Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice lead a strong field of eight in Saturday's Grade 1 $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (post time 5:49 p.m. ET) at Belmont Park, part of a Super Saturday featuring multiple Grade 1 races in New York and Southern California. Joining Orb and Palace Malice in the Gold Cup are Whitney winner Cross Traffic, Woodward winner Alpha (a colt that loves to win in New York but not anywhere else), two-time JC Gold Cup winner Flat Out (the tepid morning line favorite at 3/1), and Ron the Greek.
For Orb and Palace Malice, the Gold Cup will be their first race against older horses after squaring off against three-year-olds for the last ten months. Orb is looking to get back on track after three straight post-Derby losses. His effort in the Travers was his best since his triumph at Churchill Downs and he looks like he's coming into the Gold Cup in excellent form.
Palace Malice had a rough time in the Travers after breaking awardly and getting pinched back at the start denying the colt the chance to use his speed to stalk the early pace of Moreno. Even with the poor start, Palace Malice ran a good 4th to Will Take Charge, losing by just three-quarters of the length. If he can break well on Saturday, and continue running solid splits all the way around the course, he should be contending for win honors in the last quarter mile.
Alpha, Cross Traffic and longshot Vitoria Olimpica (BRZ) should ensure a good, honest pace on the frontend, something I'm sure the connections of Orb and Ron the Greek are reslishing.
Below are the entries, post positions and odds for Saturday's Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup:
|1||Ron the Greek||J. Lezcano||W. Mott||12/1|
|2||Orb||J. Castellano||C. McGaughey||9/2|
|3||Last Gunfighter||R. Maragh||C. Brown||10/1|
|4||Victoria Olimpica (BRZ)||I. Ortiz, Jr.||T. Pletcher||20/1|
|5||Alpha||J. Bravo||K. McLaughlin||8/1|
|6||Flat Out||J. Alvarado||W. Mott||3/1|
|7||Palace Malice||M. Smith||T. Pletcher||4/1|
|8||Cross Traffic||J. Velazquez||T. Pletcher||5/2|
Earlier on the Belmont card, Little Mike is looking to his career pointed in the right direction after four consecutive losses following his victory in last fall's Breeders' Cup Turf. He was awful in two starts in Meydan and only marginally better in his two starts back in the U.S. this summer. He's 10/1 on the morning line for the Hirsch Turf Class and I don't know if I'd play him at those numbers.
Speaking of the Hirsch Turf and Belmont: can get get rid of these archaic coupled (tripled) entries? The Hirsch has ten horses in the field but just seven betting interests because Imagining and Boisterous are coupled, and Big Blue Kitten, Real Solution and Joes Blazing Aaron are tripled. Lovely. Why again are we coupling entries? Nothing says "gamble!" like shrinking the number of betting interests.
Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar steps up to take on older fillies and mares for the first time in the Beldame and in that race she'll face on of the best mares in the country: Royal Delta. It's highly likely that the winner of the Beldame will head to the Breeders' Cup as the favorite in the Distaff (yes, Distaff! Thank goodness no more Ladies' Classic.)
Out in California the Awesome Again Stakes have a slightly different look as two-time winner Game On Dude is skipping the race in order to train up to the Breeders' Cup Classic. Personally, I hate it when a horse is "trained up" to a big race, even though I'm not sure it's as big of a deal for an older, experienced horse like Game On Dude as opposed to a young, still improving colt heading towards a race like the Kentucky Derby. Time will tell as to whether the time off will provide Game On Dude with the edge he needs to run big at Santa Anita on the first Saturday in November.
With Game On Dude sitting out this year's Awesome Again, the sharks are circling looking for a Grade 1 score. Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up Mucho Macho Man headlines the Awesome Again field while Paynter, Jeranimo, Golden Ticket and Liaison join the field of ten. While the Awesome Again doesn't carry the purse or the prestige of the JC Gold Cup, the fact that this race is over the same surface as the Classic is a major advantage for these horses come November.
2012 Travers dead-heat winner Golden Ticket ran in Florida this winter, Kentucky this spring, Iowa in July, and now in Southern Cali as part of his 2013 transcontinental tour. He easily won the Prairie Meadows Handicap in his last start but faced very little in terms of Graded stakes quality animals; he'll need to take a major step up to win at Santa Anita on Saturday.
Time will tell where Paynter's racing future lies but he'll get another shot at graded company in his fourth race back from his life-threatening issues this past winter. He looked great in his first race back against allowance company this June and he ran well in the San Diego handicap, but his ridiculously low odds in that race and the Woodward in his most recent start make him almost a non-play from the beginning. I wish him the best and hope he can get back to where he was last year but I'm not playing him at odds-on numbers in any situation.
The presence of Beholder didn't scare off the competition in the G1-Zenyatta Stakes last year's champion juvenile filly will face seven other fillies in mares on the Santa Anita main track. Joining Beholder in the Zenyatta are Grade 1 winners Include Me Out, and Joyful Victory, along with Grade 2 winners Great Hot, Authenticity and More Chocolate. For Beholder the story is similar to other three-year-old horses on Super Saturday: she'll be facing older horses for the first time.
The stage is set so it must be time for some late night handicapping.