Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, and Derrick Smith's Cupid may not have performed as well as expected at 2-5 odds in the $75,000 Harry F. Brubaker Stakes Aug. 23 at Del Mar, but the stakes try Wednesday was not the goal.
Cupid appeared to be in the clear as he turned for home under jockey Rafael Bejarano but got a late challenge from Curlin Rules, who the gray had passed effortlessly with a three-wide move in the final turn. Curlin Rules trailed by about a length with a sixteenth to run, but cut into the deficit with an inside rally and Cupid held on to win by three-quarters of a length in a final time of 1:36.41.
Defending Brubaker winner Soi Phet took the lead entering the first turn and set fractions of :22.48 and :45.91 but struggled to keep up with the top two finishers in the final bend and finished third.
"It looked like he barely won, but we were hoping we would win and not get a really hard, hard race," said trainer Bob Baffert regarding Cupid. "He came back pretty well, so this will set him up for (the future)."
Baffert initially considered sending the 2017 Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes (G1) winner to Saratoga Race Course for the Sept. 2 Woodward Presented by NYRA Bets (G1), but opted to stay local with an eye on the Sept. 30 Awesome Again Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park or the Oct. 7 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont Park, and eventually the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) back at Del Mar.
Baffert also said that, after Cupid's Gold Cup victory May 27, the 4-year-old Tapit colt came down with an illness, which led to a longer layoff.
"I was going to take him to the Woodward, but with Gun Runner going up there, I didn't want to take him up there and run against that horse right now," Baffert said. "I think it's going to be a big thing to get a race over this track. ... I want all of them at their best for the Breeders' Cup."
With his fifth stakes win, Cupid now has a 6-1-0 record overall from 11 starts and is approaching $1.7 million in earnings. Bred by JKG Thoroughbreds, the four-time graded stakes winner was a $900,000 purchase by M.V. Magnier out of the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale.