Twilight Eclipse, a four-time stakes winner, will attempt to stay two miles when he faces a large group of competitors in the inaugural $200,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational on Friday.
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
The Belmont Gold Cup is a turf race for 4-year-olds and up. It was carded as the 10th and final race on Friday's card and will be preceded by the Grade 2, $250,000 True North. There will be a special two-day Double wager involving the Belmont Gold Cup and the following day's Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
Twilight Eclipse, the 9-5 morning line favorite, captured the 2012 Grade 2 W.L. McKnight Handicap and 2013 Grade 2 Pan America earlier in his career and has won his past two starts in North America. In December, he easily repeated in Calder Race Course's McKnight, which in 2013 was transferred from the turf to the dirt. He took the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida by one length in February at Gulfstream Park before going to Dubai, where he finished 12th of 15 in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic at approximately 1 ½ miles on March 29.
"This horse prefers going longer. The longer, the better for him," said trainer Tom Albertrani. "Most of his races are at a mile and a half. It seems like it's his best distance, a mile and three eighths, or, a mile and a half, even better."
Albertrani said the Belmont Gold Cup could serve as a springboard to Belmont's Grade 2, $200,000 Bowling Green at 1 ½ miles on July 12 for Twilight Eclipse, a 5-year-old gelded son of Purim owned by West Point Thoroughbreds.
"We're looking at, maybe, the Bowling Green later on," said Albertrani. "We didn't know if he'd be ready this quickly after his trip to Dubai. He has done very well since his return from Dubai and we're using this as a prep race for the Bowling Green. We don't think two miles should be a problem for him; it looks like he wants to run all day. I've worked him only a few times since we've been back, but it seems like he has plenty of energy. This race will bring him a step forward, I think."
Twilight Eclipse will leave from post 11 with Jose Lezcano aboard.
The 4-1 second choice is Charming Kitten, who seeks his first stakes victory since the 2013 Kitten's Joy, a race named for his sire, at Gulfstream Park. He has placed in seven stakes in his career, including second-place finishes in the Grade 2 Virginia Derby, Grade 3 Palm Beach and Grade 3 Hawthorne Derby, and thirds in the Grade 1 Blue Grass and Grade 2 With Anticipation.
This year, 4-year-old Charming Kitten has made five starts and won a pair of optional claimers, including a third-level race over Keeneland's Polytrack in April. In his most recent outing, he was fourth in the Grade 2 Dixie on the turf at Pimlico on May 17. Both the Keeneland race and the Dixie were contested at 1 1/16 miles.
Charming Kitten has raced once at 1 ½ miles, finishing fifth, beaten 2 ½ lengths, three starts back in the Grade 2 Pan American in March at Gulfstream Park.
"I thought he ran pretty well in the Pan American," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "He stayed on that day. He never quickened, but he never fatigued. When this race came up we were looking for a horse who might fit in a two-mile race, and this horse came to mind."
Pletcher said Charming Kitten will run with blinkers off in the Belmont Gold Cup.
"With a horse like him, who has been steadily campaigned, his fitness level is pretty good," said Pletcher. "One thing we are going to do is take the blinkers off for this race. Obviously, we hope it will help him relax in the early part of the race and get him in a good rhythm."
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will ride Charming Kitten, a Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred, from post 3.
Trainer H. Graham Motion entered three runners in the Belmont Gold Cup, and one of them, Draw Two, is the 6-1 third choice on the morning line.
Draw Two tested 1 ½ miles in his most recent start and emerged victorious, kicking clear to a 3 ¾-length victory in a second-level allowance on April 17 at Keeneland. He was 0-2-0 in three starts in optional claimers earlier this year at distances ranging from 1 1/16 miles to 1 7/16 miles.
Hall of Famer Edgar Prado has the call aboard Draw Two, who drew post 8.
Motion also will be represented by Auld Alliance, who got up by a nose in a 1 ¼-mile entry-level allowance on May 7 at Belmont in his lone previous start in North America, and Eagle Poise, whose accomplishments include a score in the 1 ¾-mile Valedictory in 2011 at Woodbine.
The field also includes Wings of Fortune, Sky Blazer, Reflecting, steeplechaser Spy in the Sky, the filly Irish Mission, Comes the Dream, and Mambo Man.