Waquoit after his Jockey Club Gold Cup victory.

Waquoit after his Jockey Club Gold Cup victory.

Blood-Horse Library

Waquoit's Sloppy Gold Cup Remembered

The 1988 Jockey Club Gold Cup may have parallel to this year's running.

The decision to cancel the Sept. 28 racing card at Belmont Park due to forecasted rain and to seal the main track for the Sept. 29 “Super Saturday” program is nothing new. New York Racing Association officials called off racing the day before the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) and its full complement of grade I races in 2008 and 2010.

The potential for an off track Sept. 29 and the $1 million Gold Cup brings to mind a sloppy running nearly a quarter-century ago that had implications, not only on the outcome of the Gold Cup, but on a Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) that is considered one of the great moments in North American racing history.

Unlike this year with a full field of 10 entered for the 10-furlong Gold Cup, only five passed the entry box for the Oct. 8, 1988, running, then contested at 1 1/2 miles. The morning-line Gold Cup favorite was Alysheba, who had scorched 1 1/4 miles in 1:59 2/5 just three weeks earlier in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I). Finishing two necks behind in the Woodward, and getting four pounds from the champion, was the Suffolk Downs-based Waquoit, a 5-year-old Relaunch horse owned by Joseph Federico.

Waquoit was a good one, but he was even better going longer, and better still when he raced over an off track.

The weather forecast for the night before the ’88 Gold Cup called for about a tenth of an inch of rain, so the track was not sealed heading into Gold Cup day. The forecast couldn’t have been more wrong as a deluge blanketed the New York area all morning, turning the main track to a consistency that could be described as “beyond sloppy.”

Alysheba’s trainer Jack Van Berg waited until the last minute and pulled the plug, scratching his star from the Gold Cup.

“I was afraid of him running down on his heels,” Van Berg told The Blood-Horse in 1988. “I watched four races (on Gold Cup day), and the horses were coming back with their bandages shredded. I didn’t want the same thing to happen to him.”

However, Van Berg would have a back-up plan that is not available to horsemen today in preparing horses for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. The Tuesday after the Gold Cup, Alysheba would work under the lights at Meadowlands in New Jersey, then ran in the Oct. 14 Meadowlands Cup (gr. I), where he edged Slew City Slew going 1 1/4 miles in 1:58 4/5 while carrying 127 pounds.

Facing just three rivals in New York, Waquoit was sent off at 7-10 in the glom and slop at Belmont Park in the Gold Cup. Grabbing the early lead under Jose Santos and getting away with a :49 opening half-mile and 1:13 1/5 six furlongs, he was as good as gone. A six-length lead at the head of the lane would stretch to eight lengths at the eighth pole and 15 on the wire. The winning margin equaled the Gold Cup wins by mighty Man o’ War in 1920 and Autobiography in 1972.

The field was strung out from finish line to the Long Island Railroad train station with Personal Flag in second, who had 20 lengths on Easy N Dirty. Mile-and-a-half specialist Crème Fraiche was another 19 1/2 lengths back in fourth.

Alysheba, Waquoit, Personal Flag, and Slew City Slew would advance on to the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, run for the first time at Churchill Downs…over a muddy track. Waquoit’s connections had to pony up $360,000 to supplement, but would be denied another victory when Alysheba emerged from the darkness as late afternoon slipped into evening to win the Classic by a half-length over Personal Flag’s entrymate Seeking the Gold. Waquoit was third, five lengths back, defeating Forty Niner, Cryptoclearance, Personal Flag, Cutlass Reality, Lively One, and Slew City Slew.

Predicting the weather can be a difficult proposition. Who might be poised to take advantage of a surface other than “fast” at Belmont in Saturday’s Gold Cup? Several of the entrants have “off track form.”

Ron the Greek, the 5-2 morning line favorite, has a 2-1-1 slate from four wet track efforts. Last November he won the appropriately-named Sunny and Mild Stakes over a sealed, muddy track at Aqueduct Racetrack. He also rallied from 10th to break his maiden going six furlongs in the mud at Hoosier Park in his debut in October 2009.

Ruler On Ice, 20-1, won last year’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I)—also at 1 1/2 miles—while on the front end in the slop. In second was Gold Cup rival Stay Thirsty. The son of Roman Ruler also broke his maiden over an off track, winning at Delaware Park in October 2010.

Hymn Book, 5-1, has won on dirt four times…all over wet tracks. He broke his maiden in the slop at Monmouth; topped Ron the Greek over a “good” surface at Belmont in the nine-furlong Three Coins Up Stakes in May 2011; won the 1 1/16-mile Firethorn Stakes at Belmont  in the mud last October; and landed the grade I Donn Handicap this February over a good surface at Gulfstream Park.

Flat Out, 3-1, won last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup over a muddy, sealed main track. In second was eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Drosselmeyer and third was Stay Thirsty.

Game Ball
, 50-1, is two-for-two on off tracks: a $50,000 maiden claiming win at Tampa Bay Downs and a $7,500 claiming score at Fort Erie in August 2011. His last eight starts have been on the turf.