Giant Oak is the 2-1 morning line favorite in the Hawthorne Gold Cup.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Giant Oak is the 2-1 morning line favorite in the Hawthorne Gold Cup.
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Giant Oak Tops Tough Hawthorne Gold Cup

Grade I winner Giant Oak faces stiff competition from nine challengers.

Giant Oak, the 2010 Illinois-bred Horse of the Year and multiple grade I winner, is the 2-1 morning line favorite in the 75th running of $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) Oct. 8. Nine other challengers have been entered to contest the 1 1/4-mile race on the dirt.

Giant Oak, a 5-year-old son of Giant's Causeway —Crafty Oak, by Crafty Prospector, is a homebred racing for Rudy and Virginia Tarra, who were honored last month as the 2010 National Small Breeder of the Year by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.

Trained by Chris Block, Giant Oak ended 2010 with a win by disqualification in the Clark Handicap (gr. I) and began 2011 with a clear victory in the Donn Handicap (gr. I). In his last three starts, Giant Oak has been knocking heads against some of the country’s best older horses in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I), Whitney Invitational Handicap (gr. I), and the Woodward Stakes (gr. I). His best finish among those races was a third in the Whitney behind Tizway and Flat Out , recent winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I). With regular rider Shaun Bridgmohan out due to injury, Jesus Castanon picks up the mount.

Though Giant Oak is dropping a step to grade II, the competition is still fierce.

Among his main competitors is WinStar Farm’s homebred graded stakes winner Rule, who was recently third to Havre de Grace and Flat Out in the Woodward. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, has had been extraordinarily successful at Hawthorne, with a victory in the 2008 Gold Cup with Fairbanks and three Illinois Derbys (gr. III) with Joe Vann (2010), Cowtown Cat  (2007), and Pollard's Vision  (2004).

Rule, a 4-year-old son of Roman Ruler—Rockcide, by Personal Flag, won the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) and finished third in the Florida Derby (gr. I) before requiring some time off. His been in the money five times out of seven starts this year, including a win the Birdstone Stakes Aug. 4 at Saratoga. He will be ridden by Corey Lanerie.

Block has a second runner in the Gold Cup, Mister Marti Gras, who has been in the money five times out of six starts this year and comes into the race off a victory in the Sept. 3 Washington Park Handicap (gr. III) at Arlington Park. Lothenbach Stable’s homebred gelding by Belong to Me will be ridden by Eduardo Perez, who rode him in the Washington Park Handicap and to a second-place finish in the 2010 Hawthorne Derby (gr. III).

Other intriguing starters include Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s grade III winner Headache, who defeated Awesome Gem in the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap in June. He will be ridden by Paco Lopez.

Also in the field is Cease, a lightly raced gelding by War Chant who is a homebred for Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, the connections of 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Blame . Cease broke his maiden this year at Saratoga Aug. 21 by 13 1/2 lengths and followed up with in a win by three lengths in an allowance race on the last day of the Saratoga meet. The gelding is trained by Al Stall Jr. and will be ridden by Miguel Mena.

Trainer Gerard Butler and owner Michael Deegan have the 4-year-old filly Maristar in the race. A daughter of Giant's Causeway —Jewel Princess, by Key to the Mint, she won the Ladbrokes Mobile Fillies Handicap Stakes in England in April and then was shipped to Arlington Park. In her last start, she finished second in the Washington Park Handicap. Maristar will be ridden in the Gold Cup by Florent Geroux.

$500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap (gr. II,  Race 9, 5:45 p.m. CDT), 3-year-olds and up, 1 1/4 miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, M/L
1. Worldly, J. Santana, 114,  P. McGee, 10-1
2. Moe Man, J. McKee, 111, I. Wilkes, 15-1
3. Rule, C. Lanerie, 118, T. Pletcher, 5-2
4. Cherokee Lord, C. Roman, 111, C. Livesay, 20-1   
5. Cease, M. Mena, 112, A. Stall, Jr., 12-1   
6. Headache, P. Lopez, 115, M. Maker, 6-1     
7. Maristar, F. Geroux, 110, G. Butler, 20-1   
8. Where's Sterling, E. Baird, 116, N. Canani, 6-1     
9. Mister Marti Gras, E. Perez, 114, C. Block, 15-1   
10. Giant Oak, J. Castanon, 119, C. Block, 2-1