Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hollywood Gold Cup - Swaps Thoughts

The Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup has a long, rich history that one of a field of eight hopes to add upon. Such great horses as Seabiscuit, Citation, Affirmed and Cigar have won this race in the past. The eight entrants have diverse path to get here for their chance for the win. From a former maiden claimer to a multiple graded stakes winner who looks to put it all together at the classic distance to an ageless veteran looking to defend his crown, these eight entrants all have a different path to here. The supporting stakes is the Grade 2 Swaps for three year olds, where Coil looks to add another stakes win notch to his belt before moving on to bigger and better races back east. We will start with the Swaps.

The Grade 2 Swaps Stakes (named for the California-bred winner of the 1955 Kentucky Derby and the 1956 Hollywood Gold Cup) will have a heavy favorite in Coil (right). This son of Point Given bulled his way to a win the Grade 3 Affirmed last time out over this track. He continued his strong work pattern in the interim and there seems to be no reason (at least on paper) that he will go down in defeat. His pedigree dictates the additional distance will be no problem to him, with a Belmont winner as his sire and multiple graded stakes winner at 12f as the damsire. The horse who is the most interesting prospect to upset is Boxeur Des Rues. This Doug O'Neill trainee won a first level allowance race last time out on the turf in solid time. The last time he ran over the synthetic, he bolted turning for home in his first two turn race. It looks like he has turned a corner, but this surface and the class are still major questions.

Now we turn the attention to the big one, the Hollywood Gold Cup. Twirling Candy figures to be the favorite in the race off his win in the Californian, where he rated off a dawdling pace and a tough trip to sweep to victory. (below)

Now he will stretch out another furlong once again in attempt to add to his Grade 1 win total. The expected tepid pace means that his best strategy (but one not likely employed) is to go straight to the lead from his rail draw, settle in front and then burst away in the stretch. If these tactics are not employed, Rosario could end up in an untenable position pinned down on the rail behind horses.

Many can take advantage if Twirling has a similar meltdown like the Big 'Cap. Second choice figures to be First Dude. He won the Alysheba last time out on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. He has reinvented himself as an off-the-pace type after several near misses last year. This will be the slowest pace he has to sit off since the tactics change and one has to wonder whether he has the punch to come home fast enough. He ran well over the Polytrack in the past, but until they run over the track, who knows how he will react to track. Game On Dude won the Santa Anita Handicap earlier in the year, but has had two bad losses since the win. He figures to end up on the lead (unless Twirling guns it) without any other pace in the race but who knows how he will react being in front so early. This is also his first race over the synthetic, so who knows if he will take to it, even if he has trained well over it.

There are others in the field who will take some attention. The mare Miss Match comes in off a third in the Vanity, but has never faced these types at this distance. Setsuko finished 2nd behind Twirling in the Californian and seems to do his best running as the distances increase, but is that because he is a grinder without a big kick? The old veteran and defending champ Awesome Gem ran 2nd in the Cornhusker just two weeks ago and was going so well that the connections decided to audible and run here as well. Soul Candy will try to close from the back of the pack, as will invader Dark Cove. Dark Cove has won twice over the Poly at Keeneland, but his musical chair jockeys continues with his 7th straight new pilot, this time obtaining the services of top jock Rafael Bejarano.

This blog is going with Coil and Dark Cove. Coil is the class of the field in the Swaps. Dark Cove appears to have the best kick among the closers, and with the expected slow pace, it could turn into a 1/2 mile sprint for home.

Good luck this weekend folks!


  1. The Gold Cup actually unfolded more like a dirt race, with Game on Dude, pressed by Twirling Candy, posting decent half mile and 6 furlong splits before clipping off a mile in an excellent 1:36 and change. Instead of a sprint for home, the stretch run became a war of attrition, and like in the Big Cap, Game on Dude was able to repel the bid of heavy favorite Twirling Candy.

    However, Game on Dude was not able to hold off the late run from his stablemate, the giant First Dude.

    I found the Gold Cup to be an exciting race, and one with quality; this was certainly a step up from the Big Cap, as the 106 Beyer assigned to the Gold Cup suggests.

    In the Gold Cup, First Dude did something few older males have done this year, string together a couple of victories. After getting First Dude in February , Baffert correctly put First Dude in an allowance race following yet another disappointing run in the Big Cap. Baffert also started to experiment with First Dude's racing style, instructing Martin Garcia to take him off the pace.

    A true herd runner without a quick turn of foot, First Dude seems to appreciate having a target to run at, something a closing style affords him. As a frontrunner, First Dude would wait on horses entering the stretch, drop back through the field before slowly regaining his momentum as he tried to catch back up with the leaders; the result was a string of 2nd and 3rds in major races.

    As a closer, First Dude is given horses to target infront of him, and can then grind away after them until the wire. Lacking a quick turn of foot, longer distances like the 10 furlongs of the Gold Cup play into his strengths, allowing him plenty of time to grind away.

    Having won an allowance, the graded Alysheba Stakes at Churchill, and now the Gold Cup consecutively, First Dude has jumped to #1 in my rankings for the older males. I don't think First Dude compares favorably to recent star handicap horses like Blame, but in a weak divsion he fits squarely at the top. Given that he loves 10 furlongs and is a graded winner over the Churchill dirt, he's definitely a leading contender for the BC Classic.

    Like his stablemate, Game on Dude is also a runner without a great turn of foot. However, he can get 10 furlongs, and the pace structure of the Gold Cup, with fractions closer to a typical dirt race than a synth race, made the stretch run a war of attrition rather than a sprint home. As Game on Dude displayed in the Big Cap, he was right at home in the Gold Cup's 10 furlong war of attrition, doing everything right except getting his nose down first.

    Baffert is sending both of the Dudes to Del Mar to prepare for the Paciifc Classic. I have my doubts whether either will like Del Mar's Polytrack as much as dirt or Cushion Track. Del Mar's Poly plays more like turf, with an emphasis on acceleration and a quick turn of foot. As one-paced grinders, the Dudes would appear to be disadvantaged by Del Mar's track profile.

  2. Finally, a few words on beaten favorite Twirling Candy. Twirling Candy has now run 3 times in gr.1 races around 2 turns, and he hasn't won any of them even though he was a heavy favorite in all. At this point, I just have to conclude that Twirling Candy is not the superstar many were hoping him to be, and that he's probably not a 10 furlong horse, especially on dirt.

    My initial reaction to TC's performance in the Gold Cup was to demand his connections cut him back in distance. However, with a few weeks to think about it, I am now of the opinion that he should continue to be pointed for the 10 furlong Pacific Classic. Since the Gold Cup did have a strong pace, it unfolded like a dirt race, with Twirling Candy faltering in the stretch after prompting the pace. It became a war of attrition in the stretch, and Twirling Candy's strength is in his turn of foot not his ability to make extended runs. The Pacific Classic is almost asuredly going to have a slower pace and unfold more like a turf race, and I do think Twirling Candy can get 10 furlongs if the pace is slow and it becomes a turf-like sprint for home.

    While Twirling Candy had no excuses in the Gold Cup, it's not like he ran a bad race. He actually rated very kindly, and was beaten only two heads giving weight to the Dudes while earning a solid 106 Beyer. Ultimately, I think Twirling Candy is a miler on dirt, but on turf and turf-like synthetics, 10 furlongs might be within his scope. Can we possibly give him one more chance????