The Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup headlines another “Super Saturday” of the Belmont Park fall meet this Saturday. The race will run a 1 1/4 miles over the Belmont main track and is the last remaining Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In™ race for the $6,000,000 Grade 1, Breeders’ Cup Classic. Effinex, trained by Jimmy Jerkens, was seen last time out when he finished fourth in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga. Ever since the tough defeat, Jerkens has been aiming towards the Gold Cup for Effinex.
“If it was up to me, I’d like to wait for the Gold Cup, I really would. I loved how he made a second effort right at the very end; he got beat an inch for third, but it just shows how classy he is,” said Jerkens after the G1 Whitney.
The 8-5 morning line favorite will get another ride out of hall of fame jockey Mike Smith and will break from the outside post. Effinex has a single Grade 1 stakes victory in the 2015 Clark Handicap where he defeated fellow competitor Hoppertunity. In his most recent stakes victory, Effinex won the July G2 Suburban Handicap at Belmont defeating another fellow competitor Mubtaahij. Effinex should be able to stalk the pace under Mike Smith, who dominated Saratoga this summer in his two romps on Songbird.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin will send out second choice Mubtaahij at 2-1. Mubtaahij finished a head behind Shaman Ghost (who will skip the Gold Cup and train up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic) in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes during the Saratoga meet. In arguably his most impressive effort, even in defeat, Mubtaahij upstaged 1-5 Frosted who was a wide fourth.
“I thought he ran great. He ran  feet further than the winner. He’s training great and a mile and a quarter is a great distance for him. He’s third-time Lasix and third-time Irad this year, and could not be doing better,” said McLaughlin.
This is a good place for the Essafinaat owned product to shine. Although he has not reached the winners circle since 3/28/15 when he won the G2 UAE Derby, Mubtaahij has finished in the money in his last three starts losing only to Horse of the Year front runner California Chrome, Effinex and Shaman Ghost. He will get Irad Otiz Jr. and break from the second post.
McLaughlin’s one-two punch in the Gold Cup will also include the 20-1 longshot Watershed. Watershed has been outmatched in his previous graded stakes races. The four year old colt was a heavy favorite his last time out in the G3 Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park but finished a distant third. While he will pick up a little distance going a mile and a quarter this time out, he has not shown the ability to beat horses of this caliber just yet in his career. His best just may not be enough. Joel Rosario will ride and break from post 5.
The horse to keep your eye on is Hoppertunity. Hoppertunity will ship in from the west coast to run for hall of fame trainer Bob Baffert. He will also pick up hall of fame jockey Johnny Velazquez and break from post 3. The 5-2 third choice finished fourth behind California Chrome, Beholder and Dortmund in the G1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar last time out. The Baffert trainee has won four graded stakes in his carer, but has not won a G1 since 2014.
Hoppertunity and Effinex have gone at it before. In the 2015 G1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, Effinex beat Hoppertunity by a half-length after Hoppertunity was five wide coming off the turn and could not close the gap. A good omen for Hoppertunity and his betting contingent will be the fact that the last time Baffert ran a horse in a Grade 1 at Belmont was American Pharoah’s romp in the 2015 Belmont Stakes.
While Effinex, Mubtaahij and Hoppertunity will all go off at relatively low odds at post time, you may be able to get a little more value on Hoppertunity because of his lack of success in Grade 1 races. Look for a big performance and possibly a winning effort out of the five year old bay colt.
Trainer Todd Pletcher will put out 12-1 Protonico. He is a last time out winner at Belmont going one mile over the main track. Although he has multiple graded stakes wins, he has never gone the one and a mile quarter distance. Under the ride of Javier Castellano, Protonico will need to break well from the inside post. It will be interesting where Protonico will get placed in this field. He may need to go to the lead early and stay off the rail, but he has also shown the ability to close strong.
“He’s doing well and hopefully the one-mile prep will have him fit enough for the stretch to 1 ¼ miles,” said Pletcher. “He’s a horse that has won on the lead and from last.”
Rounding out the field is 20-1 War Story. He finished a distant seventh in August’s Pacific Classic two times back. He will look to claim his first win amongst stakes company. It will be a tall task for him on Saturday. Jockey Antonio Gallardo will get the mount once again. After running at Del Mar this summer, War Story was shipped back to Parx and has put in some good workouts there. He finished second in the $150,000 Frosted Stakes just two weeks ago. War Story may have a good future ahead, but he is overmatched in this race. He will break from post 4 for trainer Mario Serey Jr.