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Melatonin, Hoppertunity Face Off in Gold Cup

Grade I winners are the top two on the morning line for the $500,000 race.

With Hoppertunity opting to head to the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) in March, Tarabilla Farms' Melatonin put forth one of the most impressive—and unexpected—efforts of Santa Anita Park's winter/spring meet in the March 12 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I).

The 5-year-old Kodiak Kowboy gelding's 4 1/4-length score at 16-1 odds in the 1 1/4-mile Big 'Cap was not only his first graded score, but it was also only his second start around two turns. He followed that victory with a runner-up finish to Effinex—who finished third in the Big 'Cap—in the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) April 16, his first start outside of Southern California.

BALAN: Melatonin 16-1 Stunner in Big 'Cap

"I wasn't so much surprised that he won the Santa Anita Handicap but that he handled the distance, because I thought the distances he had been running might be somewhat beyond him," said trainer David Hofmans. "But he's shown now that he can run long, and even (jockey Joe) Talamo thinks the mile and a quarter is better for him than a mile and an eighth. He said he's a true stayer, and that surprises me."

If the 1 1/4 miles truly is his sweet spot, Melatonin should be primed for another big run in the $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (gr. I) June 25, a "Win and You're In" event for the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I).

But it's Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman's Hoppertunity who garners the 3-1 morning-line favoritism in the eight-horse Gold Cup field (Melatonin is second choice at 7-2). In preparation for his first start stateside since a third-place run in the world's richest race, the 5-year-old Any Given Saturday horse has worked six times at Santa Anita, including a six-furlong move in 1:12 1/5 June 18. Prior to his Dubai trip, Hoppertunity nosed out fellow Gold Cup entrant Imperative in the San Antonio Stakes (gr. II).

Hoppertunity is winless in three starts at 1 1/4 miles, but he was only a nose short in last year's Gold Cup, when Hard Aces closed from last place to win. Hard Aces, a 6-year-old son of Hard Spun , is back to defend his Gold Cup title, but hasn't found any success since last year's breakthrough victory for trainer John Sadler. In his eight starts since, he's yet to return to the winner's circle (he finished second to Melatonin in the Big 'Cap), but had arguably his most encouraging run in his last start—the Californian (gr. II) May 22.

Second Summer, who won the Californian by a length, will take his first step up to the top level in the Gold Cup, which also will be his first try beyond 1 1/8 miles. The Summer Bird gelding has won three straight races, with two conditional optional-claiming allowances preceding his Californian victory.

BALAN: Second Summer Breaks Through in Californian

An unknown commodity in the field is 2014 Brazilian Triple Crown winner Bal a Bali , who will be making the first dirt start of his 21-race career. Bal a Bali moved into the care of Richard Mandella in 2015 and won the American (gr. IIIT) in his first U.S. start, but the 6-year-old Put It Back horse has yet to make a similar splash since. In nine U.S. starts he has a 2-1-3 record.

A pace factor in the Gold Cup—likely to be out front with Melatonin—is Lieutenant Colonel, who ran on the front before he finished third in the Californian last time out. Last-out allowance victor Win the Space, completes the field.

Entries: Gold Cup at Santa Anita S. (G1)

Santa Anita Park, Saturday, June 25, 2016, Race 9

  • Grade I
  • 1 1/4m
  • Dirt
  • $500,000
  • 3 yo's & up
  • 5:43 PM (local)
11Bal a Bali (BRZ)Flavien Prat120Richard E. Mandella9/2
22Second Summer (FL)Keeneland Sales GraduateMario Gutierrez120Peter Eurton4/1
33Hard Aces (KY)Santiago Gonzalez122John W. Sadler6/1
44Lieutenant Colonel (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateMartin Garcia120Jerry Hollendorfer8/1
55Win the Space (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateGary L. Stevens120George Papaprodromou20/1
66Hoppertunity (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateMike E. Smith120Bob Baffert3/1
77Melatonin (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJoseph Talamo124David E. Hofmans7/2
88Imperative (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateRafael Bejarano120Richard Baltas6/1