Despite its $1 million purse and status as a prestigious Grade 1 race, Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, for older horses over 1 1/4 miles, has drawn a field of just six. Considering the unlikely chain of events that would be necessary for us to wind up with the former $5k claimer #5 Looks to Spare in the winner’s circle after this race, we are left with only five to consider.
The silver lining? It is a solid group of five, led by defending JCGC champ #6 Tonalist.
A winner just once since last year’s Gold Cup, that in the Grade 3 Westchester in his 4yo debut, Tonalist has since hit the board in three straight major races in NY (Met Mile, Suburban, Whitney) while earning the three fastest TFUS Speed Figures of his career (121-125-122). The 125 was earned two back in the Suburban, a race we thought Tonalist might have won with a more well-timed ride. He loves this track, and, as we prefer him over these longer distances, we are siding with him getting back on track and walking away with a second straight win in this race.
#1 is Wicked Strong. Like Tonalist, he was a top 3yo of 2014, but he has struggled to find improvement so far as a 4yo. He is now 0 for 6 in 2015, and he has failed to improve much at all on his 3yo top TFUS Speed Figure of 119. His good race is still good; it just hasn’t been good enough recently, and he has finished behind Tonalist three times already this year, while also being defeated by both #2 Coach Inge and #4 Effinex.
#2 is Coach Inge. A better training job by Todd Pletcher we can’t remember. Coach Inge has started 12 times in his career, and has improved his TFUS Speed Figures from one to twelve (74-85-89-95-96-109-110-111-120-120-121-124), all while rising in class. Defeated by Effinex and Tonalist in that Suburban, it could be easily argued that Coach Inge ran the best race of anyone that day, as he made an enterprising pace all the way while under pressure, but just kept on going until finally being outfinished only very late in the game. He projects for a good trip Saturday stalking #3 Constitution on the lead, and he may not be easy to track down if he makes the lead at some point in the stretch.
#3 is Constitution. A dual Grade 1 winner on the way in, he will be on the early lead, according to the TimeformUS Pace Projector. His last race, which came over turf off of a 212 day layoff, is best viewed as a prep (Pletcher gets a 91 Trainer Rating switching from turf to dirt), but the main question surrounding Constitution is not one of surface. Constitution is in a position on Saturday where he must prove that he can run his good race outside of Gulfstream Park. 4 for 4 so far in South Florida, he is 0 for 3 elsewhere, and the performances are not comparable. The positive view of his two NY starts is that they both have come off of layoffs, and, of course, one of them was on turf. That he failed to show up with anything close to his best race either time is more difficult to look past, which is the same view we have of his lone try at Churchill Downs. Loose on the lead in the Grade 1 Clark last November, Constitution never had enough to hold on that day once challenged, and he was outfinished without excuse through the stretch. He is a talented horse, to be sure, and his speed makes him dangerous every time he faces the starter, but we are against him on Saturday.
#4 is Effinex. He has been a different horse since being transferred to the care of Jimmy Jerkens, and he has improved noticeably as a 4yo. Best trip of the three or not, he defeated both Tonalist and Coach Inge in that Suburban, and he also defeated Wicked Strong in the Excelsior earlier in the year. He wasn’t up to his best in the Woodward last time, but he is clearly capable of a race that makes him tough in this spot, and the distance of this race is of no concern for him.
The Bottom Line:
- Tonalist is clearly favored on the ML, and he is the most likely winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
- We are against both Wicked Strong and Constitution, and we think Coach Inge and Effinex are the right horses to use with the favorite.