The $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) annually is a rich and important race on the fall calendar leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, but rarely is it an as important a race as it is this year in the three-year-old division, which is still a state of chaos after the Triple Crown, Travers (G1), and Pennsylvania Derby (G1) have all come and gone but failed to produce a single divisional standout.
The three-year-old championship is still up for grabs in late September, and two of the horses still in the discussion, Tacitus and Code of Honor, will be in action this weekend. They both will take to the track this Saturday at Belmont Park when they battle it out against older horses in the Gold Cup.
Rarely would the three-year-old Eclipse Award come down to a showdown in the Gold Cup, but that very well could be the case when there is still no clear leader in the division. Maximum Security and War of Will had their chances last weekend in the Pennsylvania Derby, but Maximum Security missed the race with colic and War of Will went down in flames to just barely hold on for third when looking like a tired horse without any punch in the stretch. Mr. Money finished second, but that certainly didn’t help his outside chances for the title, especially when beaten by 31-1 longshot former maiden claimer Math Wizard.
Next up are Tacitus and Code of Honor. A win by Bill Mott’s Tacitus or Shug McGaughey’s Code of Honor would be enough, at this point in the season, to give either horse the inside track to the title, pending, of course, the results of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita, and perhaps other late season races like the Clark H. (G1) at Churchill and the Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct.
Tacitus won the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial (G2) but since has been beaten in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and then settled second three times in a row in the Belmont S. (G1), Jim Dandy (G2), and Travers. He desperately needs a Grade 1 win, however, to be considered a contender for divisional honors.
Code of Honor added his name into the Eclipse picture with his victory over Tacitus and others in the Travers, in addition to his Fountain of Youth (G2) victory earlier in the season and his third-place finish (2nd via DQ) in the Kentucky Derby. With a win in the Gold Cup, Code of Honor’s candidacy rises to the top of the three-year-old picture.
Standing in the three-year-olds’ way will be other Jockey Club Gold Cup contenders Vino Rosso, Yoshida, Preservationist, and Tenfold, who all could have a lot to say about the outcome of the 1 1/4-mile race. Collectively this season, those horses have wins in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1, Vino Rosso), the Woodward (G1, Preservationist), the Suburban (G2, Preservationist) and the Pimlico Special (G3, Tenfold), and a second in the Whitney (G1, Yoshida). A victory over any one of those challengers, let alone all of them, is anything but a given.
If both Tacitus and Code of Honor lose the Gold Cup, it perhaps could open the possibility of a late-season rise to relevancy for the Richard Mandella-trained Omaha Beach, who has been sidelined since back-to-back wins this spring in a Rebel (G2) division and Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn. Omaha Beach is scheduled to compete next in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1).
The de facto leader of the three-year-old division, as it stands today, would be considered by many to be Maximum Security on the strength of his victories in the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream and the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth for trainer Jason Servis. Also helping Maximum Security’s cause is the fact that many consider him to have been the rightful winner of the Kentucky Derby, which was denied by a controversial DQ. Hurting his cause is his continued absence – for one reason or another – in major spots all throughout the year. They passed on the Preakness (G1) and Belmont, passed on the Travers, and missed their scheduled spot in the Pennsylvania Derby.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” race, giving the winner a free, guaranteed berth in the starting gate for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. At this point in the season, however, all of the six probable starters in the race have done enough to earn a spot in the Classic.