09/25/2013 4:15PM

Belmont: Jockey Club Gold Cup a distance test for Cross Traffic

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Barbara D. Livingston
Cross Traffic (left), training with stablemate Graydar at Belmont, must show he can handle 1 1/4 miles in the Jockey Club Gold Cup to move on to the Breeders' Cup Classic.

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ELMONT, N.Y. – By virtue of his victory in the Whitney Invitational, Cross Traffic earned a fees-paid berth into the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. In Saturday’s $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, Cross Traffic must prove that’s the race in which he belongs.

To date, Cross Traffic has been brilliant in victory – and perhaps more so in defeat – finishing first or second in all five of his starts. What he must prove Saturday is his ability to get 1 1/4 miles, the distance of both the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic, which will be run Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.

Cross Traffic will have to do it against a strong field of eight assembled for the 95th running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the highlight on a spectacular 11-race card that includes four other Grade 1 races and the Grade 2 Kelso. Seven Grade 1 or Group 1 horses are in the Gold Cup, including two-time defending race champion Flat Out, Kentucky Derby winner Orb, Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, 2012 Santa Anita Handicap winner Ron the Greek, Woodward winner Alpha, and Brazilian Group 1 winner Vitoria Olimpica. Last Gunfighter makes his Grade 1 debut after winning 4 of 5 starts this year, including a trio of Grade 3 stakes.

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Cross Traffic’s speed caught most people’s attention when he set blistering fractions but lost heart-breaking decisions to Flat Out in the Grade 3 Westchester in April and Sahara Sky in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap in May, both one-turn mile races at Belmont.

Cross Traffic, a son of Unbridled’s Song, won his two-turn debut when he set sensible fractions and held off a late-running Successful Dan in the Grade 1 Whitney, his first race at 1 1/8 miles, at Saratoga.

Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Cross Traffic, said his horse “galloped out pretty strongly” after the wire in both the Westchester and Met Mile.

“That gave us confidence that going to a mile and an eighth will be in his scope,” Pletcher said. “We’ll have to see about the mile and a quarter, but everything that he’s shown indicates it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Pletcher said the Classic is “the obvious target” for Cross Traffic but “if for some reason he showed us a mile and a quarter wasn’t what he was looking for then we could always back up into the Dirt Mile,” Pletcher said.

Cross Traffic, owned by GoldMark Farm, drew post 8, one spot outside his stablemate Palace Malice, who returns to the track over which he won the Belmont Stakes three months ago. Palace Malice will try to become the fourth 3-year-old in the last seven runnings to win the Gold Cup. That list includes Curlin, the sire of Palace Malice, who won this race in 2007 and 2008.

Palace Malice is trying to bounce back from a narrow fourth-place finish in the Travers, a race in which he was compromised by a poor start but came with a good finish. Since he’s run well at distances of 1 1/4 miles or further, Palace Malice has already secured his spot in the Classic in Pletcher’s view.

“It’s not that he has to earn his way in or prove that he can handle the distance; it’s just run well, come out of it well, and move on to the next one,” Pletcher said.

Pletcher also entered a third-horse, Vitoria Olimpica, who is not Breeders’ Cup nominated and who entered only after an overnight stakes earlier in the week failed to fill.