Belmont Gold Cup International Scouting Reports: Loft, Outbox
European invaders have plundered the past four runnings of the Belmont Gold Cup (G2), after a second-place finish in 2016. Two more have arrived for Friday’s renewal — Germany’s Loft, a proven stayer with upside, and British veteran Outbox, who has smart form in the book, if he can duplicate it over further.
Like 2017 Belmont Gold Cup hero Red Cardinal, Loft comes off his biggest career victory in the May 15 Oleander-Rennen (G2). The two-mile test at Berlin’s Hoppegarten offers a ticket to Belmont Park, and the promising four-year-old is accordingly off on his first venture outside the Continent. Yet Loft doesn’t have the same degree of form as Red Cardinal, who’d placed in a Group 1 in 2016 and beat a stronger opponent in Berlin.
Loft's pedigree and connections
Trainer Marcel Weiss is now well known on the international scene, having sent out Torquator Tasso to stun last fall’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). Weiss also trained Group 3 winner Virginia Joy before she continued her career stateside with Chad Brown. She’s entered as part of the Brown battalion in Friday’s New York (G1).
Loft was to reunite with Torquator Tasso’s jockey, Rene Piechulek, until visa red tape prevented his entry. But he gets a fine replacement in Andrasch Starke, a veteran reinsman with marquee wins the world over, including the 2011 Arc aboard the great filly Danedream. His U.S. win came in a long-distance affair similar to the Gold Cup, the 2015 American St. Leger (G3) at old Arlington Park with Lucky Speed.
A homebred for Gestut Ittlingen, Loft shares the same sire as Torquator Tasso in Adlerflug, a well-bred son of 1990 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) star In the Wings. Loft is out of the Group 3-placed Dubawi mare Labrice, who is a half-sister to Italian Group 1 vixen Lovelyn. This is the immediate family of Deutsches (German) Derby (G1) winners Lando (1993), Laroche (1994) and Laccario (2019). Laccario went on to place in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) and Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) in 2020, a dozen years after another family member, Lauro, captured the 2008 Sky Classic (G2) during a productive North American stint.
Loft's emergence as a stayer
Loft was himself an early German Derby nominee, but he didn’t put it together in time to graduate from long-term hopeful to actual contender. A gelding operation last summer, and stepping in trip, proved to be the making of him.
Third in an Aug. 8 listed stakes at Hoppegarten, Loft broke his maiden at that level in the about 1 3/4-mile Stehercup at left-handed Baden-Baden. He closely tracked the pacesetter before pulling away in the stretch in relentless galloping style.
Up to Group 3 level for his two ensuing starts of 2021, Loft settled for runner-up honors behind fellow sophomore Aff Un Zo, who had German Derby form. Aff Un Zo won the Derby Trial at Dusseldorf over Sisfahan, but couldn’t beat him in the main event. As Sisfahan improved to win the Hamburg classic, Aff Un Zo wound up fifth. That form is significant because Sisfahan would place second to Torquator Tasso in the Grosser Preis von Baden (G1) and a decent seventh behind Yibir in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar.
In the Sept. 19 Deutsches St Leger (G3), Loft struck the front too far out, and Aff Un Zo rolled past. Loft received a three-pound weight concession from Aff Un Zo in their rematch in the Oct. 31 Silbernes Pferd (G3), and more patient handling by new rider Piechulek. But the change in variables didn’t change the result, and Aff Un Zo won again.
Loft made his 2022 debut in the Oleander-Rennen, and the favorite promptly scored a breakthrough at the Group 2 level. Trying this two-mile trip for the first time, he needed a sharp turn of foot when it turned into a sprint to the line, and found it.
It’s questionable whether that represents real improvement, however, since his nemesis Aff Un Zo wasn’t there. But if Loft didn’t need a new top effort to win, it’s a very encouraging sign that he’s picked up where he left off, and thus eligible to move forward here. He’s not dependent on the ground, with wins on both good-to-firm and soft, and he projects a favorable ground-saving trip near the pace.
Outbox has mixed it up in serious company, so the rub is if he can apply that form on the step up to two miles. But the seven-year-old had run creditably at this trip some time ago, and he figures to be prominent as a pace player. Note that his regular rider, Hollie Doyle, was just compared to Hall of Famer Julie Krone, by no less an authority than John Gosden.
