A perfect trip aided the son of Tapit , who was making his 4-year-old debut for trainer Bob Baffert, but the colt also made the best of his opportunity to win the 1 1/4-mile dirt test by 3 1/4 lengths.
Video: Gold Cup at Santa Anita S. (G1)
Racing in fourth off dueling early leaders American Freedom and Prime Attraction, Cupid made a three-wide move in the final turn to put away fellow stalker Midnight Storm and was never seriously challenged in the stretch.
"I put a little pressure on at the half-mile pole," said winning jockey Rafael Bejarano. "When (I) got to the stretch and was in the clear, I thought I had a lot of horse and the race was over."
Holly and David Wilson's Follow Me Crev, who raced a far-back fifth after he was squeezed at the start between American Freedom and Prime Attraction, closed well to finish second, 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Hard Aces.
"I was taken out of the race in the first jump," said Follow Me Crev's jockey, Kent Desormeaux. "It was a phenomenal effort by the Wilsons' horse, because he took punch and body blow the first jump. Ridiculous. ... I would have been a couple of lengths behind (them) and instead I was 20 back."
After the rough start, Prime Attraction had a head in front through the first quarter in :23.04. American Anthem put his head in front through a half-mile in :46.52 and had a half-length lead as six furlongs went in 1:10.62. The hot pace was too much for the favorite, who is also trained by Baffert, and American Freedom tired in the stretch to finish fifth.
Cupid's first grade 1 win was his fourth graded victory overall. He finished the race in 2:00.89. Hard Aces, who won the Gold Cup in 2015, closed from sixth to pick up the show honors.
"We brought two really good horses today and I thought that fast pace might get to American Freedom," Baffert said. "That Prime Attraction caused a lot of trouble. Cupid, off that long layoff—his class showed up and he's been working so well. ... Cupid has changed a lot. He's really filled out."
As a 3-year-old Cupid won the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park, the Indiana Derby (G2) at Indiana Grand Race Course, and West Virginia Derby (G2) at Mountaineer. In his last start, he ran eighth in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) at Parx Racing.
"We took the back roads with Cupid last year and made over a million dollars," said Baffert, who won his sixth Gold Cup. "Coolmore has been great and they kept him in training. They asked me if I thought he'd get better and I thought he should. We freshened him up and here we are. I got an important grade 1, which is very important for a horse like him."
Bred in Kentucky by JKG Thoroughbreds, out of the Beau Genius mare Pretty ‘n Smart, Cupid now has five wins from 10 starts and more than $1.6 million in earnings. Cupid was a $900,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2014.
After taking the lead momentarily in the final turn, Midnight Storm tired to finish fourth, followed by American Freedom, Big John B, and Prime Attraction, to complete the order of finish. Cupid returned $16, $8.20, and $6 across the board.