An eight-month layoff seemed to have little effect on Cupid Saturday in the $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita.
A perfect trip aided the son of Tapit, who was making his 4-year-old debut for trainer Bob Baffert and owners Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier and Derrick Smith, but the colt also made the best of his opportunity to win the 1 1/4-mile dirt race by 3 1/4 lengths.
Racing in fourth behind dueling early leaders American Freedom and Prime Attraction, Cupid made a three-wide move on the final turn to put away fellow stalker Midnight Storm and was never seriously challenged in the stretch.
“I put a little pressure on at the half-mile pole,” winning jockey Rafael Bejarano said. “When it got to the stretch and [Cupid] was in the clear, I thought I had a lot of horse and the race was over.”
Holly and David Wilson’s Follow Me Crev, who raced a far-back fifth after he was squeezed at the start between American Freedom and Prime Attraction, closed well to finish second, 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Midnight Storm.
“I was taken out of the race in the first jump,” said Follow Me Crev’s jockey, Kent Desormeaux. “It was a phenomenal effort by the Wilsons’ horse, because he took punch and body blow the first jump. Ridiculous. ... I would have been a couple of lengths behind [them] and instead I was 20 back."
After the rough start, Prime Attraction had a head in front through the first quarter-mile in :23.04. American Anthem put his head in front through a half-mile in :46.52 and had a half-length lead as six furlongs went in 1:10.62. The hot pace was too much for favored American Freedom, who also is trained by Baffert, and he tired in the stretch to finish fifth.
Cupid’s first Grade 1 win was his fourth graded stakes win overall. He finished the race in 2:00.89 at Santa Anita Park. Hard Aces, who won the Gold Cup in 2015, closed from sixth to pick up the show honors, 2 3/4 lengths behind Follow Me Crev.
“We brought two really good horses today, and I thought that fast pace might get to American Freedom,” Baffert said. “That Prime Attraction caused a lot of trouble. Cupid, off that long layoff — his class showed up and he’s been working so well. ... Cupid has changed a lot. He’s really filled out.”
As a 3-year-old Cupid won the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, the Grade 2 Indiana Derby and the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby. In his last start, he ran eighth in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing.
“We took the back roads with Cupid last year and made over a million dollars,” said Baffert, who won his sixth Gold Cup. “Coolmore has been great and they kept him in training. They asked me if I thought he’d get better, and I thought he should. We freshened him up and here we are. I got an important Grade 1, which is very important for a horse like him.”