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Hawthorne Gold Cup Preview – Welcome Home Giant Oak!

Giant Oak returns home to Chicago to compete against nine others in the Hawthorne Gold Cup. This popular Illinois-bred stallion has won five races, three of which were in Chicago.  With over $1.4 million in career earnings he headlines this event for trainer Chris Block. 

And for a little history of the race…starting in 1928, this race has featured some of the best champion horses of all time.  Most recently this Grade 2 stakes race could also be considered as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup.  Some of the greats that have won this classic ten-furlong route include Kelso, Cryptoclearance (who won it twice and is one of my all-time favorites), Black Tie Affair, Awesome Again, and recently Awesome Gem (must run in the family).  This will also be my first visit ever to a track that is not Canterbury or Arlington and I’m very excited about that!  Let’s take a look at the ten competitors for this upcoming graded stakes run.

Race 9 – The Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap

#10 – Giant Oak (2-1)

The champion returns to his home state welcomed with open arms.  Chris Block’s Giant Oak draws the outside post in his return to Chicagoland.  He has posted some impressive Beyers in his last two starts (of 100 and 101 respectively).  However he finished 5th in the Woodward and 3rd in the Whitney behind the great talents of Tizway and Flat Out, so he has faced some tougher competition in the past.  This versatile horse is only 2-for-17 lifetime on a dirt track and has two place finishes in two starts at Hawthorne.  He may be the class of the field, but let’s take a look at the rest.

#3 – Rule (5-2)

This Todd Pletcher Kentucky-bred colt was recently defeated by both possible Horse of the Year candidate Havre de Grace and Flat Out in the Woodward (both of which won their next races), so Rule also keeps pretty good company here.  Going back a way in the past performances though, Giant Oak did defeat Rule in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream back in February.  Even though Rule has only missed the board twice in his career he only has one victory in 2011.  I don’t see him being the lone speed in the race and that could set up some pace problems.  

#6 – Headache (6-1)

Sitting on the shelf since that same Whitney at Saratoga, Headache has been working out very well recently by posting bullet works and sharp times.  This horse loves the dirt track and proves it with his 7 wins and 13-for-17 in the money record on the surface.  My concern with Headache might be his lack of graded stakes experience but if he gets a favorable trip he could contend.  

#8 – Where’s Sterling (6-1)
Frank Calabrese has a rare 2011 entry back in Chicago with lightly raced 4-year-old Where’s Sterling.  This horse has done nothing but improve since his 3-year-old campaign and in fact has won three races this year including the maiden breaker on a sloppy track in January.  Sterling’s most recent victory was in the Grade 3 Iselin at Monmouth where he posted a 100 Beyer in his one-length victory.  I expect this horse to contend in this race.

#1 – Worldly (10-1)

This 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy has also been running well as of late with a heartbreaking 3rd place finish in the Governor’s Cup at Remington and a four-length victory in the Prairie Meadows Handicap.  He has also just missed in previous graded stakes work in 2010 with narrow defeats in the Ohio Derby and the Northern Dancer.  He has some sharp recent workouts and likes to sit just off the pace.  If he doesn’t chase too hard he could also contend.

#5 – Cease (12-1)

Here’s a very interesting entry into this race.  Now, if it were raining cats and dogs (living together, mass hysteria) I would empty the bank account on this horse as he really enjoys playing in the slop.  Although he has won three in a row (well, DQ’ed out of a win three back) he hasn’t exactly faced this level of company either nor has he ever run on a fast dirt track.  Still, as my friend Matt Fisher always says, winners win, and this is no exception.  For Cease, I will watch the tote board and see what kind of action he gets.  Still, Al Stall wouldn’t just send a horse just for a leisurely jog in Chicago, would he?

#2 – Moe Man (15-1)

Moe Man is 3-for-19 lifetime and not very accustomed to running in graded stakes company.  His only graded stakes attempt was in the Grade 3 Skip Away at Gulfstream where he failed to contend.  Should we throw this horse out then?  Well perhaps not.  Moe Man won his last race at N2X level by over 6 lengths at Hoosier Park.  However, I’m not sure he can last the full 10 furlongs either.  

#9 – Mister Marti Gras (15-1)

Normally slated for the turf, Mister Marti Gras, the “other” Block entry is still 3-for-4 in the money lifetime on the dirt track.  This horse has won two of his last three including the Washington Park Handicap (where he set his lifetime best Beyer) and a tough allowance field at Churchill.  In between the two wins he finished a good second to Tajaaweed in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap.  This horse is in very good form, gets normal Block jock Eddie Perez on the mount, and has a sharp work at Hawthorne on October 2nd.  I would be surprised if this horse goes off at 15-1 or better and we might be able to catch a price here.

Rounding out the field:
#4 – Cherokee Lord (20-1) 7-for-10 in the money turf runner tries Hawthorne’s dirt again.
#7 – Maristar (20-1) The lone filly finishd third in her only graded stakes try, the Washington Park Handicap.

Race Analysis:

I could see Rule and Cherokee Lord flashing the early speed here.  I expect Wordly, Moe Man, and Cease sitting just off the pace.  There might just be enough pace to set up nicely for closers Headache, Mister Marti Gras, and Giant Oak.  

My choice:

Honestly, I really like Mister Marti Gras’ chances here, especially at a price.  It intrigues me that Perez gets the mount on this horse for Chris Block instead of with Giant Oak.  If I’m feeling saucy, I might even box him in an exacta with Where’s Sterling who I think also fits well here.

There you have it: the Chicago Dark Horse preview of Saturday’s big race.  Who is your choice in the Gold Cup?


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Older Comments about Hawthorne Gold Cup Preview – Welcome Home Giant Oak!...

Solid analysis Chris!
Very evenly matched group. Giant Oak is also a sleeper for me in the Classic...not to win but to land in the bottom of the exotics at a huge price, very similar to Fly Down last year. I think his races at Saratoga are better than they appear, since no one could make up any significant ground in the stretch at Saratoga all year.
Does anyone out there know if the Hawthorne Gold Cup is a Breeders Cup Challenge race to get into the Classic or not?
This is an interesting race. I question Rule at 10 furlongs, I also question Giant Oak's desire to win, he's a great horse but he needs good pace to run into. Head Ache is interesting to me
Giant Oak remains my BC Classic longshot ... let's see what he can do at Hawthorne!
Should be a good race. Just as a note-Where's Sterling's last win was in a Grade 3 not G1, you're giving FCC too much credit haha

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 (Whoa - it's me - the DARK HORSE)
Greetings and welcome to my "dark" blog!  I have been a fan of horse racing since I was about 12 years old.  Growing up in Minnesota, my dad would take me and my brothers to Canterbury Downs and I would practically beg to go every weekend!!  I made my first "big" score there hitting the win, place, and exacta in the same race at age 14 (pulled in $84 with horses named Railroad Red and Racers Dream!).  I even had a poster in my bedroom of Lost Code winning the 1987 St. Paul Derby!
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