The $250,000, Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes is traditionally one of the most important races on the calendar for older males as well as a golden opportunity for a talented 3-year-old to test his mettle against more seasoned opposition. First held in 1919, this year’s edition will be held Saturday, Oct. 10 at Belmont Park.
The 1 ¼-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup is a “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series automatic qualifying race for the 2020 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland Race Course on Nov. 7. It also carries as much historical gravity as virtually any race in the U.S., having been won by legends such as Man o’ War, Gallant Fox, Twenty Grand, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Citation, Hill Prince, Nashua, Sword Dancer, Kelso (five years in a row), Damascus, Buckpasser, Shuvee, Forego, Affirmed, John Henry, Easy Goer, Cigar, and Curlin.
This year’s 102nd Jockey Club Gold Cup drew a small but competitive field of five horses and will be broadcast live on FS2 as part of NYRA’s “America’s Day at the Races” program. Post time is scheduled for 4:48 p.m. ET. For more information, click here.
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Whether you are interested in making a couple of bucks on the race or just want to know a little bit about this year’s runners, we’ve got you covered with our 2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup Cheat Sheet.
1. Happy Saver
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Owners: Wertheimer and Frere
Career record: 3 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds
Career earnings: $135,900
Earnings per start: $45,300
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106
Pedigree: Super Saver – Happy Week, by Distorted Humor
Running style: Press the pace/stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Happy Saver enters the Jockey Club Gold Cup with a perfect 3-for-3 record for trainer Todd Pletcher and owners Gerard and Alain Wertheimer. He did not make his first start until June 20 at Belmont Park, and won a seven-furlong maiden race by an impressive 5 ½ lengths. He next started at Saratoga in a 1 1/8-mile allowance, and again was dominant, stretching out to a route of ground with no difficulty whatsoever and romping by four lengths. On Sept. 7, Happy Saver shipped to Laurel Park in Maryland and won the local prep for the Preakness Stakes, the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio Stakes, by a comfortable 1 ½ lengths as the 1-5 favorite. He skipped the third leg of the Triple Crown, and faces a class test in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but this colt is clearly talented and he also has a good pace-pressing running style that should keep him close to the front — and perhaps even setting the pace — through the first half-mile. As far as pedigree is concerned, Happy Saver is a son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, and this colt’s second dam (maternal grandmother) is a half-sister to the Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner A.P. Indy, one of the best sires of the past quarter-century and a bedrock source of stamina. Todd Pletcher has yet to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup – last year, Pletcher-trained Vino Rosso finished first by a nose over Code of Honor but was disqualified due to interference in the stretch. Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2017 aboard Diversify.
Jockey: Luis Saez
Trainer: H. James Bond
Owner: William Clifton Jr.
Career record: 14 starts – 4 wins – 2 seconds – 3 thirds
Career earnings: $307,100
Earnings per start: $21,936
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109
Pedigree: Tizway – Whey Sauce, by Kurofune
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: This gelding is a Jockey Gold Cup entrant who may lack pedigree pizzazz and/or graded stakes-winning credentials but has a lunch-pail appeal and also is in career-best form. He’s finished in the money in his five most recent starts, which lines up with a shift from turf to dirt, winning twice – including a game neck victory over highly-regarded Money Moves in a Saratoga allowance optional claiming race – and most recently finishing third to Global Campaign and Tacitus in the 1 1/4-mile, Grade 1 Woodward Handicap. If Prioritize can back up that effort at a distance he appears to relish, he could hit the board in the Jockey Gold Cup. It’s a credit to trainer James Bond and his owner for trying something different and unlocking this gelding’s talent after a string of disappointing efforts on grass followed a Grade 2-placing on the turf in 2018. He’ll have to muster a career-best effort in Saturday’s prestigious race to have a say in the outcome, but that’s not out of the question.
3. Name Changer
Jockey: Manny Franco
Trainer: Jorge Duarte Jr.
