly on the grass. He saw his first fast dirt track in the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga and won in a three-horse photo. The son of English Channel then took a huge leap forward by coming from far back to win the Travers at odds of 19-1.
One of the more intriguing horses is the New York-bred Zivo, who had competed mostly in state-bred races for trainer Chad Brown, winning five in a row before venturing into open company in the Suburban. At odds of 13-1, he extended his winning streak to six by blowing away a top-class field by three lengths with his patented powerful stretch run, covering the 1 1/4 miles in a sharp 2:00.43.
Prayer For Relief hasn’t won since taking the Tenacious Handicap at Fair Grounds in December. But even though he has lost eight straight, he showed a lot of life in finishing third in the Suburban, fourth in the Whitney, and third in the Woodward. In the Woodward, he finished strongly right behind Itsmyluckyday and Moreno, which makes him competitive in here.
Last Gunfighter has been an enigma. The son of First Samurai , also trained by Chad Brown, was good enough to win the Pimlico Special (gr. III), Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II), and Mountainview Handicap, and ran a bang-up fifth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, beaten only 4 3/4 lengths. But his last three races have been uninspiring to say the least. He and Zivo are coming off a sharp work in company, and who knows when or if he decides to wake up and revert to his form of last year.
Another interesting horse is Mike Repole’s Micromanage, whose most impressive score came two races back at 1 3/4 miles in the Birdstone Stakes. He’s also won big going 1 3/16 miles in the Skip Away Stakes (gr. III), and was second, beaten a neck in the 1 1/2-mile Brooklyn (gr. II). Luis Saez gets the mount and they will break from the rail.
Nick Zito is hoping Stephanoatsee’s performance in the Woodward is an indication that the son of A.P. Indy finally is ready to live up to his promise after a string of disappointing efforts with other trainers.
Belmont Park, Saturday, September 27, 2014, Race 10
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Micromanage (KY) Luis Saez 126 Todd A. Pletcher - 2 2Last Gunfighter (KY) Joe Bravo 126 Chad C. Brown - 3 3Wicked Strong (KY) Rajiv Maragh 122 James A. Jerkens - 4 4Zivo (NY) Jose Lezcano 126 Chad C. Brown - 5 5Prayer for Relief (KY) John R. Velazquez 126 Dale L. Romans - 6 6Long River (KY) Cornelio H. Velasquez 126 Kiaran P. McLaughlin - 7 7Speak Logistics (FL) Paco Lopez 126 Gary C. Contessa - 8 8Tonalist (KY) Joel Rosario 122 Christophe Clement - 9 9Stephanoatsee (KY) Jose L. Ortiz 126 Nicholas P. Zito - 10 10V. E. Day (KY) Javier Castellano 122 James A. Jerkens - 11 11Moreno (KY) Junior Alvarado 126 Eric J. Guillot - 12 12Big Cazanova (ARG) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 126 Peter Miller -
Belmont Park, Saturday, September 27, 2014, Race 10