This weekend is the second of two “Super Saturday” cards to be held at Belmont Park. Headlining the 11-race card is the 98th running of Grade I, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at a mile and a quarter on the dirt. The race is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Race offering an all fees paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to the winner. The race goes off as 10th event, with a scheduled post time of 5:23 p.m. Eastern.
When entries were taken on Wednesday, six horses were signed up to compete. But, on Thursday, it was announced that War Story would be scratching from Jockey Club Gold Cup. Reports as to why the horse wouldn’t be running were varied. Owner Ron Paolucci told the Daily Racing Form that War Story did not eat Wednesday night and had a temperature on Thursday morning. Also, on the veterinary records published on the New York Gaming Commission Web site, War Story was administered .25 milliliters of the tranquilizer Dermosedan within the prohibited time frame, so he would have been scratched for that reason as well.
Despite the scratch, Effinex is still the 7-5 morning line favorite. The Jimmy Jerkens trainee is one of two Grade I winners in the race, having won the Grade I Clark Handicap in 2015. This year, Effinex has been alternating victories with disappointing efforts. So, after his fourth-place finish behind Frosted in the Grade I Whitney, Effinex may be primed for a big effort. With a victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Effinex would become the all-time leading money earner for New York breds, overtaking Funny Cide. Regular rider Mike Smith has the mount.
Hoppertunity is the other Grade I winner in the race. He won the 2014 Clark Handicap. He finished second in the 2015 Clark to Effinex. The Bob Baffert trainee scratched from the Grade I Awesome Again at Santa Anita last Saturday to run in this spot. This is his first start on the NYRA circuit and he will be ridden by John Velazquez.
Mubtaahij is one of two horses entered by Kiaran McLaughlin. The horse has always been highly regarded based on winning four of his first five starts at Meydan on the Tapeta surface. But after winning the 2013 UAE Derby, the 4-year-old colt has not won a race since. He just missed winning the Grade I Woodward last out. Mubtaahij will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr.
Watershed is the other Kiaran McLaughlin trainee in the race. His best success has been in sprints, but he does come off a third-place finish in the Grade III Iselin at Monmouth Park. He has been stalking the pace, but he could race on or close to the lead versus these. Joel Rosario, who was aboard when he won as the favorite at nine furlongs two back, has the mount.
Protonico drew the rail for Todd Pletcher. He has plenty of experience at nine furlongs but this is his first attempt at ten panels. Javier Castellano has the mount.
Lady Eli Headlines Flower Bowl Stakes
Also, on the undercard, is the Grade I, $500,000 Flower Bowl Stakes for fillies and mares going a mile and a quarter on the Belmont inner turf course. The Flower Bowl is a “Win and You’re In” designated race for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.
The race drew a field of just six older runners, but it is loaded with quality and potential. It will go off as race six with a scheduled post time of 3:03 p.m. Eastern.
Trainer Chad Brown has won three of the last five runnings of the Flower Bowl. This year, he sends out two horses for the race — Lady Eli and Sea Calisi.
Lady Eli came off a 13-month layoff that was forced upon her as she recovered from Laminitis. Her first start back was the Grade II Ballston Spa at Saratoga. She stalked the pace and actually had the lead before finishing second to Strike Charmer. She obviously wasn’t 100 percent racing fit that day. Her works coming into this spot are indicating she is in much better condition now. Regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr. has the mount.
Sea Calisi also runs here for Brown. She comes off a victory in the Grade I Beverly D at Arlington Park last out and has won two of three starts since coming to North America. She has been favored in all three of her North American starts, but with Lady Eli in the race, she probably will not be favored here. Florent Geroux, who rode her for the first time in the Beverly D, has the mount.
This time of year Euro shippers are always dangerous. Andre Fabre sends Ame Bleue from France for the race. The 4-year-old daughter of Dubawi has finished second in Group races in her last two starts in France. She drew the rail and will be ridden for the first time by Olivier Peslier, perennially one of the leading jockeys in France and a jockey with plenty of international racing experience.
Strike Charmer defeated Lady Eli in the Ballston Spa last out. The Mark Hennig trainee was helped that day by Sympathy, who was entered to act as a rabbit for Lady Eli. There are no rabbits here, so the pace is expected to be slow, which could compromise her chances. Javier Castellano replaces Junior Alvarado for this race
Sentiero Italia ran a very good third in the Ballston Spa. She was inside of Lady Eli in the stretch drive. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee is five for 10 lifetime. She will be ridden by Joel Rosario
Itsonlyactingdad completes the field. The Todd Pletcher trainee won the Grade III Matchmaker at Monmouth three back on a yielding turf course. John Velazquez rides her here.