Keen Ice Stands Out in Jockey Club Gold Cup
By Eric Mitchell, courtesy Blood-Horse
Without Gun Runner or Arrogate to contend with, Donegal Racing and Calumet Farm's Keen Ice stands out in the seven-horse field entered for the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) Oct. 7 at Belmont Park.
The 5-year-old son of Curlin has built a multimillion-dollar career out of running second or third behind America's best runners of the last couple of years—American Pharoah , California Chrome , Arrogate, and Gun Runner—but he's also repeatedly proved he's a worthy competitor.
Keen Ice shook the racing world when he beat Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers Stakes (G1) and nailed another graded stakes win July 8, when he took the Suburban Handicap (G2) over multiple grade 1 and Canadian classic winner Shaman Ghost.
"We're looking forward to getting him back at a mile and a quarter," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who has finished second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on five occasions and is looking for his first win in the race. "He's been training well and we hope he can give us the same kind of effort he did in the Suburban."
Because the Jockey Club Gold Cup is a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), a victory would position Keen Ice for his third consecutive start in the $6 million race. He finished fourth to American Pharoah in 2015 and third behind Arrogate and California Chrome last year.
Paul Pompa Jr.'s Rally Cry will try 1 1/4 miles for the first time following a solid pair of efforts at 1 1/8 miles this summer at Saratoga Race Course. The 4-year-old colt by Uncle Mo received a personal-best 119 Equibase Speed Figure for his 8 3/4-length victory Aug. 6 in the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga and came back on closing weekend to finish second to Gun Runner in the Sept. 2 Woodward Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1).
"I thought he ran very well in the Alydar at a mile and an eighth, and if he can reproduce that kind of race, I don't think the distance will be much of an issue," said Pletcher, who trains Rally Cry and a third Gold Cup contender in Destin. "(Rally Cry) seems like the kind of horse that, when he's able to get into a good rhythm, he's able to keep going."
Destin, 4-year-old son of Giant's Causeway , will make his third start off a nine-month layoff. He comes into the race off a win in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race and is expected to relish the additional distance, according to Pletcher.
A pair of sophomores will face older rivals for the first time on Saturday, including grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes winner Good Samaritan. By Harlan's Holiday, Good Samaritan made the switch from turf to dirt a successful one at Saratoga, where he took the Jim Dandy by 4 3/4 lengths July 29 for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
Exiting a fifth-place finish in the Aug. 26 Travers Stakes (G1), Good Samaritan will don blinkers for the first time in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
"He came out of the Travers in good order and he's been training well," Mott said. "He's had plenty of time, and I guess sooner or later he's got to meet his elders, so Saturday is the day. Hopefully the blinkers will place him a little closer in the race. I don't think it's going to make a huge difference, but maybe it'll put him a couple lengths closer, which would be great."
Good Samaritan will be joined by fellow 3-year-old Pavel, who will make his fourth start for Reddam Racing and trainer Doug O'Neill. The lightly raced colt by Creative Cause is coming off a six-length victory Sept. 4 in the grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx Racing, where he earned a 110 Equibase Speed Rating.
Rounding out the field for the Jockey Club Gold Cup is New York-bred Diversify, an impressive 11 1/2-length winner of the Evan Shipman Stakes last time out for Lauren and Ralph Evans and trainer Rick Violette Jr., and multiple graded stakes-placed Highland Sky, who will try dirt for the first time for owners Joyce Young, Gerald McManis, and Jerrie Stewart McManis, and trainer Barclay Tagg.