Saturday’s 94th running of the
Grade 1, $1 million TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational, the centerpiece of
“Super Saturday” at Belmont Park, has drawn a deep and competitive
field of 10, including six Grade 1 winners hoping to stake their claim to
A little more than 1 ¼ lengths separated winner Fort Larned, runner-up
Ron the Greek and third-place finisher Flat Out in the Grade 1 Whitney
Invitational Handicap on August 4 at Saratoga Race Course, and all three are
returning for the 1 ¼-mile TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup, which also offers an automatic
berth in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park on
November 4 as a “Win and You’re In” race.
“The Whitney is a very prestigious race, and it’s an honor
just to be in a race like the Jockey Club Gold Cup,” said Ian Wilkes, who
trains Fort Larned for Janis Whitham.
“I’m a little bit apprehensive about getting caught up in
who’s going to be at the ‘head of the class.’ I’m just
trying to look at it as we’ve won one Grade 1 race, we’re trying to
add another, and then finish up the year in the Breeders’ Cup
Larned, the third choice
at 7-2 on the morning line, has competed in five straight graded stakes,
emerging with three victories and one second-place finish. He earned his first
Grade 1 in the Whitney, hand-ridden to victory by Brian Hernandez, who will
pilot the E Dubai colt in his first attempt at
1 ¼ miles. Earlier this year, Fort Larned set a track record for 1 3/16 miles at Gulfstream Park, winning the Grade 3 Skip Away in
“I couldn’t be happier with the way he’s coming into
the race, and I don’t think the distance will be a concern,” said
Wilkes of Fort Larned, who drew post position 5. “These races are never
easy, and there are some very good horses in there – you have Bill Mott
with two of them [Ron the Greek and Flat Out], and Shug McGaughey with another
In last year’s Gold Cup, Mott sent out eventual Breeders’
Cup Classic winner Drosselmeyer to finish second to Flat Out, then trained by
Scooter Dickey. While Flat Out is still seeking his first win since the 2011
Gold Cup, Ron the Greek has posted two Grade 1 victories this year, heading
Wise Dan to add the Stephen Foster to his earlier triumph in the 1 ¼-mile Santa
“I’m very pleased with the way both of them are coming into
the race,” said Mott, who won the Gold Cup in 1995 with the legendary
Cigar. “Flat Out has had a fair amount of time to get over the Whitney.
We’ve had a nice training schedule since then, and obviously he’s
run well on the track before [winning the Grade 2 Suburban in 2011]. I mean,
that’s got to be a bonus anytime you’ve got one running on any
particular track, if they’ve already been a dual winner there.”
The Hall of Fame trainer has named Joel Rosario to ride Flat Out, who
drew post position 9 as the 3-1 second choice on the morning line.
The 5-2 morning-line favorite is Ron the Greek, who drew the rail under
regular rider Jose Lezcano. The 5-year-old son of Full Mandate has often closed
from well off the pace to finish first or second in all eight starts for Mott,
who took over training last summer.
“With any sort of honest pace in the race, Ron the Greek is a
deep closer,” said Mott. “Given the extra eighth of a mile, that
should help him sustain his run.”
McGaughey, another Hall of Fame trainer, will be trying for a fourth
Gold Cup victory with Hymn Book, having won the race in 1985 with
Vanlandingham, in 1989 with Easy Goer, and in 1993 with Miner’s Mark.
Most recently fourth in the Whitney, Hymn Book opened his 6-year-old
campaign with a nose victory over Mission Impazible in the 1 1/8-mile Donn Handicap
at Gulfstream Park, with his best finish since then a second to Mucho Macho Man
in the Grade 2 Suburban in July. Overall at Belmont, the Arch gelding is 2-2-0 from four
“Hymn Book’s races here have always been good, and if he
gets away well and is in the race then I think he’ll have a big
chance,” said McGaughey. “He’s doing really well, so
we’ll see. He was closing here going a mile and an eighth, so [the extra
distance] might end up helping him while it might hinder some of the others.
He’s bred to run that far, so I don’t think that will get in his
Hymn Book, 5-1 on the morning line, will be ridden from post 4 by Hall
of Fame jockey John Velazquez.
Three-years-olds have fared well in the Gold Cup, and getting a
four-pound break in the weights under 122 pounds are sophomores Fast Falcon and
Atigun, who were third and fourth, respectively, behind the dead-heated winning
duo of Alpha and Golden Ticket in the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga.
The lightly raced Fast Falcon, who was making his Grade 1 debut in the
Travers for Hall of Famer Nick Zito, is 0-2-1 in four starts after breaking his
maiden in May at Pimlico. At 12-1 on the morning line, he will be ridden by
Corey Nakatani from post position 7.
Third in the Belmont Stakes in his only local appearance, Atigun is
15-1 on the morning line, having drawn post position 6 with Hall of Fame jockey
Mike Smith aboard.
The Todd Pletcher-trained San Pablo, who
won the Birdstone at Saratoga prior to the
Iselin, and Stay Thirsty, third in last year’s Gold Cup, are each 12-1 on
the morning line, with San Pablo
drawing post position 8 under Javier Castellano and Stay Thirsty leaving from
post position 2 with Ramon Dominguez aboard.
“Ramon has success on Stay Thirsty in the [Grade 3] Gotham and we are looking for an improved effort,”
said Pletcher of the rider switch. “Javier did a great job with Stay
Thirsty and we are happy to have him on San
Rounding out the field are 2011 Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice,
20-1, and Game Ball, 50-1, most recently eighth in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer
Invitational on the grass at Saratoga.