Punters looking to play the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont Park Oct. 7 have one major question to ask: do they trust the form of two older horses well beaten by Gun Runner at their last starts, or do they trust two of the better 3-year-olds.
Keen Ice may start favorite in the 1 ¼ mile test, which carries direct entry to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). A distant third-place finisher in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, Keen Ice has this year finished fourth in the Pegasus World Cup (G1), seventh in the Dubai World Cup (G1), won the Suburban Handicap (G2), and then finished second in the Whitney Handicap (G1).
That second placing was 5 ¼-lengths behind Gun Runner, one of the likely Breeders’ Cup Classic favorites. It’s a fair margin, but it’s closer than the 10 ¼-lengths that one of his main rivals on Saturday – Rally Cry – got to Gun Runner when he finished second in the Woodward Stakes (G1).
The Jockey Club Gold Cup is often one of the first races in the season where 3-year-olds take on the best older horses, and two good representatives are starting here. Good Samaritan and Pavel didn’t seek starts in the Triple Crown series, but they’ve shown very good form since joining the fray.
Good Samaritan had been running in turf races before switching to dirt in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2), and he scored an upset victory that day over classic winners Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing. He backed that form up with a fifth-place finish to West Coast in the Travers Stakes (G1).
Fourth to Good Samaritan in the Jim Dandy was the Doug O’Neill-trained Pavel, whose only start prior to that was a maiden victory at Santa Anita. Pavel then went on to win the Smarty Jones Stakes (G3) easily from a useful field.
Also interesting to assess is last year’s Belmont Stakes runner-up Destin. He’s only raced twice this year, both in allowances, scoring by a nose at Saratoga Aug. 23. On his 3-year-old form he’d have to have a chance here.
The improving gelding Diversify and last year’s Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) runner-up Highland Sky complete the field.
The form book suggests Keen Ice is the one to beat. However, he may need a fast pace, and if that’s not forthcoming, it could be a struggle for him. If he doesn’t get it, Pavel may be the one to watch.