SARATOGA SPRINGS – The ups and downs in horse racing can happen a month apart.
Or 30 minutes apart.
Olympiad was a dull fourth in the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 6, and trainer Bill Mott still wonders what went wrong that day. Running against Life Is Good didn’t help matters, but his horse’s 2022 campaign had been smooth sailing until then.
Saturday was different.
And one race after Mott had experienced a disappointing loss with perhaps the best turf female in the country, he was in the middle of the post-race interview again, but with Olympiad’s two-length victory in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup to talk about this time.
Shaking off that Whitney performance, Olympiad and jockey Junior Alvarado stalked pacesetter Tax and methodically took command at the quarter pole to hold off Americanrevolution and get back on the winning track.
“It’s gratifying to see him come back,” Mott said. “The one the other day almost seemed too bad to be true, considering the form he had been in the previous five races, and it’s just good to see him bounce back. He’s a Grade I winner, he’s won six out of seven races this year and he’s got a pretty good record going for himself.”
Olympiad had won four straight graded stakes, including the Grade II Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs by 2 1/2 lengths over Americanrevolution on July 2.
Then he ran in the Whitney four weeks ago, and although he may not have beaten Life Is Good, one of the top contenders for Horse of the Year, anyway, Mott saw signs before the race that it wasn’t going to be Olympiad’s day.
That wasn’t the case before Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup.
“I liked the way he looked after we put the saddle on and he was walking around,” Mott said. “He was on his toes. He was a little quiet the other day when it was so hot, kind of had his head down a little bit. Looked just a little too quiet, and I think everybody was moving a little slow.
“Today, it looked like he had a little extra energy, a little extra bounce to his step just before we put the jocks on.”
Breaking from the No. 2 post as the 8-5 betting favorite, Olympiad settled in comfortably just off Tax’s flank, with Americanrevolution and jockey Joel Rosario maintaining similar position just outside of Olympiad all the way to the second turn.
Tax wasn’t going particularly fast – a quarter-mile in 24.54, a half in 49.70 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:13.47 – but at the same time, he wasn’t gaining any significant distance between himself and his rivals, either.
That put both Olympiad and Americanrevolution in good spots to challenge Tax with a quarter-mile left, and Olympiad and Alvarado were able to not only get the jump on Americanrevolution, but did so with enough gas in the tank to finish off the victory.
Americanrevolution didn’t face a challenge for second and was 1 3/4 lengths ahead of First Captain.
“He broke good,” Mott said. “Junior gave him a good trip. He knows him well, he rides him well. Clean trip, and got the job done.”
“We’re still scratching our heads [about the Whitney],” Alvarado said. “I would’ve been OK if he ran his race last time and just got beat, as long as I knew he was running his race, but there was nothing from him last time. I remember telling Billy ‘By the five-eighths pole, I wanted to jump off and reset the race.’ I knew that wasn’t him.
“I’m so happy today he redeemed himself. He showed up. He’s the horse we always thought, and we’re going with a win into the Breeders’ Cup.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher had four horses in the eight-horse field, but they finished second (Americanrevolution), fourth (Untreated), fifth (Keepmeinmind) and sixth (Dynamic One).
“Olympiad got a jump on him at the quarter pole and he was playing catch up from there,” Pletcher said of Americanrevolution. “He kept grinding away. I think he saw out the mile and a quarter no problem, he just couldn’t quite close the gap that was created at the top of the stretch.”
War Like Goddess’ loss in the Grade II Flower Bowl was still plenty fresh for Mott after the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but Olympiad’s victory returned some equilibrium to the day.
“There’s a lot of ups and downs, and that was a very big disappointment for me, because I feel like I probably had the best horse in the race,” he said. “I’m glad this one was the last one of the day. It happens all the time. We’ve saddled over 20,000 of them, so we’ve seen a lot of different scenarios.”
Mott didn’t see this scenario coming, though: a snooze-inducing pace at the front of the Flower Bowl that helped the Chad Brown-trained Virginia Joy and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., hang on by a neck over War Like Goddess.
Virginia Joy was clocked in 53.29 for the first half-mile and 1:19.59 for three-quarters, while War Like Goddess and jockey Joel Rosario bided their time on the inside at the back of a tight clump of horses.
Rosario found a hole at the three-sixteenths pole, but the 1-5 betting favorite War Like Goddess came a stride or two short of catching Virginia Joy.
“That was our plan,” Brown said. “There wasn’t any speed in the race. She had already won a nice race earlier in the season going wire-to-wire, so I told Irad ‘Why don’t you put her on the lead? Unless somebody goes crazy, just put her out there and just see how far she’ll go.’ She’s been effective before doing it, so it worked out.
“I knew she had a chance. I know there was a real bear behind her getting ready to come at her. Fortunately for us she had some traffic trouble, the favorite, and she started her run a little later than I’m sure she wished she could have, and we were able to just beat her to the wire.”
“I never believed it could be that slow,” Mott said. “You’d even hope for a 51 or something like that, but 53, 1:19 for the three-quarters, it’s just impossible to overcome.
“And she came flying. She’s a good horse. I don’t know how fast she came home, but she was rolling. Pace makes the race, and in this case it wasn’t meant for us.”
“Last time I rode her it was a slow pace, but she kicked on,” Rosario said. “That filly ran a big race today, the winner.
“She was comfortable on the inside and relaxed. You can’t win all the time. She ran her race, just that horse ran a big race.”
Also on the card, the Saranac unfolded in a way that it shouldn’t have.
Then it continued to unfold exactly the way it should have.
For the first time in his six-race career, Annapolis found himself holding an early lead, in the Grade III Saranac for 3-year-olds on the turf.
Facing just three rivals with by far the strongest resume on paper, Annapolis ran like the 1-9 favorite the betting public made him and coasted home to win by 5 1-2 lengths under Irad Ortiz, Jr.
“He was the best horse in the race,” Ortiz said in an understatement. “That’s a workout for him. He’s pretty nice. He just got beat by some nice horses last time and came back today in great form and was there for me the whole time.”
“You don’t take anything for granted,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “We were just hoping for a clean trip, and it looked like a race on paper that had no true pacesetter, so we just kind of inherited the lead.
“Today, we had no choice. I think he’s probably better with a target, but I think he’s good enough and versatile enough to do what you need to do.”
Annapolis was coming off a second to Nations Pride in the Grade I Saratoga Derby Invitational on Aug. 6.
He has finished no worse than second in six starts – all on the turf – going back to his career debut at Saratoga last summer, when he came from well off the pace to win a maiden race by 4 1/2 lengths.
“He’s shown up and run well in each start of his life,” Pletcher said. “We feel like a mile might suit him perfectly, so we’ll see where we fit, but he’s a big, strong colt physically. He seems like the type that would handle that step up in age.”