As one of the most important races in one of the most important racing circuits in the world, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, nearly a century old, is steeped in tradition. It’s hard to read more than a year or two on the roll call of winners, without having named a champion. From Man O’ War, who won the second edition, to Curlin who won consecutive runnings on his way to back-to-back Horse of the Year awards, winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup has always meant something. When Curlin won his second, five years ago, he became the tenth horse to win the prestigious race more than once. Last year, Flat Out, or the Baron of Belmont, as I like to call him, became number eleven.
It all began the year after Man O’ War, when another son of Fair Play, Mad Hatter won in consecutive editions in 1921 and 1922. The former Belmont Stakes winner also pulled the double in the Met Mile those same two years. He was named Champion Older Horse in 1921.
Eleven years would pass before the Wheatley Stable runner Dark Secret added consecutive runnings of the JCGC to his resume of 15 career stakes wins. Sadly, Dark Secret broke down after crossing the finish line in the 1934 Gold Cup, and did not survive.
The very next year, Firethorn won his first of two Jockey Club Gold Cups in 1935. Two years after that, the son of Sun Briar became the only horse ever to win more than once in the big race without doing it consecutively.
Numerous champions would win the two-mile test over the next 17 years, but none of them could repeat their win. Then in 1955 and 1956, the legendary trainer, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, collected his sixth and seventh victories in the Gold Cup, with the great Nashua. As good as that Hall of Fame runner was, he had nothing on the next horse to repeat in JCGC.
Repeat might actually be the wrong word; Kelso dominated the Jockey Club Gold Cup. In 1961, he repeated his win from 1960, but that was only the second of five. From 1960 through 1964, Kelso not only won the Gold Cup five times, but he also was named Horse of the Year in each of those years. He remains the only horse to have won more than two … for now, but more on that later.
There would be no more horses like Kelso to come around for this historic race, but a distance loving mare, sired by Nashua, would etch her name into Jockey Club Gold Cup lore. The Triple Tiara winner of 1969, Shuvee clinched consecutive Older Mare Championships by winning it in 1970 and 1971.
A talented three-year-old colt named Slew O’ Gold needed a big win late in the year to win an Eclipse Award. The son of Seattle Slew got it in the 1983 JCGC. The following year, a mature Slew O’ Gold came back to repeat in fantastic fashion, winning the now 1 ½ mile affair by 9 ¾ dominant lengths.
Creme Fraiche may not have had the talent as most on this list, but the gritty gelding loved a distance. In 1986, he built upon his Belmont Stakes score the year before by winning his first of two Gold Cups. The next year he came back to stun the prohibitive favorite, Java Gold in the 1987 edition.
Speaking of big favorites, Cigar entered the 1996 starting gate looking to become the next horse to repeat in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Instead it was an upstart three-year-old named, Skip Away who would earn his biggest victory to date, in the now ten-furlong test. The three-time champion unveiled a new front-running style for the race the next year, and romped home a repeat winner.
Much like Skip Away, Curlin turned the corner on his talented career with a determined score over Older Champion Lawyer Ron, as a three-year-old in the 2007 edition. The win helped propel him to his first Horse of the Year award, and then a strong win in 2008 helped clinch the year-end honor once again.
Now it is Flat Out time. As you can tell, winning the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Jockey Club Gold Cup has placed him in esteemed company. Winning a third, however, would be something special. No one expects him to ever match the five of the legendary Kelso, but to become only the second race horse to win this great race three times would be a feat not to be forgotten. I gotta say, I like the Baron of Belmont’s chances.