ON-TRACK CROWD OF 21,528 COME OUT TO SEE AMERICAN PHAROAH & FOUR GRADED STAKES;
SADLER & ESPINOZA EACH TASTE VICTORY FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 76TH RUNNING OF GOLD CUP;
ONE WINNING PICK SIX TICKET, PURCHASED IN ONTARIO, CANADA, PAYS $184,699.20
ARCADIA, Calif. (June 27, 2015)–Longshot Hard Aces, with Victor Espinoza aboard, charged up the rail and won Saturday’s Grade I, $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita by a nose over Hoppertunity, as the 5-year-old horse by Hard Spun got a mile and a quarter in 2:02.46.
In getting his first graded stakes win, Hard Aces was far back early behind solid early splits of 23.37, 45.90, 1:10.17 and 1:35.91, and in a bit of an ironic twist, Espinoza, who appeared in the Winner’s Circle earlier in the day with Bob Baffert’s Triple Crown Champion, American Pharoah, Espinoza denied Baffert the afternoon’s biggest prize in a desperate finish before an on-track crowd of 21,528.
“I lost a little ground at the start from being bumped by Batti Man, he took me out of the race a little,” said Espinoza, who was last in a field of 11 three year olds and up turning down the backside. “I decided not to encourage him early and save ground. I thought my best shot was to save ground and get through on the inside and it worked out well.”
Owned by Hronis Racing, LLC, Hard Aces overhauled favored Catch a Flight approaching the sixteenth pole and was fully extended to hold off Hoppertunity, who was fanned very wide turning for home. Off at 7-1, Hard Aces paid $17.80, $8.00 and $4.20. With the winner’s share of $300,000, he more than doubled his earnings to $592,145. Hard Aces improved his overall mark to 23-6-3-7.
“We got a good trip,” said Sadler. “We were hoping the pace would be there. We saw 45 and change, it looked like there was a lot of speed, but it’s got to come together. Victor did a beautiful job with him. He’s ridden him a few times and he’s not an easy horse to ride. He’s a very difficult horse to ride, so Victor’s gone forward with him for two or three races.
“We thought the last race (a third place finish behind Catch a Flight in the Grade II, 1 1/8 miles Californian) was key. He really stepped forward with a strong race right at the end of a mile and an eighth and he got some more pace today.”
Sadler said the Grade I, $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 22 would be next for Hard Aces.
The second choice in the wagering at 5-2, Hoppertunity, who came off a third place run in the Grade I, 1 1/8 miles Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs June 13, finished 1 ¼ lengths in front of Catch a Flight and paid $5.60 and $3.40.
Argentine-bred Catch a Flight, who came off a pair of wins in the Grade III Precisionist Stakes May 2 and the Grade II Californian, was mid-pack early, inched closer to the lead going to the far turn, put a head in front a furlong out but was third best under Gary Stevens.
Off at 8-5, Catch a Flight paid $2.40 to show.
“He ran a super race, he’s as honest as any horse can get,” said Stevens. “I’m disappointed we didn’t win, but he runs his race every time and he tries hard, it’s all you can ask. No real excuses, he had a good trip.”
The Gold Cup, run at the now-shuttered Hollywood Park from 1938 through 2013, was contested for the second year in a row at Santa Anita and for the 76th time since its inception.
Sadler and Espinoza each collected their first-ever win in one of America’s most prestigious mile and a quarter races for handicap division horses.
There was one winning ticket in Saturday’s Pick Six. Purchased through a hub in Ontario, Canada, it paid $184,699.20.
First post time on Sunday, closing day at Santa Anita, is at 1 p.m. Admission gates will open at 10:30 a.m.