Less equipment and more distance proved to be the perfect combination for Charming Kitten, winner of the inaugural $200,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational on Friday at Belmont Park.
Racing without blinkers for the first time since last fall, Charming Kitten settled in mid-pack before coming on late to catch favored Twilight Eclipse and capture the two-mile Gold Cup by a length over Irish Mission on the Widener turf.
Ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, Charming Kitten hit the wire in 3:21.52 and returned $13 as the 5-1 third choice in a field of 11.
"It worked out perfect," Velazquez said. "He broke really well and got into a really nice position, and he was tugging me along the whole way around. He was going well the whole way around, and when we got to the half-mile pole, I tried to move a little bit and put him in the clear.
"He was tugging me so long that when I went to ride him, it took him an eighth of a mile to get back into the race. Finally, when he got down the lane he started running again, so it worked out good."
Long shot Comes the Dream broke well and led the way through a half-mile in 52.57 seconds, a mile in 1:43.94, and 12 furlongs in 2:09.28 before dropping off. Twilight Eclipse, a multiple graded stakes winner and world-record holder for 1 ½ miles on turf, took over from there but saw his lead cut to just a head by Irish Mission at the top of the stretch.
Meanwhile, Velazquez steered Charming Kitten four wide turning for home and wore down Irish Mission to pick up his third win of the year and second career stakes. The other came in January 2013 in the Kitten's Joy, named for his sire.
"[Velazquez] and I were on the same page. I told him to break from the gate and gallop for two miles," winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. "I wanted to try to leave him relaxed in the post parade and, hopefully, leave there settled. He gave him a great ride. He had him covered up, and [Charming Kitten] relaxed really well. It's kind of cool winning a two-mile race."
Bred and owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who also campaigned Kitten's Joy, Charming Kitten earned $110,000 in the Belmont Gold Cup to push his career bankroll to $706,250.
"I've got the sire, and a rising tide raises all ships, you know?" Ramsey said. "Two miles, that's good advertising. We may have a grinder there today, but he got the job done."
Irish Mission, Canada's champion 3-year-old filly and top grass female of 2012, held on for second, a nose in front of Reflecting. They were followed under the line by Twilight Eclipse, Sky Blazer, Spy in the Sky, Auld Alliance, Eagle Poise, 3-1 favorite Draw Two, Comes the Dream and Mambo Man.
"She ran well," said Christophe Clement, who trains Irish Mission. "She needs a little bit farther."