While Gift Box is the hype horse heading into Monday's Grade 1, $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita, this looks more like the majority of races in that it's not one to single on horizontal tickets. The 1 1/4-mile Memorial Day feature is wide open with many options.
Because the contest is evenly matched, I'll make a case for an interesting longshot, Mongolian Groom. The 4-year-old gelding enters the Gold Cup with excuses for his last two losses. Furthermore, his value should hold, as he doesn't hail from one of Southern California's big barns.
In his most recent start, Mongolian Groom finished fifth by more than seven lengths in the Charles Town Classic (G2).
It might look alarming to see Mongolian Groom lose by that many lengths at Charles Town, but consider the three-turn race configuration. Even though it looked like he cornered the first two turns OK, Mongolian Groom lost interest along the way.
On the third turn, Mongolian Groom tipped out and started to pass horses again. Notice his running line says he fell 11 lengths behind at one point, before closing it to 7 1/4 lengths. Getting outside and in the clear helped.
The fact he regained his interest late is a good sign. Horses that run well at full-length racetracks but flop at Charles Town deserve a pass.
Two races ago, Mongolian Groom ran a solid race when he finished third in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) behind Gift Box and McKinzie.
Even though Mongolian Groom did not threaten Gift Box and McKinzie late, he did make a nice move on the back stretch to keep up with the leaders.
TimeformUS marked every fraction in blue, indicating a slow pace, and maybe that hurt Mongolian Groom. He tried to close, but Gift Box reserved too much energy.
Mongolian Groom beat Campaign for third and earned a 123 TimeformUS Speed Figure in the process. The latter returned to win the Tokyo City Cup (G3) weeks later on the same course by over three lengths with a 119.
Because Mongolian Groom is trained by Enebish Ganbat, the public is less likely to bring his odds down. With names like O’Neill, Sadler, Amoss, Eurton and Pletcher in here, Mongolian Groom will not attract money.
But which horse is actually the best one in the Gold Cup? The honor must belong to the Gift Box, winner of the San Antonio Stakes (G2) and aforementioned Santa Anita Handicap. He is tough and consistent.
In the San Antonio (G2), Gift Box defeated Battle of Midway and earned a 123 from TimeformUS before scoring a 127 in his Santa Anita Handicap.
Pace Projector puts him on the lead, although the pace is not slated as slow.
Regardless, Gift Box is an obvious top contender and readers do not need a long essay on why he can win. The 6-year-old is thriving in California.
Another contender is Core Beliefs, who is slated to settle right behind Gift Box early on. He most recently won the New Orleans Handicap (G2).
Because of the debate over the speed figures on that specific card, I'm disregarding them. Core Beliefs ran a slower time than the Louisiana Derby (G2) winner By My Standards that day, yet earned a higher speed figure.
Forget Core Beliefs' last speed figure and focus instead on who he defeated, which includes Silver Dust and Lone Sailor.
If Gift Box turns in a clunker, Core Beliefs will get first run, and that is important. He is a modestly talented horse with some upside left in him.
Next on the priority list is Lone Sailor, who came off his New Orleans effort to finish second by a neck in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) to Quip in the slop. Lone Sailor showed a great affinity for wet dirt in his past races.
But Lone Sailor has some nice fast dirt performances, too. He can take this race with his best effort, but note he only owns two wins overall. He needs something unusual to happen on the pace, such as a surprise speed duel to set him up.
Also shipping in is Vino Rosso, who is bound to take money as a 2018 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes contender. In his current campaign, he narrowly won the Stymie Stakes and finished fourth in the Carter Handicap (G1) at Aqueduct. In the latter race, he did not get a good enough setup at seven furlongs.
TimeformUS rates trainer Todd Pletcher a 14 out of 100 at Santa Anita, but Vino Rosso’s best race can probably get the job done. He is in the mix.
Blitzkrieg and Higher Power complete the field. The former needs to prove himself on dirt, while the latter looks outclassed on paper.
It is notable though that Higher Power’s connections are the same as Gift Box. Since Gift Box is a speed horse, Higher Power cannot be a rabbit. Does trainer John Sadler see something in him, or was this entry a favor to the stakes coordinator?
For value, I've settled on Mongolian Groom as the top pick. But, again, this is not the kind of race to use only one horse. Vertically, if Mongolian Groom is 10-1 or higher, he is worth a win or place bet. For something more creative, box Mongolian Groom, Gift Box and Core Beliefs, with Lone Sailor or Vino Rosso usable underneath.