NEW YORK (AP) Tonalist easily beat five rivals in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup in the slop Saturday to earn a return trip to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The Gold Cup was one of four Challenge races at Belmont Park with each winner getting a fees-paid spot in the corresponding Breeders’ Cup race on Oct. 31 at Keeneland.
Tonalist will face a deep lineup in the $5 million Classic, including Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and the sensational mare Beholder.
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It was the second straight Gold Cup victory for Tonalist, the 2014 Belmont Stakes winner trained by Christophe Clement.
He ran fifth in last year’s Classic held at Santa Anita.
Tonalist paid $4, $2.50 and $2.10 as the even-money favorite with John Velazquez aboard for his first Gold Cup victory.
Kept closer to the pace than usual in the compact field, Tonalist ranged into contention with an inside move before splitting rivals at the top of the stretch.
Once clear, the 4-year-old colt glided to his sixth win in 14 starts. He beat Wicked Strong by 4 3/4 lengths. Effinex got third, giving trainer Jimmy Jerkens a 2-3 finish in the 97th Gold Cup.
It was a return to form for Tonalist who had lost his previous three races as the betting favorite in each defeat.
”I never lost my faith in the horse,” Clement said. ”I never thought he was disappointing. He was a bit unlucky for the year.”
The $600,000 winner’s purse lifted Tonalist’s career earnings over $3 million for owner Robert Evans.
Wicked Strong returned $5.30 and $3.30 while Effinex paid $3 to show.
The time was 2:02.16 for the 1 1/4 miles.
Coach Inge was fourth followed by Looks to Spare and Constitution.
– Greenpointcrusader earned a spot in the $2 million Juvenile with a dominant win at 6-1 in the $500,000 Champagne for 2-year-olds. After a poor start, the colt rallied four wide through the lane to beat Sunny Ridge by 4 1/2 lengths.
Joe Bravo was aboard for trainer Dominick Schettino as Greenpointcrusader got his second win in three starts. The time was 1:36.25 for the mile.
He paid $15 to win.
– Nickname will be one of the favorites in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies following a 3 1/2 length triumph over Nemoralia in $400,000 Frizette for 2-year-old fillies.
She improved to 2 for 3, covering the mile in 1:37.76.
Javier Castellano rode for trainer Steve Asmussen as Nickname paid $12.80 to win.
– Stephanie’s Kitten missed by only 1 1/2 length’s in last year’s $2 million Filly & Mare Turf.
She’ll try to narrow that gap after earning a return trip with a repeat victory in the $500,000 Flower Bowl at 1 1/4 miles.
The 6-year-old trained by Chad Brown got her 10th win in 24 starts, beating Danza Cavallo by 1 1/2 lengths with Irad Ortiz, Jr. in the saddle.
She paid $6.90 to win. The time was 2:06.23 over the soft course.
In a pair non-Challenge stakes:
Appealing Tale beat Red Vine by 1 3/4 lengths in the $400,000 Kelso Handicap.
Honor Code, the 3/5 favorite on the strength of wins over Tonalist in the Metropolitan Handicap and the Whitney Stakes, was third.
Appealing Tale paid $15.20 for the upset with Joe Talamo riding for trainer Peter Miller.
Takeover Target beat Vision Perfect by 1 3/4 lengths in the $500,000 Hill Prince Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf.