Fans will have no reason to try to beat traffic Saturday as the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes will be the twelfth and final race of a loaded card. Run at the classic 1 1/4 miles for a $1 million purse, the race will be contested at Saratoga for the first time after having been run at Belmont since 1975.
Happy Saver (9-5) won the Jockey Club Gold Cup in its last iteration at Belmont last October, but did not open as the favorite following a light racing schedule in the last 12 months. Following the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Happy Saver took an extended break and did not return until May. There he dropped way down in class for a refresher race, which he won, and then was outrun a little over a month later by Max Player (5-2) in the Grade II Suburban Stakes for his only career loss in six races.
The difference in that last race was his lack of a late pace. Usually, Happy Saver runs as a presser who can turn it on in the far turn, but it was not there to the same extent that day. There are a few factors that could have contributed to this. The race was run on a track rated as sloppy, which he had never done before, and he ran for the first time without Lasix. With no rain forecast for Saturday, one of those variables can be eliminated. Happy Saver will still not run with Lasix, but neither will anyone else in this race. Expectations are that the Happy Saver we saw in last year’s Jockey Gold Club Stakes will be closer to who we see today than the colt we saw in the Suburban.
Forza Di Oro (8-5) is another colt with a light racing schedule in the last year, having only started once since last November. That race, a 1 1/8-mile optional claimer on a muddy Saratoga track on July 21, showed that Forza Di Oro has not lost a step during his time off. He put up a 108 Brisnet speed rating on his way to a three-length victory. His workouts have also been solid, so it appears we will see the colt at his best.
A seasoned graded stakes runner, Max Player has gone up against some of the best competition available since breaking his maiden. His record of 10-3-1-2 undercuts some of his talent, as he has often taken part in Grade I races with double-digit entrants. He broke through in the Suburban, out-finishing Happy Saver for his first graded stakes win since February 2020, and in doing so he put up the best Brisnet speed figure of this group on a fast track (107). That race only had six entrants, just like this one.
Night Ops (5-1) is poised for a breakout, and against any other group, it would be likely that it would come in this race. The Brad Cox-trainee has run four consecutive races at 1 1/8 miles and finished second in each of them, never by more than 1 1/2 lengths. In each of those races, Night Ops was chasing down the leader in the stretch, and each time ran out of space to catch them. Saturday’s race adds a furlong for him to potentially finally close that gap.
The best bet Saturday is Ducale (5-2) in the tenth race. He broke his maiden at Saratoga on the second day of the meet, bet down as the clear favorite, and posted a 103 Brisnet speed rating in that race. He was quick throughout in that race, but his speed from first to second call was better than his late pace, so the drop of a half furlong in this race may further improve his results.
Lookin To Fly (8-1) is the best value bet on the card. After finishing in the money in four of her first six starts, the filly returned from a long layoff to win at Saratoga on Aug. 5 in her first run at a route distance. She gets another shot at the same 1 1/16 miles here against an unproven field. Her momentum may be enough to carry the day here.
5-War Smoke, 7-Giramonte, 9-Sheriff Bianco, 8-B C Glory Days (Sheriff Bianco becomes the top pick if the race is moved to the main track).
3-Grumps Little Tots, 8-Ashaar, 2-Supreme Aura, 4-Roaming Union.
6-Cody’s Wish, 7-Pipeline, 3-Sticky Issue, 4-Ubiquitous.
7-Risky Mischief, 3-Screamin’ By, 8-Miss Donna, Harper’s In Charge.
6-Souper Sensational, 5-Amendment Nineteen, 2-Edie Meeny Miny Mo.
9-Ohtwoohthreefive, 8-Nyquest Nix, 6-Annapolis, 10-Beloved Warrior (12-Immokalee becomes the top pick if the race is moved to the main track).
3-Ten Gauge, 10-Brigadier General, 4-Misbehaved, 8-Galt.
1-Public Sector, 4-Never Surprised, 5-Founder, 7-Risk Taking.
3-Lookin To Fly, 10-English Breeze, Coupled Entry (1-Caramocha and 1A-Cara’s Dreamer), 2-Electric Youth.
3-Ducale, 8-Baby Yoda, 9-Crowded Trade, 10-Hometown.
3-War Like Goddess, 4-My Sister Nat, 6-Great Island, 7-Coastana.
4-Happy Saver, 1-Forza Di Oro, 2-Max Player, 5-Night Ops.
Bubble Rock (second), Dee Bo (fifth), Gold Panda (eighth).
Record for meet: 112 for 377.
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