Though there will be plenty of competition in Saturday’s Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, the race is really a match-up between three different horses: Belmont and Travers winner Summer Bird, Florida Derby winner Quality Road, and Stephen Foster winner Macho Again. All others will be scrambling to catch these proven horses with their trousers down.
It was enough of a nail-biter when it was announced Quality Road would be back for a rematch against Summer Bird in the two 3-year-olds’ first race against older horses, but with the addition of Macho Again to the picture, intrigue shot through the roof. Quality Road was not his best when he finished third to Summer Bird in the Grade I Travers at Saratoga; coming off a track-record victory in the 6 ½ furlong Amsterdam Stakes, Road took the worst possible path down the stretch in his bid to take the lead: right through the river along the rail. While the free-flying Summer Bird sailed on by in the hardest path over the slop, Quality Road was passed by Hold Me Back, a horse that by all means shouldn’t have been able to eye any more than Road’s soggy tracks. Suffering his first defeat around two turns, you can count the real Quality Road will be back come this Saturday. His defeat in the Travers will mean for the first time since February, you will be able to grab up the Road at a price.
Summer Bird has proven himself as the top 3-year-old male in the country with his back-to-back victories in Grade I company; a victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup would cinch an Eclipse for his division. At a point in the year where he is excelling at all levels, it’s hard to find a chink in his chestnut armor. The son of Birdstone hasn’t been beaten since he looked down the barrel of Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell, which flattered the both of them after Summer picked himself back up and won the premiere race for 3-year-olds at Saratoga in the Travers. He seems to thrive on classic distances just like his daddy; winning the Gold Cup would prove his dominance in his division, while his rivals like Dunkirk and Pioneerof the Nile are sidelined or retired due to injury. When it comes to 3-year-old males, his main competition comes from the very horse chomping for revenge in Quality Road, and his fallen Kentucky Derby-winning blood brother, Mine That Bird, who is opting to prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.
Age looks good on mister Macho Again. The 4-year-old colt seems to be just hitting his stride after a year of hit and miss performances. After upsetting a boxed-in Einstein in the Grade I Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, the gray took second to a blazing Bullsbay in the Whitney, and was narrowly defeated by the great filly Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward; this is the most consistent Macho has been in his entire life; perhaps he is sitting on another big effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, a race that would greatly improve his record as a stallion prospect. When given a good trip, Macho Again is capable of putting in huge late-running performances that tremble the ground and the hearts of his foes. Regular jockey Robby Albarado will be in the irons for this race where his biggest opponents will be a year his junior. Though I still don’t trust in his consistency, Macho Again is a proven foe that can’t be dismissed when handicapping the final big dirt race before the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The undercard for the Jockey Club Gold Cup features several star Thoroughbreds, as well. Arlington Million winner Gio Ponti is blazing up a collection of Grade I victories this year, and will attempt to add the Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic to his resume. A field of only five will duel it out in the Grade I Vosburgh Stakes; Munnings will be back at his classic distance, going up against Kodiak Kowboy and the fantastic Fabulous Strike. The Grade I Beldame features Music Note, who most recently whooped champion Indian Blessing in her comeback race to form. With all the Grade I action going on at Belmont this Saturday, it’s clear these contenders are all shooting for one last score before the fall championships at Santa Anita. Next weekend features the Queen of California, Zenyatta, in her final prep, and Mine That Bird’s foray into older competition for the first time. If you’re following the road to the Breeders’ Cup this year, make sure you don’t miss the action the next two weekends.
The Grade I races at Belmont will all be broadcast live on TVG and HRTV, starting with the Beldame Stakes at 3:23pm ET.
Post time is approximately 5:43 ET for the feature race, the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup.