By Art Wilson
Southern Calif. News Group
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EASTERN INVADER VINO ROSSO DEFEATS FAVORED GIFT BOX BY THREE QUARTERS OF A LENGTH AS PLETCHER & VELAZQUEZ TEAM FOR 1 ¼ MILE TRIUMPH IN 2:03 FLAT
ARCADIA, Calif. (May 27, 2019)- It was a true team effort Monday for the connections of Vino Rosso, who outdueled the 3-5 favorite Gift Box to win the $500,000 Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita.
Trainer Todd Pletcher possessed the wisdom to choose the Gold Cup over the Met Mile at Belmont Park on June 8.
Owner Mike Repole knew his horse well enough to give winning jockey John Velazquez the instructions needed to win the 1 1/4-mile race.
And Velazquez, a two-time Eclipse Award winner (2004-05) as the nation’s top jockey, carried out his owner’s advice to a tee while making the 3,000-mile journey west very worthwhile.
“I talked to Mike Repole on the phone and he said to make sure to thank him because he’s the one who gave me instructions to win the race,” Velazquez said. “So thank you Mike and thank you Todd.”
Velazquez said Pletcher told him Vino Rosso, a 4-year-old son of Curlin who won last spring’s Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and then finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby, was ready to run a mile and a quarter after finishing fourth in the Grade I Carter Handicap at Aqueduct on April 6.
“I knew the pace would be fast early and I just wanted to stay close,” Velazquez said. “He broke very well and we settled in there. When it was time to go, we knew we had to engage Joel (Rosario aboard Gift Box) to play the game because he was the horse to beat. And we got the job done.”
Gift Box, second much of the way, put his head in front after the first mile, but then Vino Rosso, the 4-1 second choice in the wagering, moved up on the outside and took a half-length lead at the top of the stretch in the seven-horse field.
The two dueled through much of the stretch before Vino Rosso prevailed by three-quarters of a length to score his first Grade I victory and push his earnings over the $1 million mark ($1,253,125) while running the mile and a quarter in 2:03.
“The distance was really fitting and it was a good field to put him in. The competition was good,” Pletcher assistant of six years, Amy Mullen, said in the winner’s circle. “Stretching him out and getting him at the mile and a quarter was really the draw (to the Gold Cup).
“We were looking at the Met Mile and then he (Pletcher) saw the nominations for this race and decided we should take a shot and try to get him the Grade I.”
Mullen started out working for Pletcher in his office and then began galloping horses and traveling around the country to saddle his horses when he elects to stay home.
“I galloped him (Vino Rosso) last year when he was in New York and this year,” she said. “Watching him develop and grow into the horse that he is is really cool.”
Mullen said she was confident heading into the race.
“Stepping into Grade I company, you never know, but he really showed how well he’s been doing and training,” she said.
Vino Rosso was idle between the Travers last August and an overnight stakes race at Aqueduct on March 9, and Mullen said the down time was by design.
“Give him some time to grow up and come back as a bigger, stronger horse,” she said.
Gift Box saw his three-race winning streak come to an end as his bid to become only the 10th horse to win both the Santa Anita Handicap and Gold Cup in the same year was foiled. He won the Big ‘Cap by a nose over McKinzie in April.
“I guess he was just second best today,” Rosario said. “I used him a little in the beginning to get my spot, but he settled and was very comfortable after that. Everything he did was just right. He just got a little tired in the end.
“I still think he’s one of the best handicap horses in the country and he’ll improve off this. I had the trip I wanted. The other horse just ran a better race today.”
Lone Sailor, the 5-1 third choice, closed from seventh to finish third, 5 1/4 lengths behind Gift Box. Mongolian Groom, Higher Power, Core Beliefs and Blitzkrieg completed the order of finish.
“He was a little farther back than I wanted, but I was happy with what I was seeing up front. I knew at the three-eighths (pole) he wouldn’t be able to catch the leaders,” Tom Amoss, trainer of Lone Sailor, said.