By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
If you thought last week’s racing action was spectacular, get ready—this week promises to be just as good or better! The second "Super Saturday" of Breeders’ Cup prep races will kick off with six graded stakes races at Belmont, including the $1,000,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), in which last year’s winner Tonalist will seek a second consecutive victory in the prestigious race. But that’s not all—there are seven more graded stakes races scheduled to be run on Saturday at Keeneland and Santa Anita, with four more on the agenda for Sunday, along with Treve’s bid for history in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) at Longchamp. We’ll be discussing and handicapping all these races and more in the comments section of this blog post, but first off—let’s take a look at the field for the Jockey Club Gold Cup!
Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I)
||3rd Woodward Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
||2nd Woodward Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
||5th Bernard Baruch Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||4th Woodward Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
||Looks to Spare
||1st West Virginia Governor’s Stakes (VIDEO)|
||3rd Whitney Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
A field of six will contest the final "Win and You’re In" prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), but despite the small field size, the Jockey Club Gold Cup promises to be a very intriguing and competitive race. The field looks evenly-matched on paper, and I can see this race unfolding a number of different ways.
The three horses that interest me most are Effinex, Tonalist, and Coach Inge, the top-three finishers in the ten-furlong Suburban Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) at Belmont back in July. On that day, Effinex showed great determination to hold off a late surge from Tonalist and triumph by a head, which marked his second victory in a ten-furlong graded stakes this year. After a two-month layoff, he returned in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga and finished a disappointing fourth by 6 ½ lengths, but his chances were compromised after he acted up in the starting gate and had to be backed out and reloaded, and coming off the layoff, he probably needed the race. Since then, he’s turned in a pair of solid workouts at Belmont, and assuming he acts better in the starting gate on Saturday, I would expect to see him rebound with a big effort.
That said, I think Tonalist will turn the tables on his Suburban conqueror this time around. In the Suburban, Tonalist had a wider trip than Effinex and still lost by only a head while conceding his rival six pounds, and the switch to even weights in the Jockey Club Gold Cup should help his chances. I also really liked his run in the Whitney Stakes (gr. I) last time out, in which he dropped far behind a fast pace before rallying strongly in the homestretch to finish third by just 1 ¾ lengths. Believe it or not, he was actually gaining ground even faster than the victorious Honor Code in the homestretch, and his effort translated to a strong 110 Beyer. A pair of bullet five-furlong works should have him ready to roll, but what seals the deal for me is the fact that heavy rains are expected to leave the track sloppy for the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Tonalist absolutely romped in his lone start over a sloppy track, scoring an easy four-length win in the 2014 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont. If the track does come up wet, Tonalist should relish the conditions, putting him in the position to score his second straight win in this race.
Coach Inge must also be respected after compiling an admirable record this year. He showed decent form over the Aqueduct inner track during the winter, but thrived when racing returned to the main track in April, winning a nine-furlong allowance race over a muddy track by 12 ½ lengths. He then stretched out to twelve furlongs for the Brooklyn Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) and won by a neck in the fast time of 2:27.17, then set testing fractions in the Suburban Handicap before tiring slightly in the final furlong to finish third. Following a layoff, he ran an even race in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I), settling in third behind modest fractions before rallying up the rail to finish second while never a threat to front-running winner Liam’s Map.
Overall, I really like Coach Inge, and he figures to work out a great trip tracking stablemate Constitution through the early stages of this race. But he’s been beaten twice by Effinex this year and only edged that rival by 1 ¾ lengths in the Woodward, despite receiving a perfect trip on a day that Effinex probably wasn’t at his best. Coach Inge is definitely a prime candidate for the exotics in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and is good enough to win under the right circumstances, but I think Tonalist and Effinex will prove slightly better on Saturday.
Wicked Strong is another that could get involved for the exotics with a good trip. A consistent colt that almost always brings a good race, he produced a solid rally to finish third in the Woodward Stakes, beaten just 1 ½ lengths by Coach Inge despite a wider trip. Simply from the perspective of ground loss, one can make a case for Wicked Strong to turn the tables on Coach Inge, especially now that Wicked Strong has drawn post one in a small field. Additionally, Wicked Strong ran better than it appears in the Whitney, in which he stayed relatively close to a blazing pace and kept on well in the homestretch to finish fourth. He might not win, but remember, Wicked Strong was moving like a winner in last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup before clipping heels and losing his jockey, and I think he warrants a close look for the exacta and trifecta.
One horse that will likely attract a good deal of wagering attention is Constitution, winner of the Donn Handicap (gr. I) back in February. An injury derailed him from a run in the Dubai World Cup, and caused him to miss all the big summer races, but his comeback effort in the 8.5-furlong Bernard Baruch Handicap (gr. II) was very good. Making his debut on turf, Constitution set fast fractions of :46.36 and 1:09.44 and actually led past the eighth pole before being out-kicked late to finish fifth. The return to dirt will obviously help his chances, although the fact that he’s 4-for-4 at Gulfstream and 0-for-2 on other dirt tracks is concerning, and considering that he’s lost ground from the eighth pole to the wire in his last four starts, I’m not sure that he’ll relish the ten-furlong distance of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He might still be good enough to stay involved for the exotics, especially if he gets an easy lead, but I think others are better-suited to the distance and track conditions and will beat him to the wire.
Lastly, Looks to Spare has been a phenomenal horse for his connections, winning the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes at odds of 74-1 after being claimed for $5,000 earlier this year, but he took advantage of a bias that favored outside runners in the Governor’s Stakes, and his career-best Beyer of 96—while solid—suggests that he will need to take a big step forward to contend against this field.
Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Jockey Club Gold Cup?
Just for fun, here are the replays of some promising 2yos that won their first races recently!
Have you ever wondered what a day of training is like at Keeneland? Then check out my new "A Morning at Keeneland" photo article on The Turf Board! War Envoy, Outstanding, Easter, Fast Anna, Mongolian Saturday, Lovely Maria, Stickststatelydude, and Exaggerator are among the horses that are featured--enjoy!
To help keep track of all the Breeders' Cup prep races, here is the link to Bloodhorse.com's Breeders' Cup news page. Also, here is the link to the currrent standings, entries, rules, and schedule for our "Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing, everyone!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.