The Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1)

5/27/2017 Santa Anita Park-Race 8

The Gold Cup at Santa Anita-$500,000—Grade I

1 & 1/4 Miles on Dirt for Three-Year-Olds & Upward

Post Time: 4:30 P.M. PST

Analysis by Michael Patricks

The 142nd Preakness Stakes is in the books and the three-year-old picture remains “cloudy” as ever, as Cloud Computing etched his name into the history books with his clear-cut score.  Congratulations to Chad Brown and his team for having their colt ready to go as there could be little doubt left in anyone’s mind after watching the race that Cloud Computing was the best horse last Saturday.  As much as I derided Cloud Computing and his chances to win the Preakness, I’m more than happy to eat crow with my words and tip my cap to him.  This great game will leave you humbled and keep you tossing and turning in your bed at night with “what ifs” and “could have beens”.  The crux of handicapping is seeing value where other players don’t and capitalizing from it.  To those who capitalized on Cloud Computing, I salute you.  For those who went down in flames with me on Always Dreaming, that’s life in the big city as they say.  Let’s dust ourselves off and take a trip to Santa Anita with a look at the older horses which will compete in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita on Saturday.

1-American Freedom 4/1 ML- Grade III winner is best known for being the runner-up to Arrogate in the Travers when beaten a tidy 13 ½ lengths to the 2016 American Champion three-year-old male horse.  American Freedom was given time off after that race and returned to racing on Kentucky Oaks Day, sent off favored in the slop of the Alysheba before fading to fourth in the late stages of the race. Trainer Bob Baffert puts the Blinkers back on this son of Pulpit in an effort to liven up his early foot and see if he can dictate terms like he did last summer in the Iowa Derby (and to a similar extent in the Haskell).  American Freedom trains over the Santa Anita surface and should step forward off a race he most definitely needed last time at Churchill.  There is plenty of pace on paper however, and ‘Freedom loses his customary pilot to the other Baffert-trainee, Cupid. You can expect former sandwich maker Marty Garcia to put him right in the race from the ringing of the bell, but it’s been a long time between scores for this horse and I’m not convinced the 10 panels is what he’s hungry for; think he gets chewed up on the front end.

2-Follow Me Crev 4/1 ML- One of three co-second choices installed at 4/1 on Jon White’s morning line, ‘Crev shows up on Saturday with the look of a logical contender on paper and one that should benefit from the amount of pace signed on in the race.  In baseball, ‘Crev would be considered a “4-A player” in the sense that he dominates the allowance/optional claiming circuit, but he’s still struggling to find his way in graded-stakes events.  Having said all that, Follow Me Crev is a lunch pail-toting gelding that you’d love to own.  ‘Crev rarely runs a bad race, is a consummate purse nibbler and at this level of competition he more than pays his own way.  Jockey Kent Desormeaux sticks around to ride and has gotten to know him quite well; there are no California Chromes or Shaman Ghosts of the world to have to deal with on Saturday; unheralded gelding deserves a long look for all the marbles and appears to be working his way up to a big one with a nice six furlong bullet in his holster; strong contender to grind them down to the nub in a performance reminiscent of Larry the Legend’s 1995 Santa Anita Derby (over Afternoon Deelites), Sarava’s Belmont of 2002 (over Medaglia d’Oro), Curlin’s Preakness of 2007 (over Street Sense) or even Clip’s Humboldt County Marathon of 2004 (over Potri Cacho); the choice.

3-Texas Ryano 15/1 ML- 0-for-3 in 2017 and now goes from Talamo-to Smith-to Stevens.  It’s well documented that his best efforts have come running on sod and he’s relatively new to running on dirt, but being by Curlin, it does make sense to see if he would have some appreciation for running on the main track.  Texas Ryano is a deep closer that will benefit from a torrid pace to chase and he could get a nice set up to come running in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita*.  The main question he has to answer is whether he’s in good enough current form to put his signature on this race.  He chased a strong pace last time and made very little headway when it mattered most, clunking along for a beleaguered fourth place finish.  There are four-consecutive triple digit Beyers on his resume from 2016 but those all came on the grass and appear to be getting less significant in the rear view with each passing mile; after last week, who knows…but, he won’t be carrying any of my hard-earned; pass. *Formerly, the Hollywood Gold Cup.

4-Prime Attraction 30/1 ML- Versatile son of Unbridled’s Song is the outcast on the morning line but not totally hopeless.  Stylistically, he wants to be forwardly placed but that will put him in harm’s way with more proven conveyances like American Freedom, Midnight Storm and Cupid all close in tow.  He regains his favorite rider and last time they united it led to a $40 win mutuel with this colt clearing the second level allowance hurdle.  That monster effort came on turf and it’s a bit befuddling to me as to why his connections aren’t shopping for another spot on grass, especially given his big effort over the surface.  It’s one thing to ask him to stretch his speed over 10 furlongs but it’s an entirely different beast of a chore to ask him to do it while in the company of this many quality equine specimen.  He’ll likely be better off down the road after running with the big dogs on Saturday, but the cavalcade of early speed is the prime detraction from his chances of prosperity in this affair; appears more suspect than prospect.

