The Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes is one of the sport’s most famous and important races, but there will be a new twist to it Saturday. The prestigious stakes will be contested at Saratoga Race Course for the first time, highlighting the closing weekend of action at the 40-day meet.
As usual, though, there will be major Breeders’ Cup Classic implications, especially with the winner getting a free, “Win and You’re In” spot in the Nov. 6 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic.
1. Forza Di Oro (8-5 morning-line odds): This will mark his Grade 1 debut, but he has certainly displayed the kind of talent to make him a major player here. Trainer Bill Mott has done a remarkable job bringing him back from injuries and other setbacks that sidelined him for 10 months and then eight months. Despite all that, he seems in top form now and will be a major player.
2. Max Player (5-2): He’s accomplished at the distance, having won the Suburban at this 1 1/4-mile distance earlier in the year. He was also third in the 1 ¼-mile Runhappy Travers Stakes here at the Spa last year. He showed more speed than usual last time in the Suburban and that kind of trip can work out very well here in a small field.
3. Chess Chief (15-1): His late-running style could come in handy at the distance, but it most likely will work against him since there figures to be a slow pace. His last few tries against horses of this caliber were weak and this looks like a tough spot for him. Helping his cause are the meet’s leading rider, Luis Saez, and trainer Dallas Stewart’s penchant for coaxing big efforts out of longshots in major races.
4. Happy Saver (9-5): He won last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, but this will be a different trip with the scene shifted to the Spa. This is his third start after a layoff and it could produce his best effort of the year. He was third behind Max Player in the Suburban, losing for the first time in six career starts. How he bounces back from that first loss will play a key role here.
5. Night Ops (5-1): He’s highly consistent with 17 in-the-money finishes in 24 career starts and he’s been no worse than third in his last seven races. Yet this is a big step up in class since his best efforts have come in Grade 3 stakes. He was second on this track last month in the Alydar Stakes and, if he can duplicate that effort, it will make him a factor here.
6. Forewarned (50-1): He’s lost his last 10 starts, making him a big longshot. He seems overmatched but his trainer, Uriah St. Lewis, won the 2018 Jockey Club Gold Cup with Discreet Lover at 45.50-1 odds. Can lightning strike twice? Doubtful, but not impossible.
THE PICK: Forza Di Oro
LIVE LONGSHOT: Night Ops