Alain and Gerard Wertheimer’s homebred Happy Saver, making just his fourth career start, skimmed the rail in the stretch to get the lead under Irad Ortiz Jr., inching past fellow sophomore Mystic Guide to win the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes Oct. 10 at Belmont Park.
The 3-year-old by Super Saver, a three-quarters-of-a length winner, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.09. Odds-on favorite Tacitus, seeking his initial Grade 1 win in six attempts, settled for third after setting a soft pace.
The winner is trained by Todd Pletcher, who won the Gold Cup for the first time. His star older runner Vino Rosso crossed the finish line first last year but disqualified and placed second for interference behind Code of Honor.
“Not only had we not won it, we’d suffered some really close defeats and then throw in a disqualification [last year with Vino Rosso] on top of that and it’s been a frustrating one over the years,” Pletcher said. “This one was fun. It’s one of the races that has been hard on us. We’ve had some tough losses and it was very fulfilling to win it today.”
Happy Saver is out of the Distorted Humor mare Happy Week.
Only five went postward in the $242,500 Jockey Club Gold Cup and they were loaded in the outside five stalls of the starting gate as 1 ¼-mile races at the 1 ½-mile layout at Belmont starts on the turn.
Happy Saver broke on top as the short field headed to the rail, but Ortiz was more than happy to relinquish the early advantage to Juddmonte Farms’ 4-year-old Tacitus with Jose Ortiz aboard. They galloped through an easy :24.93 opening quarter-mile as Happy Saver stayed along the rail and Mystic Guide tracked while well off the rail. Outsiders Name Changer and Prioritize trailed.
“We were OK with not having the lead,” Pletcher said. “I told Irad in the paddock that usually I have a little idea of a plan but this one was tricky to me. Everyone has the same style and I didn’t think anyone really wanted to be on the lead, so just play it by ear.”
The half-mile went in a moderate :49.68 and three-quarters in 1:13.61. Mystic Guide made his run to the lead on the turn as Happy Saver also continued to move forward while inside. The three were on near even terms at the head of the lane after a mile in 1:37.25.
“Watching the race, I thought he was a little uncomfortable inside there,” Pletcher said. “To his credit, that was a pretty game performance to come up the inside there in his fourth start and first time against older horses going a mile and a quarter.”
Mystic Guide seemed to have the advantage while in the three path, but Happy Saver was determined on getting to the finish line first. Tacitus finished 6 1/4 lengths ahead of Prioritize. Name Changer trailed.
“This race was uncomfortable for him. I wasn’t really happy down in there but I didn’t really have any other options,” Ortiz said. “I just had to go with the flow of the race. I thought we were going to be on the lead and I was surprised to look up and see Tacitus on the lead early. I can’t take back but I can’t go head and head, so I just let my horse be there. I used him a little on the backside to stay close and go from there.
“He has a big heart, like I told Todd in the paddock,” Ortiz said. “He’s a fighter. Every time he has a horse in front of him and when you ask him to go, he passes the horse and then he puts his ears up.”
Happy Saver made his debut less than fourth months ago, breaking his maiden on Belmont Stakes day going seven furlongs. At Saratoga he defeated an allowance cast July 26 by four lengths at 1 1/8 miles. His stakes debut came in the Sept. 7 Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park, where he landed that 1 1/8-mile contest by 1 1/2 lengths. Pletcher opted not to try last weekend’s Preakness Stakes for a shot at the Gold Cup.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup is a “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series race for the 2020 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland Race Course on Nov. 7, guaranteeing Happy Saver an expenses-paid berth.
“I was very proud of the horse and his performance,” Pletcher said. “I’m happy for the connections, the Wertheimers have been loyal supporters for many years and I’m appreciative of that. It’s great to get a Grade 1 win for them. He’s by a Derby winner [Super Saver] we trained, so it’s fun all the way around.”
Unbeaten Jackie’s Warrior Overwhelms Opposition in Champagne
Making his first start at a mile, the 2-year-old Maclean’s Music colt earned an automatic berth in the Nov. 6 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at Keeneland through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.
Sent off as the favorite in a field of six, Jackie’s Warrior ($3.70) took the lead a few strides out of the gate and put up quarter-mile splits of :23.12 and :46.54 before getting three-quarters in 1:10.68 under Joel Rosario. He carried on to victory in a final time of 1:35.42 on a fast track, turning back the challenge of Reinvestment Risk, who tracked him in second throughout.
“He had an easy half-mile and I’m surprised he came home that quick,” said Toby Sheets, the Belmont-based assistant for trainer Steve Asmussen. “He’s very impressive. He’s a class act and does everything correct. The one-turn mile certainly didn’t seem to bother him.”—Claire Crosby
Dayoutoftheoffice Rolls in Frizette to Punch Juvenile Fillies Ticket
Dayoutoftheoffice, the 5-2 second choice in a field of six, held favored Vequist safe by two lengths to win the one-turn mile $250,000 Frizette Stakes in 1:35.82. Longshot Cilla was 10 1/4 lengths back in third on a fast track.
Trained by Timothy Hamm, the daughter of leading sire Into Mischief races for Hamm and Siena Farm. The Grade 1 score, a “Win & You’re In” for the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, tacks on to her win July 16 in the Grade 3 Schuylerville Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. The winner paid $7.80.
Joy’s Rocket broke on top under Jose Ortiz and showed the way through an opening quarter-mile in :22.94 and a half-mile in :46.41 as Dayoutoftheoffice and Junior Alvarado tracked while outside with Vequist tucked along the rail. Vequist, with Luis Saez aboard, remained inside on the bend as Dayoutoftheoffice made her way to the leader after six furlongs in 1:10.98. She was clear in the stretch while well off the fence, and Vequist shook clear of the rest but was unable to cut into the winner’s lead.
“I thought [the pace] was going to be a little more contested and I was going to stalk, but I felt like I was in control of the race from where I was,” Alvarado said. “I knew I had the horse in front of me [measured], so I just made sure my filly got into a nice rhythm and at the same time keep everybody where I wanted them to be.
“Post position  had a lot to do with how she ran today because it allowed me to control the race. It was just a matter of time before she got it to the next gear and really kicked on nicely at the end.”—Evan Hammonds
Civil Union Holds Off My Sister Nat in Flower Bowl
Civil Union, who began this summer still eligible for a first-level allowance, is now eligible for a far more lucrative race: the $2 million Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
The 5-year-old War Front mare earned a Breeders’ Cup berth by nipping My Sister Nat by a head in the $250,000 Flower Bowl Stakes. The race served as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Filly and Mare Turf, providing automatic paid entry, though winning trainer Shug McGaughey didn’t immediately commit her after Saturday’s race.
She utilized a ground-saving trip under Joel Rosario to prevail. Settling her in sixth early, as Lovely Lucky set fractions of :48.93 and 1:14.36 in the 1 1/4-mile race, he angled her out at the head of the stretch. Then she had clear sailing in front of her, and the mare prevailed in a determined effort as My Sister Nat closed down the center of the course.
A homebred for Joseph Allen’s Allen Stable, the Shug McGaughey trainee raced the distance on firm turf in 2:01.28. She paid $8.10.
“I let her settle a bit because we were going a mile and a quarter and tried to wait to the last part before I made my move turning for home,” Rosario said. “I went inside a little bit and she handled everything well and then came out turning for home. It was good.”—Byron King