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Jockey Club Gold Cup Preview: Wide Open Field Takes Aim at Grade 1 Victory
Forza Di Oro winning the Discovery (Credit: NYRA / Chelsea Durand)

Jockey Club Gold Cup Preview: Wide Open Field Takes Aim at Grade 1 Victory

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – As we approach the final few days of the Saratoga meet, Saturday’s $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) remains one of the biggest races left, where a wide-open field is taking aim at a big-time victory.

Serving as a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” for the Classic division. Set as the final event of the 12-race card, this year’s running drew a small field of six. Local post time is set for 6:46 PM Eastern.

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This field lacks a standout; however, the Bill Mott-trained Forza Di Oro comes into the race off of an impressive allowance win over this track last time out. The chestnut colt has won 3 straight, including the Discovery Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct 2 starts back. He drew the rail and will have Junior Alvarado aboard for the ride.

“I’ve been pleased with his works, visually,” Mott said. “He’s indicating that he needs to be tried in that good company. Knock on wood, we have 3 days to go so we’re hoping to get him over there in good shape.”

Another horse entering the race hot is Max Player, who upset the Suburban Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park last time out. The Steve Asmussen-trained colt ran in many of the big 3-year-old races but failed to post another 2020 win after taking his seasonal debut in the Withers Stakes (G3). Ricardo Santana Jr. will be in the irons once again when he breaks from post 2.

“He’s coming off a nice win in the Suburban,” said Asmussen assistant Scott Blasi. “It was nice to see him step up again and run to his ability. This is a logical spot to run him back. He’s done well up here, so we’ll see how it goes.”

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The Todd Pletcher-trained Happy Saver also exits the Suburban, where he suffered his first career defeat while finishing a late-closing third. He won last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup over a solid field when the race was contested over a sloppy Belmont Park. He’ll look to repeat over a different course when breaking from post 4 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the saddle.

“I don’t think he ran that badly on an off track last time,” Pletcher said. “The way the race unfolded going a mile and 1/4 at Belmont and drawing the outside is never a good thing. I thought he ran well, all things considered. He kept closing and it was his only his second start of the year, so hopefully he moves forward.”

The full field from the rail out: Forza Di Oro, Max Player, Chess Chief, Happy Saver, Night Ops, and Forewarned.

Top Choice

#1 Forza Di Oro – That was an extremely sharp allowance score over this track last time out. He’s had a tough time staying healthy in his career, but if those issues are behind him, then he could blossom into a pretty nice colt. He’s definitely the horse with the highest upside in the field, now he has to prove it on the track. He should accomplish that Saturday.

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#4 Happy Saver – He suffered his first loss last time out in the Suburban, though in his defense, the sloppy track could have been the issue. He’ll likely get a fast track as he tries winning for the second straight season. Pletcher has had high hopes for this horse from the beginning, so look for him to bounce back with a big effort here.

Exotic Plays

#2 Max Player – Last time out, he finally picked up a big win, taking home the Suburban at Belmont Park. However, I’m not changing my opinion on him just yet, as it’s usually safe to play him only in the underneath positions. I’ll keep it that way for now, but if he wins again here, then I’ll have to start taking him serious.

Party Crashers

#5 Night Ops – He ran well last time out in the Alydar Stakes, finishing second to Art Collector, who returned to win the Charles Town Classic (G3) last weekend. Still, he’s not an incredibly talented horse and usually runs better in lower-level stakes, but this field is not that tough. He’s in with a chance and worth a play if his price floats up.

Throw Outs

#3 Chess Chief – We’ve seen him in spots like this often enough to know that he’ll be hard-pressed to get the job done. This is a softer Grade 1, but he still looks to be on the outside looking in as far as winning is concerned, even with red-hot Luis Saez riding for trainer Dallas Stewart.

“We feel good about it. He’s trained very well up here,” Stewart said. “He’s a come-from-behind type of horse, so we’re just going to let Luis do his thing.”

#6 Forewarned – It’s hard to understand why this horse is running in this race. We haven’t seen him in the winner’s circle since October of last year, despite the fact that he’s run 10 times since then and all in races much easier than this one.

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