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Friday, September 30, 2005

Jockey Club Gold Cup

- I think that the two 3 year olds in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Saturday, Flower Alley and Sun King, don’t have a chance. I loved Flower Alley in his last two wins, and there’s no doubt he’s an improving and maturing colt. Todd Pletcher is once again exuding confidence in the colt.

"I feel like we’re holding a very strong hand and the horse [is] running figures that are good enough to win a race like this.....He’s certainly a relatively fresh horse that’s in great form and obviously handles a mile-and-a-quarter. So we’re delighted with where we are." [Thoroughbred Times]
But he’s had everything his way in his last two stakes wins against his own age group. He had four rivals at his mercy at 1-2 in the Jim Dandy and as perfect a trip as you’ll ever see in the Travers, sitting behind the returning Bellamy Road. In both cases he was under a drive to the wire, and he came home in :26.1 in the latter.

By entering the rabbit Bishop Court Hill to soften up Lava Man, Pletcher is trying to ensure another smooth trip for Flower Alley. Lava Man was pushed to a 45.4 first half in his defeat in the Pacific Classic, and Bishop Court Hill can get to the half in 44 and change. But Flower Alley himself likes to be close to the lead, so as Haskin notes in Bloodhorse, this rabbit could very easily cook his own stablemate, just as Spanish Chestnut did in the Derby.

If that happens, it could set things up for a late runner. But even if the rabbit doesn’t run or fails to be a factor, the pace should still be contested. Suave has shown speed in his two starts this year, both wins, and his connections are ebullient over his condition. "We're ready," [trainer] Paul] McGee said. "I've never seen him doing better." [Louisville Courier-Journal] And eventually, Flower Alley would have to take on Lava Man himself, and that one has proven himself to be one tough customer. He hung on grimly in the Pacific Classic until late, and he’s going to be much tougher to pass than Bellamy Road was.

So whatever the scenario, rabbit or not, there could very well be some pieces for the closers to pick up. Borrego is getting the most attention as the likely beneficiary of a quick pace off his win in the Pacific Classic. He’ll put in his run as he always does, but he rarely wins and could be overbet here.

But another California closer, Imperialism, may present some value. He’s run very well second time off a layoff, including his narrow loss to Rock Hard Ten in the Shrub. And while he hadn’t run that well in his last two tries when returning off a layoff, he was extremely sharp closing from far back to win the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien at 7 furlongs at Del Mar on Aug 21, his first race in over five months. He had to run a :21.4 second quarter just to stay somewhat in contact with the hot pace, circled the field with purpose around the turn, and got the final eighth in 12.2. Whatsmore, his trainer Kristen Mulhall told the AP after the race: `He's only had about five works in the last five or six months, so he hasn't done a whole lot.....He was about 80 percent today.''

Now, Mulhall says that “he’s never been better than he is right now.” [Bloodhorse] Imperialism’s first race for her was a last to first win in the 7 furlong San Vicente last year which was extremely similar to his O'Brien. She then stretched him out to take the one mile San Rafael around two turns at Santa Anita. Now he goes longer again, but tries ten furlongs around what I guess is 1 ½ turns at Belmont – the race begins on the turn. I don’t know if he can get the distance. He’s tried it twice on the dirt, running an even 3rd in the slop in Smarty’s Derby, and a 7th in this year’s Santa Anita Derby, in which he pulled a muscle, leading to his layoff. He closed well for third at the distance on the grass in last November's G1 Hollywood Derby.

Assuming that he goes off in the area of his 8-1 morning line, I’ll take a shot that he can get the route, and I’ll box him in exactas with Lava Man as well.

- There's obviously a lot of other action on Saturday. Unfortunately, I'm on the road all day today so I won't be able to write about the other four Grade 1s at Belmont nor the Goodwood featuring the return of Rock Hard Ten unless I get some time later tonight. There's also, for the trotting set, the Kentucky Futurity trot at The Red Mile in Lexington. Rivals Classic Photo and Vivid Photo will hook up for the first time since Classic Photo avenged his defeat by Vivid Photo in the Hambletonian on August 27 at Balmoral. Since then, Classic Photo has won three in a row, and Vivid Photo took the two-heat World Trotting Derby in record time for a 3 year old gelding. The Kentucky Futurity is also a two heat affair. With just eight entered, that means the entire field will return for a second heat, and if one horse fails to sweep, then they'll be a race-off between the two heat winners, and that could be a dramatic Photo finish.

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