The Brock Talk

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Goodwood, Jockey Club Gold Cup Winners Fighting Ugly Stats Going Into Classic

Although they are a million dollars in preparation, the Jockey Cup Gold Cup (gr. 1) and Goodwood Stakes (gr. 1) have done far worse than one might expect in seeing their winners repeat in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1) . In fact, of the 49 winners of both races during the Breeders' Cup years beginning in 1984 (five horses have won either the Goodwood or Gold Cup twice), only six have come back to win the Classic - three apiece.

What effect that statistic has on 2011 Goodwood winner Game On Dude or this year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup champion Flat Out, is a topic for debate. Much like UFOs and ghosts are debatable in the opinion of some. But there have been some other more obvious reasons for these numbers.

The inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic was won by 30-to-1 long shot Wild Again who had made his start previous to the Classic at Bay Meadows - finishing third in a one mile allowance race on grass. Finishing second through disqualification was, Slew o’ Gold, winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. That year, Lord at War won the Goodwood, and for the first of what would become 13 times; the Goodwood winner would not start in the Classic.

Trained by Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham, Lord at War won his second Goodwood in 1995 and again the Argentine-bred did not go to the Breeders’ Cup. In 1996 Super Diamond became the third consecutive Goodwood winner to skip the Breeders’ Cup.

In 1997 Whittingham won his third Goodwood in four years with Ferdinand and the horse who had given the bald eagle his first Kentucky Derby victory the year before, gave Whittingham his first Breeders’ Cup Classic in his next start.

There would be another 13 years before Tiznow would win both the Goodwood and the Classic in 2000, but only three more years passed before Pleasantly Perfect would be the last one to win both races.

Although the Jockey Club Gold Cup got off to a fast start with Slew o’ Gold, it would be 11 years before Cigar could win both Gold Cup and Classic. During those years, Gold Cup winners Easy Goer (’89) and Pleasant Tap (’92) got close, but like Slew o’ Gold before them finished second in the Classic. Easy Goer lost to his nemesis Sunday Silence while A.P. Indy defeated Pleasant Tap.

After not starting in the Breeders’ Cup after his first win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1996, Skip Away came back the following year to win his second consecutive Gold Cup in New York. This time owner-trainer Sonny Hines sent Skip Away to the Breeders’ Cup and he put in one of the better performance in the history of the Breeders’ Cup, winning by six lengths at Hollywood Park.

Gold Cup winners performed miserably for the next ten years as Bernardini was the only one to make the top three in the Classic, finishing second to Invasor in 2006. The next best performances by Gold Cup winners during that time were Albert the Great in 2000 and Evening Attire in 2002, both of which finished fourth.

Like Skip Away, Curlin was a two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner but a one-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. Unlike Skip Away ten years before, Curlin pulled off the Gold Cup/Breeders’ Cup double in 2007, winning the Classic over a quagmire track at a rainy Monmouth Park, but was unable to repeat a year later. Curlin had little trouble winning his second Gold Cup as the odds-on favorite at 2-to-5, but was dull in the Breeders’ Cup over Santa Anita’s artificial main track and finished fourth.

The 6-for-54 statistic may be surprising at first glance, but there are many explanations. In the early years of the Breeders’ Cup, the domestic and international nomination of foals was less organized and marketed. Therefore it would have been very expensive for the owners of horses like Lord at War and Crème Fraiche to run in the Breeders’ Cup. In many instances, horses would have to win their respective Breeders’ Cup race in order to come out of the race with a profit. That was a chance many owners were just not willing to take.

There are those winners of Goodwood and Gold Cup that obviously bounced going into the Breeders’ Cup. In 1984 when the Breeders’ Cup first ran, it can easily be argued that the Gold Cup was more prestigious than the Breeders’ Cup. Owners and trainers treated it that way and pointed their horses accordingly. If they came out of the Gold Cup and went to the Classic, fine. But the Gold Cup was the target.

And then there are the more obvious like Aptitude, an easy winner of the 2001 Jockey Club Gold Cup achieving a historically high 123 Beyer Figure at the same time. After the race, trainer Bobby Frankel was immediately concerned about Aptitude bouncing in the Classic, and he was correct. Aptitude finished eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic weeks later.

There is also the fact the Jockey Club Gold Cup was run at 1-1/2 miles until 1999, so Easy Goer was the last Gold Cup winner to try to win the Classic backing up to the 1-1/4 distance. Waquoit, who finished third behind Alysheba in the darkness of an unlit Churchill Downs in 1987; Vandlandingham (’85) and Slew o’Gold all had that challenge as well.

At 1-1/8 miles, the Goodwood set up much better for Classic bound horses, but since the race was first run as the Goodwood Racecourse Stakes as part of an exchange program with Santa Anita and the track in Sussex, England. Its spot on the calendar combined with the distance, the Goodwood morphed into a grade 1 stake by 1997 and its impact on the Classic quickly followed. In 1998 Goodwood winner Silver Charm appeared within reach of victory in the stretch before he drifted out badly and finished in the middle in the track and in second behind Awesome Again.

A year later, Bud Royale took the Goodwood and he too finished second the Classic to 1999 winner Cat Thief. Tiznow used the Goodwood to prepare for both of his Classics wins in 2000-’01, but only won the first Goodwood . In the 2001 Goodwood, Tiznow finished third behind Freedom Crest and Skimming.

Santa Anita also had a cushion track on their main course from 2007-2010 and during that time, Tiago would be the only Goodwood winner to run in the Classic, finishing fifth behind Curlin in that rainy ’07 Classic at Monmouth Park.

This year, Flat Out and Game On Dude will also likely face a considerable onslaught from horses out of other races. Horse of the Year candidate Havre de Grace will once again face the boys in the Classic having already won the Woodward Stakes over her male counterparts at Saratoga this summer. She had a leisurely win the Beldame (gr. 1) Saturday at Belmont Park. Kelso (gr. 2) winner Uncle Mo will also continue his comeback from a mid-season liver ailment that kept him out of the Triple Crown by further graduating into the Classic. Whitney Handicap (gr. 1) winner Tizway, who skipped the Gold Cup because of a fever the week before, is also back on track and training well for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

No doubt many handicappers at the Breeders’ Cup will circle Flat Out and Game On Dude on their programs and bet accordingly. Both after all, won their respective last starts nicely. But if history repeats, or even has a significant influence, the 6-for-54 stat will only change in the right hand column.

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