There is always a lot on the line in a race, especially one like the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but in 2013, there seems to be much more on the line than another grade one, winning a purse, or earning prestige. This year, the Gold Cup is a pivotal race to several horses. It will determine a possible championship, it could mean something historic, it could determine the path one might take to the Breeders Cup, and for the rest of their career. As I said, there is a lot riding on this race.
The most published facet of this race is the weight it holds in distinguishing a leader among the three year old division. This year, there have been many outstanding performances throughout the division, but no single horse has shown a complete dominance. Here, you have two of the “Big Three” entered, in Orb and Palace Malice.
Orb is your Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby winner. He has the body of work to make a strong case for the lead Three Year Old colt, but he hasn’t won since the Kentucky Derby. He came back from the Belmont with an impressive race in the Travers, a race he entered off an 11 week layoff, but he was beaten by longshot Will Take Charge, who just validated that win, with another impressive victory in the Pennsylvania Derby.
Palace Malice has had quite a year too, finishing third in the Risen Star and second in the grade one Bluegrass Stakes before winning the Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy. In the Travers, his bad luck reared its ugly head, again, when he broke second to last over a speed favoring strip, and was made to go five wide on the final turn. He was beaten less than a length, but it was still a loss. A win in the Gold Cup, would give both of these colts a win over grade one winning older males, something Will Take Charge doesn’t have, therefore vaulting them to the head of the division.
For Cross Traffic, this race could determine his Breeders Cup status. He won the Whitney, after setting blistering internal fractions, while holding off a late surge by Successful Dan, but that was at nine furlongs, not 10. The good news is that, with an outside draw and a lack of other speed horses, Cross Traffic will likely be setting a much more sensible pace. Should he win or run a good race, he will likely be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race that could earn him Horse of the Year if he won. If he loses, he will most likely be pointed to the Dirt Mile, a race that looks no easier.
Finally, we come to Flat Out, who is moving to become the first horse since Forego to win over two Jockey Club Gold Cups. Belmont is his house, he has only ever lost once over its surface, and that was after a horrendous trip over a distance that is shorter than his best. This is his track and his race, but the field he faces this year is the best he’s take on, in this race. He has to beat the Derby and Belmont winner, along with the Whitney hero, and the Woodward winner, Alpha. He also has to contend with multiple graded stakes winner Last Gunfighter. This by no means will be an easy victory.
With all this in mind who do you pick? Cross Traffic is insanely talented, has speed to spare, and will likely get a much softer pace and a perfect trip. Palace Malice is on the improve, loves Belmont, loves the distance, and also looks to have the perfect set up, stalking stablemate Cross Traffic. Orb, also on the improve looms large, but he’ll have to overcome an inside draw. Flat Out loves the track and the distance, but is up against a very accomplished, very solid group.
The thoughts here are that Palace Malice gets the bob over his very talented stablemate, and establishes himself the leader of his division. Cross Traffic runs well enough in defeat to merit a start in the Classic, while Flat Out falls just short of history, coming in third. However, as noted, this is a very competitive field, most likely one of the best in recent years, and I for one, am sitting on the edge of the proverbial seat, brimming with anticipation. Time to see who is the alpha of the Classic division.