The Jockey Club Gold Cup, run for the 85th time this Saturday at Belmont Park, stands on its own as one of the most important thoroughbred races of the year. Offering a purse of more than $1 million and run at the American classic distance of a mile and a quarter, it usually brings together some of the best older horses in training and 3-year-olds ready to step up to the next level. This year's renewal will be no different and is likely to produce the favorite for the year's most important race, the Breeders' Cup Classic.
The Gold Cup takes on added importance with the recent defection from Classic consideration of Candy Ride, the Argentine import and handy winner of the Pacific Classic over Medaglia D'Oro. He will not race again this year, in part because his owner, diet guru Jenny Craig, finds the $800,000 supplemental entry fee a bit steep. Also defecting from Classic consideration is Perfect Drift, who defeated Mineshaft by a head in Kentucky in June and then beat Congaree in the same state two weeks ago. Ten Most Wanted, second in the Belmont Stakes and winner of the Travers at Saratoga when Empire Maker stayed in his barn with a cough, is having second thoughts about starting as well.
Leading the way in the Gold Cup will be Mineshaft, winner of eight of his last 10 races, including two very impressive scores at Belmont. His last loss, to Perfect Drift, came on a day when he carried more weight than the winner. Empire Maker, last seen at Belmont when he won the feature race of the spring meeting, the Belmont Stakes, looks to make his first start against older horses in the feature race of the fall meeting. A victory would put him at the head of the 3-year-old division and into the Horse of the Year mix. Local trainer Pat Kelly, who conditioned Evening Attire to victory in the race last year, is expected to send him to the starting gate to defend his title.
The most interesting entry may be Moon Ballad. Winner of the Dubai World Cup in March, he has spent the year in Europe and arrived recently by plane after a final serious workout at England's Newmarket course. Released from the quarantine required of international equine travelers, he has taken his first turns on the Belmont strip. His handlers look to add him to the Horse of the Year picture with a win in the Gold Cup.
Following the Gold Cup, Mineshaft, Empire Maker and Moon Ballad will fly to southern California for the Breeders' Cup Classic. A strong showing by Evening Attire might convince Pat Kelly to put him on the same plane. When they get there, they will be entered with the strongest field of the year, including Medaglia D'Oro and Congaree, both winners of important stakes in New York before traveling west to finish their seasons. More likely is that the favorite in the race, and to be named Horse of the Year, is one of the Gold Cup starters.
Three other races on Saturday's Belmont card have championship significance. The Turf Classic, run on the grass at the European classic distance of a mile and a half, is expected to host the rematch of Storming Home and Sulamani. When they last met, in the mile and a quarter Arlington Million in Chicago, Storming Home led the way to the finish but was disqualified after making a sharp right turn just before the wire, unseating jockey Gary Stevens after it. Second-place finisher Sulamani was declared the winner. Storming Home will try to keep his act together for the whole race but Sulamani will like the added distance. Lunar Sovereign, winner of the Man O'War at Belmont three weeks ago, is slated to join them.
The Flower Bowl Invitational, also run on the grass, brings together some of the best fillies and mares in the Turf division for a mile and a quarter run for $750,000. It is the perfect spot for horses looking to run in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at the same distance. Expected starters include the mouthful, Walzerkoenigin, a stakes winner in France, Germany and Italy, Heat Haze, Riskaverse and Snow Dance.
The Vosburgh will provide sharp contrast to the three other featured races, inviting sprinters to run 6 1/2 furlongs in preparation for the Breeders' Cup Sprint. The 3-year-old, Ghoszapper, will take his shot against older horses there.
The day of racing has something for every fan and the racing promises to be competitive and entertaining. By the time the first long shadows of autumn fall across Belmont Park late Saturday afternoon, the promise of championship racing, and Breeders Cup starters and favorites, will be fulfilled.