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Majestic Harbor wins Gold Cup; questions for Game on Dude and SoCal handicap division

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Majestic Harbor's victory in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita raises questions for Game on Dude and the rest of the handicap division on the West Coast.

Jeff Gross

Saturday's Gold Cup at Santa Anita (that still seems weird to type; it's the Hollywood Gold Cup; why couldn't they just keep calling it the Hollywood Gold Cup. Just because there's no more Hollywood Park doesn't mean you can't call run the race at Santa Anita and call it the Hollywood Gold Cup. Am I wrong? Anyway....) was the very definition of a race shape labeled as "Fast early, slow late".

Fury Kapcori runs the opening quarter in 22.37 (um, okay), and the half in 45.54. The final quarter and half for winner Majestic Harbor? 26.40 and 51.87.

Despite the slow final half mile for Majestic Harbor, that was a really good performance from the winner considering he sat third in the early stages and put up splits of 23.28 and 46.43 for the opening half mile himself. Majestic Harbor didn't win the Gold Cup by sitting dead last and passing the entire field after they spit the bit at the top of the lane; he sat relatively close to the top two in the early stages and engaged the leaders on the far turn before pulling away in the final furlong.

Majestic Harbor's internal splits broke down as follows:

23.28, 23.15, 23.78, 25.02, 26.40

On top of simply winning the race by six lengths over Clubhouse Ride, Majestic Harbor ran 29 feet farther than the runner-up in the Gold Cup.

Pretty much any way you slice and dice it, Majestic Harbor was clearly the best horse in the field.

I'm not sure where Majestic Harbor goes from here after that big effort. Let's be honest: this is a six-year-old horse that was 22-5-6-4 in his career coming into the Gold Cup with nary a performance to rival this effort on the past performances. Is this a horse that's suddenly taken a step forward to a level of performance that we can expect in the future, or was the Gold Cup simply a career-top effort in a race that might not be as strong on paper as past Gold Cups.

The second part of the question above relates heavily to Game on Dude and where he's at in his career. As good of a career as he's put forth, the simple fact of the matter is that Game on Dude is seven year's old. While we can find horses in history like John Henry that continued to put up big efforts at an age that most horses are enjoying retirement, I think it's legitimate to wonder if Game on Dude's best days - his consistent Grade 1 and Grade 2 days - are behind him.

If you look simply at Game on Dude's Bris pace figures, and specifically his late pate numbers, there is certainly some alarm bells. While he can consistently put up the quick splits in the early stages of his races, his come home speed appears to have dropped off quite a bit from earlier years. Game on Dude has always been a horse that's going to run fast early, that's just his nature - but his ability to put up those fast early splits and have enough left in the tank for the final quarter mile is probably a bit compromised at this point in his career. He's still dangerous if left alone on the lead but I think there are a lot more weak points in Game on Dude than a couple of years ago.

Beyond Game on Dude's effort, I'm not sure the Gold Cup results point to a particularly strong handicap division on the West Coast this year. It actually points to a fairly weak group, overall. If Game on Dude is not at his career best anymore, and if you have a lot of Grade 2 and Grade 3 horses able to compete at the Grade 1 level, the depth of the division is clearly lacking.

If Majestic Harbor can consistently put forth Gold Cup-like efforts the rest of the year, then I think he's a legitimate Classic horse. Whether or not he's that good of a horse remains to be seen.