This Saturday, Hollywood Park will run what could be their "signature" race of the meet, the Grade 1 $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup. A field of 7 entered for the 71st running of this historic race. Some of the greats of the sport such as Affirmed, Citation, Round Table, Skip Away, Cigar and Seabiscuit have won this race in its venerable history. Only two horses have ever won more than once, Native Diver & Lava Man. Both won back-to-back-to-back Hollywood Gold Cups, with Native Diver doing it in 1965-1966-1967 and Lava Man doing it in 2005-2006-2007. Both were Cal-breds. Onto the field!
We shall start with the favorite, #6 Rail Trip. This son of Jump Start has come back with a vengeance this spring after being placed on the shelf since his third place finish in the Pacific Classic last September. He won the 2010 Mervin Leroy with little problem and then produces this effort in the 2010 Californian last time out (below). Rail Trip won in hand and was not asked to do much in the stretch.
He is a deserving favorite and will be at short odds to defend his crown. But, as with all favorites, we as handicappers must try to find holes in the favorite. I have heard from several respected sources that Rail Trip has not been pushing off as well as normal the past week when on track, and that he has lost some weight. This (if true) does not bold well for him. This news does buoys the chance of an upset, especially with the additional argument i now present.
In his two losses at Hollywood Park, Rail Trip had trouble passing the leader in the stretch. In his loss in the 2009 Mervin Leroy Handicap, Ball Four set soft fractions and Rail Trip could not get by the lonely leader. In the 2009 Californian, once again Rail Trip could not get by Ball Four easily, taking far too long to get by him. This cost him as Informed catches and passes him at the 1/16th pole, going on to pull the upset. (see below)
What these two races show me that Rail Trip may have a bit of "hang" in him, and that prevents him from putting away horses quickly. If a quality speed horse is in front of him, can he get by? If he can, can he do it quickly enough to hold off the late charge of some of the others? At a short price, i am willing to take my chances against him.
My choice is #2 Compari. This cal-bred son of Redattore had his 6 race winning streak snapped last-time out when he had rough trip in the Ingelwood Handicap on grass at a mile. He switches back to the cushion track, where arguably his best win took place in the Snow Chief stakes last year. Trainer Martin Jones has procured the services of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith for Saturday's race. He should revert back to going straight for the lead tactics, as one of Smith's best talents is getting the maximum out of a gate-to-wire threat. He brings in tow 4 nice steady works and looks ready for a prime effort. His downsides are that he has never gone this far and that he could have company on the front end.
If Compari cannot stay the trip, my longshot play would be #3 Awesome Gem. While not the most talented horse, he always shows up with his run, and sooner or later he will break through for that elusive Grade 1 victory. His late closing style could be just the thing to nail Rail Trip, if he struggles to go by Compari in the stretch. Awesome Gem will offer some value on the tote than Rail Trip, he is in light and might be worthy of a couple of bucks of "just-in-case" money.
The others in the field are: Pacific Classic winner #4 Richard's Kid, whose last race was the Dubai World Cup. He has 4 works since in the last month, but is that enough foundation to be ready to go this far fast enough? #5 Tres Borrachos is the other speed, but cannot go this far, and at best be fighting for third place while being a thorn in Compari's side. #1 Cigar Man looks a bit outclassed in here, and has looks like he may have some problems getting the distance. #6 Tap It Light cuts back off his last two races. He has been working steadily but gets the ultimate class test today.
This year's Hollywood Gold Cup is a compact field of 7, but it should be a very interesting race. Will Rail Trip defend his crown? Will Compari go gate-to-wire? Will Awesome Gem finally get that Grade 1? Found out this Saturday!
(For another take on the Hollywood Gold Cup, take a look at the well-crafted piece written by Amateurcapper over at the Thorofan website here.)