Niagra Looks To Add Gold Cup to Resume

The Gold Cup (Grade 1) (BC)- $500.000 Purse
SA- For Three Year Olds and Upward
One Mile and a Quarter on The Dirt
June 27, 2015

The Gold Cup is one of those post TC races that almost everyone looks forward too, and looking at the field for this year’s race we are in store for a terrific race.   We will get to see the reigning horse of the year and BC Classic champion Niagra back on the track.  He will have strong challengers though, including No Trippin, who almost took the CT Classic from him back in April.  Spanish Showboat is coming off a great race and has already proven that he can be just as good on the main track.  Visa Vice, Halleljuah, and Xmas Diamond are all especially strong contenders, and would be the favorites in many of the other races they participate in as well.  Victory Meal certainly has the ability to get up there and beat this field on his best day.  Clementine Cottage has won back to back graded stakes, and Rumby Willie may just be yearning for the tenth furlong to show his ability with a three pound weight cushion.  The field is worthy of its grade one designation, to compete for Gold Cup glory, and the berth in the BC in which it carries.   We’ll look at each one of these horses individually in a moment, but first a little race history.

As most are aware, the Gold Cup was better known as the HOL Gold Cup and while at HOL Park, some of the greatest names that game has ever seen were in the winners circle.  In 2005 and 2006, the great Icicle, winner of nearly $9,000.000, left the rest of the field frozen in two of his 23 career wins.   After Icicle, things got Dark, as in Dark Crown, another winner of just shy of $9,000.000 over his career, as the great autogen from Fuji Stable dominated the 2007 event, winning by seven lengths.  Then, it was Barbarino’s turn.  In 2008 and 2009, this autogen made the HOL Gold Cup two of his 18 career wins, while amassing over $9,300.000 in earnings.  The 2010 winner, Sword of God, does not have the gaudy earnings total, but anyone who was around during these years know how dominant he was at times.   His win that day also prevented Whats Up from ever seeing this list of past winners.  The 2011 winner, Allfusionallthetime won over $2,300.000 in earnings.  Either this or his Metropolitan Handicap win six weeks earlier would be the signature wins of his career.  Risen Ruler took the race in 2012 after having a fantastic season of dominating Grade 1’s out on the west coast.   The last two years have belonged to Mb Stables, who won in 2013 with Jesse James, who was just shy of $3,000.000 in career earnings, and then in 2014 (the first year the race was run at SA) with Visa Vice, who will look to do what only Icicle and Barbarino have done, and win the race twice, and in consecutive years.  Mb Stables and Jerry Garcia Racing share the distinction of being the races winningest trainers, with two apiece.  R Migliore, always good to say that name again, is the only jockey to win the race twice.

Who will the 2015 edition?  Soon we will know and here is the run through the field.

#1 Clementine Cottage (A And I Stables, ridden by M Smith)- If you are superstitious, then Clementine Cottage has a little history going for him.  Over the last three years, the race has won by horses with two word names, in which both words began with the same letter.  It applies to Spanish Showboat too (and Visa Vice of course), but that one doesn’t need superstition on his side quite as much.  Clementine Cottage has never seen this level of competition before, but you can’t deny that he has been hot and has earned the chance to do so.  He has won six of his last eight, most of which were in open allowances at PRX before he was moved up to graded stakes in his last two starts.   Those wins came in the TX Mile (G3) at LS in late April and the LS Handicap (G3) in late May.  SA is not LS, and topping the likes of Niagra and Spanish Showboat will be a tough proposition.  Despite this, you have to really like what this race presents to his trainer in the opportunity to see just far along Clementine Cottage has come over the last eight months or so, and where he stands in relation to the best in the business.  If this is truly a horse with a nose for the wire, then he could be more pesky in here then the bigger names would like.

#2- Rumby Willie (Wolfs Den, ridden by K Desormeaux)- The trainer is pinning his hopes on his gelding thriving in the tenth furlong.  This would seem to be the only way that he could have a shot in this race against the big names that he runs against today.  Rumby Willie is also the only three year old in the race, and this gets him a three pound weight allowance, but you have to think that he would need more then that.  While Rumby Willie has shown us his excellent closing kick, as he did well to make up ground from well off the pace in the G1 BG Stakes and G3 IL Derby, but if those ended up in more then 5th and 6th place finishes, I might be a little more optimistic.  This is a good horse that will see better days, and he will probably like this distance, but just not against this company.  So far he has only won his maiden race, at TDN, and an N1X allowance at TUP.  SRF figures also look as though they come up short.

#3- Victory Meal (Pumpkin Racing, ridden by J Velazquez)- The five year old by Meals on Wheels has seen the winners circle in a quarter of his starts, taking six of 24, and it’s been a pretty good start to 2015 season for Victory Meal.  He has raced at the highest level before, placing 9th in the 2013 BEL, highlighting a strong three year old campaign.   He was a bit of disappointment last year, but has bounced back so far in 2015, taking the G3 Skip Away in March.  Some might argue that was a pretty weak field, so his third in the Grade 2 on the BEL undercard may actually be the more impressive result of the two.  He is at his best while he is up at the front and I have some concerns if that is the best way for him to run this race.   Victory Meal can be in the mix, and could surprise this field, but I will be looking elsewhere.   It’s a good race for Pumpkin Racing, however, to see just how resurgent of a season Victory Meal can have this year.