Outbox's pedigree and early career
Outbox’s outstanding pedigree is a plus. By the phenom Frankel, Outbox is out of Group 2 heroine Emirates Queen, a half-sister (by Street Cry) to classic winner and top sire Dubawi.
Unraced until the fall of his three-year-old season in 2018, Outbox began his career with a three-race winning spree. His original trainer, Simon Crisford, saw his future in the staying ranks.
Accordingly, Outbox started his 2019 campaign in the about 1 7/8-mile Prix la Moskowa at Chantilly, where he was just denied by Funny Kid. Belmont Gold Cup fans might remember that Funny Kid tried this race himself, finishing fifth in 2018. Outbox placed in a couple of handicaps in the summer of 2019, but after he was knocked hard when third in the Chester S., he headed to the sidelines.
More than a year later, Outbox was sold for $21,926 at the 2020 Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training Sale. He joined young trainer Archie Watson, whose headliners so far are Group 1-winning sprinter Glen Shiel and the brilliant Soldier’s Call, sixth as the favorite in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2).
Outbox's 2021 comeback campaign
Outbox launched his comeback in a two-mile handicap on Kempton’s Polytrack on Jan. 6, 2021. Given the 16-month layoff, and 135-pound impost, Outbox did well to lead until deep stretch, ultimately succumbing late in fourth. But he flopped wheeling back 12 days later going about 2 1/16 miles in a salty conditions race at Wolverhampton. His fading to a remote eighth likely had more to do with particular circumstances on the day than the distance itself — the combination of the quick turnaround and pressure from a rival’s midrace gambit.
Watson shortened him up to about 1 1/2 miles back on the Wolverhampton Tapeta, and put the cheekpieces back on. Outbox responded with a clever wire job under 136 pounds. He repeated the feat on Doncaster’s turf, beating the useful Raymond Tusk, and graduated to black-type company for nearly every start since.
Outbox crammed in a grand total of 16 races in 2021. His most notable victory was a stalk-and-pounce verdict in the Fred Archer S. at Newmarket over the high-class Logician, who failed to regain his old luster in his comeback from grave illness, and two-time Canadian International (G1) hero Desert Encounter.
But Outbox also performed creditably in a few Group 3s, especially on good or firmish ground. The key result from the Belmont Gold Cup perspective is his second in the about 1 3/4-mile John Smith’s Silver Cup (G3) at York. Leading through a steady pace, he quickened to beat all but highly-regarded Hukum, who just won the June 3 Coronation Cup (G1) in a rout. Among those behind Outbox at York were such classy stayers as Fujaira Prince, Sonnyboyliston, and Quickthorn.
Outbox in 2022
After three unplaced efforts in listed events on all-weather surfaces to conclude 2021, Outbox rebounded in the $1 million H.H. The Emir Trophy Feb. 19 in Qatar. Reverting to his preferred turf surface helped, but an equipment change, to first-time blinkers, likely sharpened him up as well.
Outbox camped in second, and when French raider Mutabahi moved alongside turning for home, he rose to the occasion and spurted away. Although Mutabahi drew nearer again in deep stretch, Outbox kept finding more to hold him at bay by a half-length and clocked about 1 1/2 miles in 2:25.11. Mutabahi boosted the form by winning twice back home in France, romping by five lengths in the Prix de la Porte de Madrid and adding the Prix d’Hedouville (G3).
In his British comeback in the April 22 Jockey Club (G2) at Newmarket, Outbox strode forward before getting worn down by Living Legend and Yibir. He was only three-quarters of a length behind Yibir in third, although the reigning turf champ was admittedly below form.
Outbox threw in a clunker last time out in the May 14 Aston Park (G3). Having finished third to Al Aasy in the Newbury feature a year ago, he might have been expected to do better than a distant last of six. Yet it was a strong renewal, and Outbox never looked that comfortable. Not quick into stride, he quickly regrouped to join the leaders, but was uncharacteristically unable to maintain a forward position.
For Outbox to produce his best form on the hike in distance, he’ll have to get in his comfort zone early at Belmont.