Effinex the One to Beat in Jockey Club Gold Cup

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Effinex

By Ellis Starr, courtesy of America's Best Racing

The 98th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes brings together a field of six vying for a guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic with this “Win and You’re In” race.

Leading the field is Effinex, who finished third in this race last year before a runner-up finish behind Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Protonico is a strong contender as well, a multiple graded stakes winner who won his most recent race after nine months off. Mubtaahij finished third behind Effinex in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap on this track in July before a runner-up effort in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes and may be peaking at the right time. The other three entrants appear overmatched at this level. The Jockey Club Gold Cup will be televised on NBC, with coverage beginning at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Effinex has three wins at 1 ¼ miles, compared with two for Mubtaahij and none for the other four horses in this race. Better still for wagering results, Effinex has only been worse than third one time in seven career races at this distance. Two of those wins came here at Belmont Park in the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Suburban Handicap. Jockey Mike Smith has ridden Effinex in all but one of his last seven races, including three wins, with all but one coming outside of California (where Smith is a mainstay), which says a lot for how this Hall of Fame jockey feels about riding Effinex. In the 2016 Suburban, Effinex earned a 115 Equibase Speed Figure, not nearly the career-best 127 in the 2015 running of the race but more than good enough to win this year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup if repeated. With a series of excellent workouts at Belmont in preparation for the race, Effinex is the one to beat.

Protonico is the main rival to Effinex. Even though he finished sixth the only previous time they faced each other in the Clark Handicap last November, that may be a race to ignore as Protonico went to the sidelines for nine months after that. He returned to win last month on this track. With a 7 for 15 record in his career, including two graded stakes wins with 119 and 116 figures in 2015, Protonico has lots of room to improve off the 107 figure earned last month. Protonico has never run at this distance, but as a son of Giant’s Causeway out of an A. P. Indy mare, he should have no issues getting the trip. As such, Protonico is the biggest obstacle to Effinex winning the race and moving onto the Breeders’ Cup Classic in four weeks.

Even though I think Effinex and Protonico possess the bulk of the probability to win, I just can’t bring myself to completely discount the chances of Mubtaahij. Last year’s United Arab Emirates Derby winner, Mubtaahij disappointed when eighth in the 2015 Kentucky Derby and when fourth in the Belmont Stakes, but he showed a lot of ability when second this past spring in the richest race in the world, the $10 million Dubai World Cup. That race, run at the same 1 ¼-mile distance of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, showed Mubtaahij fits with the best in the division. Considering Mubtaahij earned a career-best 116 figure when beaten by a head in his most recent race, the Woodward Stakes, and considering he is a 4-year-old with improving to do, he must be respected as a contender.

The rest of the field (with best representative Equibase Speed Figure): Hoppertunity (114), Watershed (106) and War Story (110).

My selections in probability order:

Effinex
Protonico
Mubtaahij