5-Midnight Storm 5/2 ML- Started to unravel in the Oaklawn Handicap after setting some cutting fractions as the odds-on choice.  There is little to no doubt this horse is happy to be home again and returns to the venue of his greatest successes.  Kudos to him and his camp for being able to take his greatness on turf and translate that form into accolades on the main track.  Midnight Storm likes to be on the front end and you can expect Flavien Prat to put him in the race from the word “go”.  There will be other speed to keep him honest as American Freedom is essentially forced into a send mission with the rail draw and addition of Blinkers.  Rafael Bejarano will be aboard Cupid and tactically he’s at a distinct advantage since he’s been atop Midnight Storm’s back several times before, so you better believe he knows how and when to hit the pressure points to try and make the favorite vulnerable.  The sea of triple digit Beyers suggest he’s one of the ones and you will have to get around him to greet the cashier; big player.

6-Cupid 6/1 ML- Son of Tapit has always been highly thought of, dating back to his purchase at the Keeneland September sale of 2014 for $900,000.  He’s become a bit of an all-or-nothing type in terms of his racing development and will be interesting to see as a four-year-old whether he can add new dimensions to his arsenal or whether what we’ve seen before is what we’ll get going forward.  Last time we saw Cupid, he was having his bow and arrow taken from him by Connect, Gun Runner and company in the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx.  Before that, he took down some welterweights in the Indiana and West Virginia Derbies.  Baffert has put a ton of air in his tires and he should be fit to handle the ten furlongs even off a long layoff.  Contrarily, looking at his career layoff lines, Cupid ran fourth in his debut, faded to fifth at Belmont, and then gave up the ghost readily in the Pennsylvania Derby as mentioned.  While it’s possible Baffert will have him fully cranked and he’ll be a new horse in his return, his track record suggests he may be biting off a bit more than he can chew, even though Bejarano notably sticks with him; I’m not in love with his chances; pass.

7-Big John B 8/1 ML- Bejarano defects and Mike Smith lands here.  Like Midnight Storm, this gelded son of Hard Spun has done a lion’s share of his winning on turf, while also managing to fare well in distance races on the main track.  Being that this race is on dirt, it’s fair to question whether this race may actually be a bit too short for his liking.  It takes a good amount of time for Big John B to unwind and get his game together so you have to be concerned he may have a bit too much to do as they approach the 3/8ths, leaving him too far behind.  If the other D’Amato runner (Midnight Storm) gets into a pace meltdown then that could bolster this one’s chances, yet he will have to show more of a sudden turn of foot compared to his grind it out style if he’s to quicken with several of these runners.  Having racing’s big money rider in the irons should mitigate some of that concern but if Hard Aces was able to out game him to the wire last time, it’s difficult to envision him being able to turn the tables on him and the rest of this talented field at large unless the race completely falls apart; demand a square price for top honors if this is your brand of vodka.

8-Accelerate 4/1 ML- Uncoupled entrant with Hard Aces just to his outside; couldn’t quite reel in Midnight Storm in the San Pasqual and then chased in vain behind Hoppertunity and the reinvigorated Mor Spirit two back in the San Antonio.  Dropping in for a cushier allowance spot most recently, Accelerate ran into the new-and-improved Danzing Candy who is the big favorite in the Lone Star Park Handicap on Sunday.  His Beyer speed figures are trending upwards and he appears to be a horse that is getting better on paper, though he keeps finding tough cookies to tussle with at the top of the lane.  His last two Beyers of 100 and 103 jump off the page and a 4/1 win mutuel is a savory notion for sure, but he just looks to be a bit of a teaser more than a pleaser in my eyes.  Expect him to be part of the picture at the top of the lane, but lack the…wait for it…acceleration needed in mid-stretch; prefer him on lower end of totem pole.

9-Hard Aces 8/1 ML- Grizzled veteran is a steady campaigner whose best days are most likely behind him.  He was able to put it together back in April and out finish Big John B to the wire in a 12-furlong affair, but that was a Grade III at a marathon distance, not a Grade I on a cutback such as today.  He was beaten 17 lengths at 22/1 in the Santa Anita Handicap and 11 lengths at 28/1 in the Grade I Awesome Again last October.  Before that, he was 8th beaten 25 lengths at 38/1 in the Pacific Classic.  Hard Aces’ 99 Beyer last time was his best since June of 2016 and thus I’m disinclined to be willing to give myself to this old campaigner and I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid that he will strike in back-to-back scores at this phase of his career.  Owen Wilson, Gary Sinise and Morgan Freeman starred in The Big Bounce back in 2004 and that was enough for me, I don’t need to see the sequel out of stall 9 on Saturday; pass.

Selections: 2-5-7-8