Handicapping Insights


OCTOBER 5, 2012

by Dick Powell

The Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup was run last Saturday at Belmont Park for the 94th time and this year's renewal created as many questions as it provided answers. As the final prep race for its 10 entrants, it looked like it might give some clarity to the upcoming Breeders' Cup Classic when the race was drawn. But, when wet weather hit the New York City area on the day before, it resulted in a track surface that some horses liked and some disliked.

Racing was cancelled on Friday when the advance forecast called for heavy rains throughout the day. In order to make sure that Saturday's races were conducted on a safe surface, the Belmont main track was sealed tight as could be so that the rain would not penetrate it. The plan worked and Saturday saw a main track that was listed as "Good."

The first three races run on the main track were won by horses that went gate to wire, but the apparent speed bias seemed to fade as the day went by. By the time the Gold Cup was run, it looked like a fair track.

The betting public had trouble separating the top four horses and Grade 1 Whitney winner Fort Larned was the tepid favorite at 2.85 to 1 with Ron The Greek close behind at 3.00 to 1, Flat Out at 3.65 to 1 and Hymn Book at 5.10 to 1.

At the start, Ramon Dominguez seized command of the pace when he sent Stay Thirsty to the front. The horse that almost won the 12-furlong Belmont Stakes here last year on a wet track was galloping along on the lead through a first half in 47.21 seconds and six furlongs in 1:11.96. On his outside was Ruler on Ice, who was pressing him as best as he could with San Pablo farther back.

Brian Hernandez was content to sit off the trio aboard Fort Larned and not use his speed to best advantage. Maybe he was worried about getting 10 furlongs, but he was ridden very conservatively and allowed Stay Thirsty to just keep going. As we saw in last year's Travers Stakes, Stay Thirsty is a small colt with big heart that does his best using his speed and stamina to keep going. He's not a horse that can be held up and then quicken, and Ramon Dominguez rode him brilliantly.

He put away all challenges and braced himself for the final one. It did not come from Ron The Greek but his stablemate, Flat Out. Stay Thirsty still had a clear advantage in the stretch, but Joel Rosario was bearing down on him aboard the defending champion and wore him down to win by a head in 2:01.44. Flat Out earned a BRIS Speed rating of 117, which is his career-best by a wide margin.

Flat Out won this race last year on a muddy track then went on to the Classic and was beaten three lengths. Even though he is now six years old, it's his first season being trained by Bill Mott. You don't see many 6yos run their career-best effort at this age, but he was always well managed by Scooter Dickey and has 18 career starts.

Stay Thirsty has taken a long time to run back to last year's form and he finally did it on Saturday. If he's able to keep Ramon Dominguez in the irons, he's always dangerous going long. The rest of the field were far back and their connections will have many questions to answer before deciding to go on to the Classic.

One horse that answered all her questions, and then some, was Royal Delta who absolutely romped in the Grade 1 Beldame. Mike Smith broke her sharply and quickly set up in second position behind It's Tricky in the nine-furlong race for fillies and mares.

Because of Royal Delta's pressure, It's Tricky had to run a 22.61-second second quarter and was not able to gallop along alone on the lead like it looked on paper. Smith asked Royal Delta for run around the far turn and the race turned into a procession as she drew off to a 9-1/2 length victory over a vanquished It's Tricky. I thought Royal Delta would be vulnerable on Saturday and was completely wrong. She was magnificent and the only question that needs to be answered is whether she runs on Friday (Ladies' Classic) or Saturday (Classic vs males).

Santa Anita opened up last Friday and it's main track was very speed favoring. This is not good news for the horses that ran at Belmont over the weekend as they have had historical issues with West Coast Breeders' Cups and now they have to race over a very hard surface.

In the Grade 1 Awesome Again, formerly known as the Goodwood, Game on Dude stalked the pace of longshot Winning Machine through a half-mile in 48.02 seconds and six furlongs in 1:11.94. Rafael Bejarano rode him with supreme confidence and won as he pleased at 3-10.

It was a perfect prep race for Game on Dude as he was able to win in a way that looked like he had a lot of gas in the tank and did not have to work particularly hard to do it. Last year, he worked sensationally going into the Classic, where he finished a game second, and I would think that with five weeks until the Classic, Bob Baffert will drill him again for the performance of his life. He earned a BRIS Speed rating of 109 and he is less likely to bounce than Flat Out.

Baffert dominated the 2yo stakes like Todd Pletcher has been dominating the 2yo stakes back east. He won the Grade 1 Chandelier Stakes with Executiveprivilege by six lengths as the 3-10 favorite and the Grade 1 Frontrunner Stakes with Power Broker by six lengths, also at 5-1. Capo Bastone rallied from 11th to get up for third for John Sadler.

The Baffert juveniles were able to handle two turns while the Pletcher juveniles will be going one turn this Saturday at Belmont in the Grade 1 Champagne and Grade 1 Frizette. Those that go on to Santa Anita will be going from a one-turn race run on a loose, sandy track to a two-turn race run over a very hard and fast main track. Not saying they can't do it but the home horses will certainly have a big edge this year like they have had in past years.