By Richard Rosenblatt
The $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) has a rich history of champions, from Man o’ War to Kelso to Forego to Cigar to Curlin. Triple Crown winners – five of them, including Citation and Affirmed — have gone on to take what usually turns out to be Belmont Park’s showcase race of the Fall Meeting.
While a horse of such star power won’t be in the field for Saturday’s 101st edition of the 1 ¼-mile Gold Cup, three Hall of Fame trainers are set to saddle a total of four horses in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In’’ race.
Let’s start with Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey. A three-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, the trainer will send out his rising star Code of Honor. A likely favorite when the post-position draw is held this week, Code of Honor won the Travers (G1) by three lengths at Saratoga on Aug. 24. The 3-year-old son of Noble Mission has been training well back at Belmont the past few weeks, and is set to take on older horses for the first time
“He’s doing good. We’re still on track,’’ said McGaughey.
Code of Honor won the Fountain of Youth (G2) back in March, then finished third in the Florida Derby (G1) behind Maximum Security. In the Kentucky Derby (G1), he finished third but was elevated to second when first-place finisher Maximum Security was disqualified for interference and place 17th. Country House, who finished second, was declared the winner.
W.S. Farish’s colt was held out of the Preakness (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1), but returned in fine fashion with a 3 ¼-length victory in the Dwyer (G3) at Belmont. His Travers victory over fellow 3-year-old Tacitus gave every indication this colt could be tough to beat. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez is Code of Honor’s regular rider.
Tacitus and Yoshida are likely starters for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. It’s been a tough-beat season for Mott, who saw Tacitus finish second in his last three starts – the Belmont, the Jim Dandy (G2) and the Travers. Yoshida, meanwhile finished second in the Whitney (G1) and third in Woodward (G1).
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen is set to send out Tenfold, who won the Pimlico Special (G3) back in May, the 4-year-old son of Curlin’s only win in five starts this year.
Other probables in the likely six-horse field include Woodward winner Preservationist and Vino Rosso, who finished third in the Whitney.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup is the centerpiece of a Belmont card that features three other graded-stakes races, the $300,000 Vosburgh (G1), the $200,000 Pilgrim (G3), and the $300,000 Beldame (G2) with Horse of the Year contender Midnight Bisou scheduled to run.
The Vosburgh is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1).
Back at Gulfstream Park after a “dream come true” Saturday at Parx Racing, where 31-1 long shot Math Wizard won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby, trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. called the victory “priceless.’’
The 32-year-old native of Barbados said the surprising victory by Math Wizard over the likes of Preakness winner War of Will and slight favorite Improbable has given him great hope for his future as well as the sport.
“It was a priceless feeling. Everyone should have that feeling. Once you get that feeling, it makes you want to keep going more and more,” said Joseph. “I was proud for the horse, the way he performed. On his best day, if you looked at it, he was capable, but it he had run third or fourth, I would have been happy.”
Math Wizard was claimed for $25,000 out of an 18 ½-length win on Jan. 31. He finished fourth in the Wood Memorial (G2), second in the Ohio Derby (G3) and third in the Indiana Derby (G3) before pulling off the upset on Saturday.
The race was a BC “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2, and Joseph said the race is a possibility. However, he said, co-owner John Fanelli is ambitious; he’s adventurous.
“I think when I report to him that he’s doing good, I think that’s where he’s going to want to go,’’ said Joseph. “ There are so many options, we don’t have to push for the Breeders’ Cup. There’s so many races for older horses next year, like the Pegasus (G1) and the new race in Saudi Arabia and the Dubai World Cup (G1). There are so many options that if the horse tells us, ‘No,’ we’ll listen to the horse.”
Street Band, fresh from Saturday’ victory in the $1 million Cotillion (G1) for 3-year-old fillies, was back home at Churchill Downs on Sunday.
The filly rallied from more than nine lengths back and passed favorite Guarana in the final yards for the biggest win of her career – not to mention providing jockey Sophie Doyle with her first Grade 1 victory in the BC “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).
“It is an absolute thrill for all of the owners involved with (Street Band),” said Doyle, who will start riding at Keeneland next month. “I couldn’t be more proud of this filly. I’m so thankful for (owner/trainer) Larry Jones to have the faith in us to get to the top. Now, it’s on to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.