September 30, 2009

The Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Three Amigos

This Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup promises to be one of the races of the year. While it is true there will be some other horses with solid credentials in the race, all eyes will be on New York’s three amigos. Summer Bird and Quality Road renew their Travers battle, and the horse that almost ended Rachel Alexandra’s streak, Macho Again, joins the fray. Male championships in both the 3-year-old and older divisions could well go a long way to being decided with an impressive win by one of the amigos. Belmont will host the exciting match up in the historically important race and yours truly is ready to pick the winner.

Summer Bird is a beautiful chestnut son of Birdstone. Owned by Kalarikkal & Vilasini Jayaraman and trained by Tim Ice, Summer Bird has won 3 out of 7 starts and more than $1.5 million in this, his first year of racing. He has won two of the most important races for his generation in the Belmont and the Travers and has also finished 2nd to Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell. He started his stakes career when he was a fast finishing 3rd in the Arkansas Derby in only his third start. Summer Bird seems to be still developing and is getting better and better as he learns to harness his long strides. He has proven to relish a route of ground of 1 ¼ or more and his only race over the Belmont surface produced a classic win. If voting ended for an eclipse award today, he would be the champion 3-year-old. His lead in the division is a tenuous one though, and any misstep could shift favor to others such as Mine That Bird or Quality Road. Summer Bird will be ridden again by Kent Desormeaux and is the likely favorite on Saturday.

Macho Again is a tough little gray son of Macho Uno. Owned by West Point Thoroughbreds and trained by Dallas Stewart, Macho Again has won four graded stakes and has finished 2nd in four more including three Grade 1s in his three-year racing career. As a 3-year-old, he won the Jim Dandy and the Derby Trial and was 2nd in the Preakness and the Super Derby. This year as a 4-year-old, Macho Again has Won the Stephen Foster and the New Orleans Handicap. In his last two races he was a fast closing 2nd in the Saratoga Grade 1s the Whitney and the Woodward. Consistency has been an issue for Macho Again in the past but it seems like he is becoming more of a push-button, one-run horse for Robby Albarado since he took over riding duties five starts ago. The faster the pace set early on by Tizway and Quality Road, come Saturday, the more of a threat Macho Again’s late rally will become. Being the lone older horse of the three amigos is an advantage.

Quality Road is an impressive looking, muscular 3-year-old son of Elusive Quality. Owned by Edward Evans and now trained by Todd Pletcher, Quality Road has often been considered the most brilliant of all the 3-year-old males running this year. His wins in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby earlier this year and the Amsterdam this Summer have been as impressive as they have been fast. His two losses out of six starts come with legitimate excuses and he is primed for superstardom. The Travers was his first try at the classic distance of 1 ¼ and it came with only a 6 ½ furlong sprint as preparation. John Velazquez will be in the saddle again and should have Quality Road forwardly placed to get first run of the three amigos. This strategy could prove a major tactical advantage. This is now the time for Quality Road to step up and move to the next level.

While I have a great deal of respect for both Summer Bird and Macho Again, I fully expect Quality Road to add his name to the great list of champions who have won the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Quality Road will get the catbird seat sitting just off of Tizway and pounce on the far turn. I believe he will assume command as they straighten out, and from there, no one will catch him. His hulking physique should be perfectly suited to the sandy surface and sweeping turns of Belmont Park. This win will vindicate his great potential and avenge his defeat (with less than a perfect trip) in the Travers. For all those people who jumped on the Quality Road bandwagon at Saratoga: You were right, only a race too early.


LDP said...

Hmmmmm, I'm respect Quality Road and if this race were a furlong shorter i'd pick him without a shadow of a doubt. The catch is this race is 10 furlongs, and Summer Bird loves this distance. I could actually see him being in a mid pack to stalker position, so QR doesn't run off early, almost like he did in the Haskell, but still farther back. I see QR having some kick left at the top of the lane, but SB will be right up in the fray when they turn for home and he'll just be getting started. I say SB, QR and Macho.

Jennifer Cook said...

I don't want to handicap this one. I just want to keep cheering on Summer Bird!

Brian Zipse said...

I did like Summer Bird for the Travers as stated in this blog, but I think Quality Road is ready to take him down on Saturday.

LDP said...

We shall see....I saw QR drew outside of Tizway. I can see him and QR on the lead with Asiatic Boy in third, then SB in fourth or fifth. The back to will be Dry Martini and Macho. My question does not lie with QR's talent, but his ability to get that extra furlong when SB, Macho and Dry Martini are breathing down his neck.