#4- No Trippin (Mb Stables, ridden by I Ortiz Jr)- It will be the 55th race of No Trippin career.  The eight year old gelding by Five Daddy Five has won 21 of those races, but only after being purchased by Mb Stables for a $5.000 bill, has this horse been able to earn the bulk of his over $1,300.00 in career earnings.  Pretty good return on the investment!  Mb Stables saw the talent in him immediately and put him in the Grade 3 PIM Special less then two weeks after purchase, and he would finish second.  The rest, as they say, is history.  He has gone on to win three graded events, including the Grade 1 Foster Handicap which allowed him to run for the BC Classic.  Most recently, he is coming off his second attempt at the PIM Special, and last month he was able to win the race.  In the race prior, he just missed Niagra by half a length in the G2 CT Classic, so there’s no reason to think he can’t turn the tables here.   He’s won four of five, and will likely want to come from off the pace.

#5- Xmas Diamond (Mb Stables, ridden by R Bejarano)- The second of four entries in the field by Mb Stables, this is probably not the one that the trainer feels gives him the best opportunity to win the race.  That is a testament of course to his other three entries as certainly Mb has embarked on a mission to bring down Niagra! Xmas Diamond absolutely can win this race, but he will have to run better then he did in the CT Classic.  There are five in this field that come out of that race, and Xmas Diamond was fifth of the five.  The races that surround the CT Classic show clearly that he absolutely can do what he needs to do to turn the tables.  Had an impressive three race winning streak during the winter that featured the CC Jewel, fittingly won by a diamond; then the SSM Classic and its $350.000 purse.  If you needed to see more, he then won the Grade 1 Donn Handicap.  Last month, he won again, taking the G2 Californian Stakes right here at SA.  Xmas Diamond certainly has the ability to get it done.

#6- Niagra (D J C Racing Stables, ridden by J L Ortiz)- Looking at the list of past winners of this event, it seems as though there is nice place there awaiting his name.  Niagra has turned into a legendary racehorse, having won over $5,500.000 in his career, and it actually appears that he is only getting better.  From the beginning, Niagra was something special, winning graded stakes as a two year old, followed up by running 4th in the KYD and 2nd in PRK.   D J C Racing Stable has managed his career perfectly, picking the perfect spots, and no doubt this helped with him capturing the BC Classic back in November as a three year old.  Since that race, Niagra is only getting better as shown by increasing SRF figures.  This is just the fourth race of 2015 for him, again a testament to the trainer’s patience his last two races have him just missing the headbob for a win in the SA Handicap (G1) in March, and then winning the G2 CT Classic in April.  The latter is significant since he meets four of those rivals again.  Of those, only Hallelujah has also not raced since then, so you also have to like how fresh Niagra is heading into the race.   Work times are right in line with what we have come used too, so there is no reason for any kind of concern about him.  As such, I do make him my top choice for the win.

#7- Hallelujah (Eastern Equine, ridden by J L Castanon)- Eastern Equine will be looking for his second career win in the stake, and Hallelujah has a good chance to deliver it.  Like Niagra, his last two races have been the SA Handicap and the CT Classic, and he was less then a length from victory in each of them.  He also ran in the 2014 edition of this race, and was second in that, again beaten by less then a length.   This has become a recent phenomenon for him, having close calls but not getting into the winner circle.  While he has been good, he has not won since September, and that is his only win in the last twelve months.  Hallelujah does seem to like this distance a little more then a mile and an eighth, and his SRF figures are showing some pretty good consistency.  You can’t be this good and not get back in the winner’s circle at some point.  If this is the day, we’re sure the trainer will be shouting his name for more then one reason.

#8- Spanish Showboat (Mb Stables, ridden J R Leparoux)- This five year old gelding has proven to be a monster on the turf, putting forth a fantastic four year old campaign on the grass that saw him be one of the favorites for the BC Turf.  Then, most recently, he was victorious in the Grade 1 Woodfurd Turf Classic at CD, defeating the best in the division.  On the main track, he has still shown formidable, with a recent third place performance happening in the HAW Gold Cup, a race in which he beat Hallelujah and Visa Vice.  Before his string of turf races that led to the BC Turf, he had a second in the BC Marathon in 2013.  The longer the race goes, the better Spanish Showboat seems to be.  Coming into the race, he is working well, and quite consistently which is something that I like to see.  I have all the faith in the world that Spanish Showboat is about to run a big one, and his name would also look good with the other past winners of the race.  And if you’re superstitious about the trend in winner names as mentioned with Clementine Cottage, you have all the more reason to believe in him.

#9- Visa Vice (Mb Stables, ridden by R J Albarado)- The defending race winner looks to do something that only Icicle and Barbarino have accomplished, something that would obviously be a very prestigious accomplishment.  They are the only two that have won this race twice, and in back to back years.  So, can we soon be saying his name in the same breath as those two legends? Since that victory, the eight year old gelding has three wins in seven starts, two of which have come in open allowances, but back in February, he won the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes, where he defeated Niagra as well as Hallelujah.  Since that race, we have seen a tactical shift with Visa Vice, as the former frontrunning pacesetter seems to be restrained early on for a bid to come from off the pace.   It might not be definitive that we see him run this kind of race again, or if we will see the same style we saw in this race last year.  Regardless of how R Albarado rides him, we expect that he will once again contend.

Prediction: 6-8-4-7


— NS

Categories: Grade I

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