Tonalist joins star-studded group as two-time winner of Jockey Club Gold Cup

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Jen Caldwell

October 3rd, 2015

On Saturday, Tonalist added his name to the list of luminaries who have captured back-to-back runnings of the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont Park.

Previous stars who accomplished the feat include Horses of the Year Curlin and Skip Away as well as the great mare Shuvee.

Tonalist entered the race, a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) on October 31 at Keeneland, off three straight losses, but that didn’t faze trainer Christophe Clement.

“Every start this year, I wouldn't have traded my position with anyone else, even when we got beat. People forget about him, but I never forgot about him," Clement asserted.

That faith paid off as Tonalist pulled off in the stretch for a 4 3/4-length score under jockey John Velazquez. The pair settled into stalking spot well back in the short six-horse field as Constitution led the way up front through splits of :24.35 and :48.17.

Oddly enough, the usually late running Wicked Strong was right there forcing the pace nearly the entire time. The bay four-year-old ran in tandem with Constitution early on the backstretch before finally settling off his flank. It wasn’t long, though, before Wicked Strong pounced again and this time managed to wrest away control through the six-furlong mark in 1:12.48.

While all this was going on, Tonalist was making his way up the inside while racing off the rail. The bay colt angled out a bit more heading into the turn and began his move upon hitting the straight.

Tonalist easily grabbed command and drew off to stop the clock in 2:02.16 over the sloppy, sealed main track as the even-money favorite. It nearly matched his 2:02.12 time from last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Wicked Strong was best of the rest in second, 6 3/4 lengths in front of third-place finisher Effinex. The Jimmy Jerkens pupil also ran in the 2014 Gold Cup but didn’t finish the race after clipping heels when Moreno cut across his path and losing rider Rajiv Maragh.

Tonalist followed last year’s Gold Cup win with a fifth-placing in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and wouldn’t return to competition until May, when he captured the Westchester S. (G3). The 2014 Belmont S. (G1) winner then finished second in both the Metropolitan H. (G1) and Suburban H. (G2) and third in the Whitney S. (G1).

The Robert S. Evans colorbearer entered Saturday’s contest off that latter race but produced a great final prep for his second try in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Tonalist photo courtesy of NYRA/David Alcosser/Adam Coglianese Photography


Christophe Clement, winning trainer of Tonalist: "We're back here, we won this race a year ago and it's great. I thought that even when he got beat this year, he never ran a bad race. He's a top class horse. We're back on top.

“I'm delighted for (owner) Mr. (Robert S.) Evans. Obviously, he believed in us all along. And mostly I'm delighted for the horse, I've never lost my faith in the horse. I never thought he was disappointing, he was a bit unlucky for the year, but the way he won today was very impressive.

“I was very happy with the way Tonalist was traveling. He always looked very comfortable. I thought that at any stage of the race, he could've taken them on. He's back to what I always believed. He's a top class horse.

“It's a wonderful race, it's great to win it two years in a row. Every start this year, I wouldn't have traded my position with anyone else, even when we got beat. People forget about him, but I never forgot about him."

John Velazquez, winning jockey aboard Tonalist: "I think (in the Suburban) I let him do what he wanted to do instead of taking hold of him. and he got caught. Today, he was in the bridle and I kept him behind horses. (Turning for home) I was going inside or outside, but once he (Wicked Strong) started drifting out, I had to go inside. He was so much better today. Everything worked out perfect. He was so good and traveling so well throughout the race."

Joel Rosario, runner-up jockey aboard Wicked Strong: "Good trip, perfect trip. It looked like Tonalist was the best horse today. I gave it a good try but he really beat me."

Jimmy Jerkens, trainer of runner-up Wicked Strong and third-place finisher Effinex: "From where the gate is, if you're (in post No. 1), even if you don't want to be on the lead you should come out of there and make the horses run a little bit to cross over in front of you or else you're not taking advantage of the post. I was glad (jockey Joel Rosario) let the other horse go and Wicked Strong looked like he liked being up close. It looked like he tried and kept on a bit better than he usually does.

"Effinex was sitting perfect then it looked like he was losing his action in behind."