Higher Power wins the 2019 Pacific Classic at Del Mar

Higher Power wins the 2019 Pacific Classic at Del Mar

Benoit Photo

Higher Power, Midcourt Vie in Hollywood Gold Cup

Grade 1 winner Improbable, second in the April 11 Oaklawn Mile Stakes, also entered.

The Hollywood Gold Cup (G1)—run as the Gold Cup at Santa Anita since 2014—reverts to its name of old for the 81st renewal June 6 at Santa Anita Park.

Though the name has changed, the connections of the participating horses hope the race's success rate continues. Over the past two years, the winner has gone on to capture the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic (G1)—Vino Rosso  in 2019 and Accelerate  in 2018.

If a horse does so again in 2020, improvement will likely be needed in the second half of the season, just as Vino Rosso did last year. None of the six competitors in the $300,000 race—Parsimony, Midcourt, Higher Power, Brown Storm, Improbable, and Tenfold—are among the top 20 points earners in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Top Thoroughbred Poll.

Slightly favored at 9-5 on the morning line is Higher Power, a 9-1 upset winner of the $1 Million TVG Pacific Classic Stakes (G1) last year at Del Mar. Since that race, he placed third in the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) and Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita, both after awkward starts.

He then raced in the Jan. 25 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes Presented by Runhappy (G1) at Gulfstream Park, running last in the field of 10. Horses in the two Pegasus World Cup races ran without Lasix under unique house rules mandated by track owner The Stronach Group, which also owns Santa Anita.

Trainer John Sadler gave the 5-year-old Medaglia d'Oro  horse a rest after he exited the Pegasus with blood tests that indicated a possible infection. After sporadic appearances on the work tab in February and March, Higher Power has breezed consistently since early April, capped by a six-furlong breeze in 1:14 at Santa Anita May 29.

Leading jockey Flavien Prat, seeking his first Hollywood Gold Cup victory, will be aboard.

Sadler and owner Hronis Racing have won the race twice, first with Hard Aces in 2015 and then with Accelerate.

Co-second choices at 2-1 are Midcourt and Improbable. Both are multiple stakes winners, though the former has made more trips to the winner's circle in 2019-20. Late last year, Midcourt won the Comma to the Top Stakes at Santa Anita and the Native Diver Stakes (G3) at Del Mar. Then after a poor-starting third in the Dec. 28 San Antonio Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita, he won the Feb. 1 San Pasqual Stakes (G2) before running a close third in the March 7 Santa Anita Handicap (G1).

Heavily favored in the Big 'Cap at 3-5 after the scratch of Gift Box, Midcourt was well positioned in second behind pacesetting longshot Brown Storm but lacked his typical finish, beaten three-quarters of a length by winner Combatant.

Video: Santa Anita H. (G1)

"He was still running, but not like he has in his best races. He tried hard, but he's run better than that," regular rider Victor Espinoza said after the race.

Trainer John Shirreffs removes the 5-year-old gelding's blinkers for the Hollywood Gold Cup, his first race without the equipment.

C R K stable owns the headstrong son of Midnight Lute .

Midcourt and jockey Victor Espinoza win the Grade II, $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes, Saturday, February 1, 2020 at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia CA.<br>
Photo: Benoit Photo
Midcourt wins the San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita

Along with Higher Power, Improbable is the race's only other grade 1 winner. He won the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity (G1) during a 3-for-3 campaign as a juvenile in 2018. He is just 1-for-8 in 2019-20, taking the Shared Belief Stakes last summer at Del Mar.

At 3, he placed in a division of the Rebel Stakes (G2) and in the Arkansas Derby (G1) before finishing off the board in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) as the favorite in both races.

Sometimes a problem in the starting gate, often growing unsettled or breaking poorly, Improbable ran one of his best races last out when a wide second to Tom's d'Etat in the Oaklawn Mile Stakes April 11. He was scratched from the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) May 2 after being drawn poorly.

Video: Oaklawn Mile S. (BT)

He has breezed quickly since at Santa Anita for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, a six-time winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup, most recently with Cupid  in 2017.

Drayden Van Dyke, aboard for every one of the City Zip colt's victories, will be tasked with mounting a successful challenge over the 1 1/4-mile distance. Improbable has not won beyond 1 1/16 miles.

"He looks good. He's been training well," Baffert said. "At a mile and a quarter, we're going to be stretching him out, but his works have been great. We'll see if he has distance limitations."

Improbable can surpass $1 million in earnings for owners WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and SF Racing with either a first- or second-place finish.

The three remaining entrants are outsiders, though 6-1 shot Tenfold possesses back class as a winner of the 2018 Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) and 2019 Pimlico Special Stakes (G3).

The Hollywood Gold Cup, the last of six stakes Saturday at Santa Anita, goes as race 10 on an 11-race card. Post time is 5:12 p.m. PT.

The trophy from the 1950 Hollywood Gold Cup, consisting of more than 42 ounces of 14-karat gold, will be on loan from the California Thoroughbred Foundation for Saturday's winner's circle ceremony. Originally presented Dec. 9, 1950, the trophy was won by racing Hall of Famer Noor, who was ridden to victory by Johnny Longden and was owned by the estate of Charles S. Howard.

The post parade for the Hollywood Gold Cup will be led by Lava Man, the retired winner of three consecutive Gold Cups from 2005-07.

Entries: Hollywood Gold Cup S. (G1)

Santa Anita Park, Saturday, June 06, 2020, Race 10

  • Grade I
  • 1 1/4m
  • Dirt
  • $300,000
  • 3 yo's & up
  • 5:12 PM (local)
11Parsimony (PA)Keeneland Sales GraduateMario Gutierrez122Doug F. O'Neill15/1
22Midcourt (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateVictor Espinoza124John A. Shirreffs2/1
33Higher Power (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateFlavien Prat124John W. Sadler9/5
44Brown Storm (CHI)Abel Cedillo122Michael W. McCarthy12/1
55Improbable (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateDrayden Van Dyke122Bob Baffert2/1
66Tenfold (KY)Mike E. Smith122Steven M. Asmussen6/1