Owner: Colts Neck Stables
Career record: 21 starts – 8 wins – 2 seconds – 6 thirds
Career earnings: $542,130
Earnings per start: $25,816
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 116
Pedigree: Uncle Mo – Cash's Girl, by Northern Afleet
Color: Dark Bay or Brown
Running style: Stalker/closer
Notable achievements and interesting facts: This 7-year-old has some back class as a Grade 3 winner in 2018 whose best Equibase Speed Figure (116) is the highest of this field, but he has yet to visit the winner’s circle in four starts following a layoff of more than 11 months. Name Changer has placed in a pair of stakes since the comeback and enters the Jockey Club Gold Cup off a fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile Stakes Sept. 20 at Monmouth Park. In a short field for a prestigious race like this, you can understand why Name Changer’s connections wanted to take a shot with a racehorse who has run in the top three in 16 of 21 career starts and almost always shows up. Although Name Changer has never raced at 1 ¼ miles, his three stakes wins all came at 1 1/8 miles and he’s a threat to finish in the top two at what figures to be a decent price. Jockey Manny Franco won the Jockey Club Gold Cup aboard 45.50-1 longshot DIscreet Lover in 2018.
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Trainer: Bill Mott
Owner: Juddmonte Farms
Career record: 13 starts – 4 wins – 4 seconds – 2 thirds
Career earnings: $2,917,500
Earnings per start: $224,423
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110
Pedigree: Tapit – Close Hatches, by First Defence
Color: Gray or roan
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Tacitus easily brings the most star power to Saturday’s 102nd Jockey Club Gold Cup, having earned nearly $3 million and having won such notable graded stakes as the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby before running second in the Belmont Stakes and Runhappy Travers Stakes as a 3-year-old. Still, there’s a sense of unfulfilled destiny with this regally-bred Tapit colt, who always gives a good effort in his starts but seems to just as commonly run into bad luck. During his 4-year-old season, he’s won the 1 ¼-mile, Grade 2 Suburban Stakes at Belmont Park in dominant fashion (earning a career-best 110 Equibase Speed Figure), and more recently finished a decent second as the odds-on favorite behind talented Global Campaign in the Grade 1 Woodward Handicap at Saratoga (Prioritize finished third). He’s shown good form in all three of his stakes tries at Belmont Park, finishing third in last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup behind dueling Vino Rosso and Code of Honor as well as the aforementioned win in this year’s Suburban and runner-up finish in last year’s Belmont Stakes. Tacitus has also paired well with jockey Jose Ortiz, who rode him for all of his races at ages 2 and 3, got back on him after a three-race break for his Woodward effort, and retains the mount Saturday. If Tacitus can avoid race trouble and sit a good stalking trip, he has more than enough back class to finally grab that elusive Grade 1 win on Saturday. At the very least, he’s clearly the horse to structure any exotic tickets around. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has won the Jockey Club Gold Cup three times, with the legendary Cigar in 1995, Flat Out in 2012, and Ron the Greek in 2013.
5. Mystic Guide
Jockey: John Velazquez
Trainer: Michael Stidham
Career record: 5 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 2 thirds
Career earnings: $143,200
Earnings per start: $28,640
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 108
Pedigree: Ghostzapper – Music Note, by A.P. Indy
Running style: Stalker/closer
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Three-year-old Mystic Guide did not make his first start until Feb. 15, finishing third in a Fair Grounds sprint, but he improved considerably when stretched out to 1 1/16 miles for a maiden race in late March, winning by five lengths and earning a 99 Equibase Speed Figure. This Godolphin homebred son of Hall of Famer Ghostzapper out of Grade 1 winner Music Note then took a nearly three-month break before returning and finishing second in a very competitive 1 1/16-mile Belmont Park allowance. He next finished a deep-closing third in the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes at Saratoga on July 16 behind Country Grammer and Caracaro, and in his most recent start broke through in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at the Spa on Sept. 5, rallying through the stretch to defeat fellow closer Liveyourbeastlife by three-quarters of a length. Trainer Mike Stidham said after the Jim Dandy that adding blinkers helped Mystic Guide focus and kept him closer in touch with the field, and this talented and improving colt could employ a similar strategy Saturday, settling in a midpack position before making his move into contention through Belmont’s sweeping turn. His pedigree is well-suited for a mile and a quarter as well, since he’s a son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Ghostzapper and out of a mare who is a daughter of A.P. Indy, a proven source of stamina, and who herself won three Grade 1 stakes at 1 1/8 miles. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum won the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2006 with Bernardini under the banner of his Darley Stable, and his globe-trotting charge Thunder Snow finished second by a neck two years ago to longshot Discreet Lover. Jockey John Velazquez won the Jockey Club Gold Cup last year on Code of Honor via disqualification to earn his third victory in the race. Velazquez also won the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2015 on Tonalist and 2016 with Hoppertunity.