Updated on 09/15/2011 12:31PM

Better to watch than to wager

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Captain Steve will be racing beyond his best distance and is back on short rest, but has only three serious rivals in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Betting windows will be open Sunday, but who needs one for the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup?

Captain Steve meets three legitimate rivals and one throwout in the $750,000 race that has only four betting interests. Not that it matters to Captain Steve's trainer, Bob Baffert, who said: "These big races, they're not really gambling races, they're 'watch-the-stars-perform' races. The other races are gambling races."

Baffert is right. There are plenty of other wagering opportunities on Sunday's 11-race card at Hollywood Park, which includes three Grade 2 stakes, and a $1 million guaranteed pick six pool on races 6-11. First post is 12:15 p.m. Pacific; post for the Gold Cup (race 5) is 2:40 p.m. Although the Gold Cup lacks the appeal of a large field, and Captain Steve will flirt with even-money, a win by any of three others would not be a surprise.

Skimming, a Grade 1 winner at the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup distance, is the main threat after reaching top form with a front-runnning victory June 10 in the Californian. He will be coupled with Aptitude, a bust since finishing second in last year's Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. Grade 2 winner Futural has been first or second in five straight, while Power Wing's most recent victory was in a $25,000 claiming sprint.

The race centers on Captain Steve, who has banked more than $6.6 million for owner Mike Pegram. A Gold Cup victory would move him into third place on the all-time earnings list. He has done most of it without gaining attention of others trained by Baffert, who said: "He's always been in the shadow of a really good horse in the barn, and he's by Fly So Free. If he was by Storm Cat, people would go 'Whoa!' "

Captain Steve has won more than $4 million this year, most of it March 24 in the Dubai World Cup. He returned June 16 at Churchill Downs with a runner-up finish, and is running back in 15 days. "I run them when they're doing well, and he's a tough s.o.b.," Baffert said, adding "He's got heart, he lays his body down every time."

Although Captain Steve won at 1 1/4 miles in Dubai, the distance is beyond his preference. Baffert believes the same applies to the entire Gold Cup field. "I don't know if any of them in this race want to get a mile and a quarter. It's not really [Captain Steve's] ideal distance, but he has so much heart and drive."

Gary Stevens rides Captain Steve for the first time, and they must catch Skimming and jockey Garrett Gomez to win. Wire-to-wire winner of last year's Pacific Classic and this year's Californian, Skimming will attempt similar tactics Sunday. The presence of front-running claimer Power Wing could throw a kink into those plans, though Skimming's trainer, Bobby Frankel, suggests Power Wing is not a hindrance.

"They might go 45 [in another race], but you put them in with a class horse and they're nowhere near the lead," Frankel said. "Garrett just has to ride his horse like the other one's not in the race. Skimming's not type of horse where he's going to get real excited. I'd rather [Power Wing] not be in the race, but I'm not worried about it."

If Skimming cannot stay, Frankel remains hopeful Aptitude will return to his good form of last spring. Blinkers and Laffit Pincay Jr. are new, and plans call for the 4-year-old Aptitude to be rated at the back of the field and try to win it from behind.

The other off-the-pace contender is Californian runner-up Futural, trained by Craig Dollase. Although Futural has never tried 1 1/4 miles, Dollase envisions the race setting up for him. "I'm happy to see [Power Wing]. I'm just glad to see some pace in there," Dollase said, recognizing that Futural must improve his Beyer Speed Figures. "He runs 109 every time, we're going to have to bump it up a little bit, especially with [Captain Steve] in the race."

A seven-time winner from 19 starts, Futural is stretching his stamina at 1 1/4 miles. "His pedigree doesn't really suggest [the distance], but he acts like he will. He's got great wind, and he wasn't really stopping the other day. He's got the right mind and disposition to do it."

Chris McCarron rides Futural.

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