Jockey Club Gold Cup still relevant

Profile Picture: James Scully

October 5th, 2017

Saturday’s $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont Park used to be the biggest race in the handicap division (3-year-olds and up) but now serves as a “Win & You’re In” prep for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). And considering it’s been 10 years since Curlin recorded the last Jockey Club Gold Cup-Classic sweep, it’s relevance on the calendar has been debated in recent years.

Ed DeRosa wrote a blog 10 months ago suggesting the Jockey Club Gold Cup switch dates with Woodward Stakes (G1), restoring prestige and increasing its value as Classic prep.

I disagree. The Jockey Club Gold Cup is associated with the fall and moving it to Saratoga on Labor Day Weekend wouldn’t guarantee a deep field given the abundance of other prep races. And with the Breeders’ Cup not being held locally since 2005, horsemen have had little incentive to get a race over the track. Belmont once was part of the regular rotation, hosting the Breeders’ Cup four times from 1990-2005, and New York has been missing from the scene for too long.

East Coast Thoroughbred racing fans are optimistic, with officials reportedly in discussions for a return to Belmont (no future Breeders’ Cup sites have been announced after 2018), and the Jockey Club Gold Cup figures to benefit if it does.

And four of the last 10 Classic winners competed in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, including three straight from 2010-12. Blame and Drosselmeyer parlayed runner-up showings into Classic glory at Churchill Downs and Fort Larned finished third as the favorite before leading wire-to-wire at Santa Anita.

Saturday’s seven-horse field features Classic contender Keen Ice, who is presently listed as the 10-1 fifth choice at the Wynn Las Vegas behind the Gun Runner (6-5) and the Bob Baffert trio of Arrogate (5-2), Collected (3-1) and West Coast (7-1). His odds will drop with a strong showing Saturday.

I’m intrigued by Keen Ice’s last two starts. Winless in 10 starts since a startling upset over American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers (G1), he looked like a completely different horse when returning from a 3+-month layoff with a convincing victory in the July 8 Suburban (G2), registering a career-best 112 BRIS Speed rating for the three-length decision.

Eligible to come back down to earth in the August 5 Whitney (G1), Keen Ice rated in last behind moderate fractions and wasn’t going to challenge an impressive Gun Runner, who parlayed a front-running trip in a 5 ¼-length romp. But Keen Ice did offer an eye-catching move to be a clear second at a 1 1/8-mile distance that is less than ideal. The dedicated closer favors the Gold Cup’s 1 ¼-mile distance and his recent BRIS Late Pace numbers (112 and 109) are outstanding.

He appears to have improved significantly for Todd Pletcher and may receive the right set-up at Del Mar behind a hot and contested pace. But I want to see Keen Ice can back up his last couple of efforts Saturday before getting excited about his Classic prospects.