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Hollywood Gold Cup: 10 memorable runnings
Thirteen jockeys have won the Hollywood Gold Cup at least twice. Laffit Pincay won the stake nine times, starting when he was 23 and for the ninth time when he was 55. Bill Shoemaker won it eight times, and three riders − Shoemaker, George Woolf and Jerry Lambert − won it three straight years. But for some jockeys − the best in the business, even Hall of Famers − the Gold Cup was elusive. No better example than Chris McCarron, who tried unsuccessfully 19 times. For nine minutes one year, McCarron thought he finally had the Gold Cup won, until the stewards disqualified his horse. That race, in tandem with the only other disqualification in the Gold Cup’s 74 runnings, crammed its way onto the list of the 10 most memorable moments in the stake’s long history. It was not an easy list to compile. Affirmed didn’t make it. Neither did George Woolf’s three in a row, nor Chantal Sutherland, who with Game On Dude last year became the first female jockey to win a Gold Cup. Que sera, sera.
Hollywood Park needed a horse to jump-start the new track, and Seabiscuit needed a race to rejuvenate his reputation. He was assigned 133 pounds, 13 more than anyone else, and when trainer “Silent” Tom Smith first saw the track he said, “It looks like they’re going to grow corn here.” Specify, at 109 pounds, opened up a big lead and was four lengths ahead at the eighth pole. Two ear pricks later, Seabiscuit, under George Woolf, won by 1 1/2 lengths.
Citation was weighted at a feathery 120 pounds. First place was worth $100,000, enough to make him racing’s first millionaire earner. Before a crowd of 50,625, Calumet Farm ran 1-2 as Steve Brooks rode Citation to a four-length win over his stablemate Bewitch. “[Citation] won as his rider pleased,” Daily Racing Form’s chart footnotes read. A few days later, Citation was retired, and his trainer, Jimmy Jones, said he “was the best I ever saw. Probably the best anybody ever saw.”
Carrying 130 pounds, Swaps gave Bill Shoemaker his first of eight Gold Cup wins. Shoemaker took Swaps off the pace as Mister Gus, carrying 117, reeled off an opening half-mile of 45.40 seconds. Shoemaker cut Swaps loose on the far turn, and they finished off the 1 1/4 miles in a track-record 1:58.60. With no place or show betting, Swaps’s $2.30 win payoff was − and is − the lowest in stakes history. Shoemaker also won the next two runnings, with Round Table and Gallant Man.
Bill Shoemaker, Johnny Longden, Ralph Neves, Milo Valenzuela, and Don Pierce all had ridden Native Diver, but it was Jerry Lambert who was the perfect match. Fourth and third in two earlier Gold Cup tries, Native Diver combined with Lambert in 1965 for his first of three straight wins in the stake. In 1966, Native Diver, by another comfortable margin, became the first horse to win consecutive Gold Cups. There was another encore in 1967, when Native Diver, as an 8-year-old, won again. He is still the oldest Gold Cup winner.
Mary Jones Bradley, the strong-willed owner of Cougar II, thought Bill Shoemaker had given her horse a bad ride in a Gold Cup prep. She forced her trainer, Charlie Whittingham, to replace his good friend Shoemaker with Laffit Pincay. Bradley was roundly booed in the paddock before the race. Then Shoemaker won the race anyway as Whittingham horses − Kennedy Road, Quack, and Cougar − ran 1-2-3. The Form’s chart caller seemed to be rubbing it in when he wrote: “Kennedy Road, under a great ride . . . gamely took a desperate decision from Quack through the final strides.”
Two Gold Cup outcomes have been decided by the stewards. In 1981, the 17-1 Caterman finished first by a nose over Eleven Stitches, but following an inquiry was disqualified and placed second. John Henry, carrying 130 pounds, finished fourth. In 2001, in a five-horse field, Futural and Chris McCarron crossed the line first by 1 1/2 lengths, but the stewards ruled that they had bumped Skimming, the third-place finisher. The final order was Aptitude (pictured at left), who was not affected by the foul; Skimming; and Futural.
Three of Ferdinand’s eight wins were the Kentucky Derby, the Gold Cup, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Not bad. In the mornings, when Ferdinand and Judge Angelucci worked out together, they were fairly even, but Charlie Whittingham knew Ferdinand was much better, especially at 1 1/4 miles. Shoemaker, 55, had won seven Gold Cups, four with Whittingham horses, and Ferdinand made it eight and five. Ferdinand waved bye-bye to his stablemate at the sixteenth pole. Judge Angelucci finished in a dead heat for second with Tasso.
The last time Cigar had raced in California, in 1993, he was an underachieving grass horse with a bad case of the slows. Moved to New York, sent to trainer Bill Mott, he took to dirt and won 16 straight races, 14 of them stakes. No. 9 was the Gold Cup, over a salty field that included Concern, Best Pal, Tinners Way, and Urgent Request. The margin was 3 1/2 lengths. Jerry Bailey rode one Gold Cup winner before Cigar, three after him.
When Laffit Pincay won his first of a record nine Gold Cups, with Pleasure Seeker in 1970, the future trainer Doug O’Neill was 2 years old. In 2002, for his ninth Gold Cup, Pincay rode O’Neill’s Sky Jack to a hard-fought win. Momentum, a nose short at the wire, was ridden by Garrett Gomez, who said of Pincay, “I wish that old man would retire, but I guess races like this are why he’s a Hall of Famer.” Sky Jack, paying $5.80, was the second choice.
Three years after Sky Jack, Doug O’Neill was back with Lava Man, who matched Native Diver by winning three straight Gold Cups. Pat Valenzuela rode Lava Man the first time, in 2005, and Corey Nakatani was aboard for the last two. In 2006, Lava Man also won the Santa Anita Handicap and Del Mar’s Pacific Classic, becoming the first horse to sweep the three races. O’Neill had claimed Lava Man for $50,000, but not willingly. It was really the idea of Steve Kenly, one of his owners. Lava Man wound up earning $5.2 million.
1972 will always be my favorite beacuse I ended up working for Jim Benedict who would go on to train SIngle Agent who set the incrediable pace that year in which Quack (1:58.1) broke the track record of Swaps in 1956 (1:58.3) while equaling Noor's world record. Single Agent carved out blazing pace while finishing 4th and defeating a past Gold Cup winner (Figonero 1969) and a future Gold up winner (Kennedy Road 1973). His 1:33.1 mile (2 turn) that day should have sapped him to the back of the track, but he only got beat about a length for 2nd as Quack destoyed te field by 5 1/2 lengths. I was at the track that summer after living in Oregon for almost a year and could hardly wait to see Single Agent run after being a future Derby horse in 1971 before getting hurt in the San Rafael Stakes against Bold Joey. Earlier that summer (1972) at Hollywood Park, he ran 7f in a track record equaling 1:20.0....getting beat by the new track and world record holder Triple Bend (1:19.4), of whom they still run the race in his name. A magical race as Harry Henson called him in the lead at the 1/4 pole and at 28-1 I thought he might actually steal the race...not so, but a valiant try nonetheless. I started working at Santa Anita the day after Christmas (1973) for the Benedict barn and it still is a dream come true to be able to muck out a stall, hotwalk, or just look in on this beautiful black gelding every day I worked for Jim. Yes will always b a little bias I guess,but Quack still holds the track record 41 years later and Single Agent once considered just a sprinter still ran 1 1/4 in only 2/5 slower than the great Riva Ridge ran it 2 weeks earlier in the Hollywood Derby. Swaps was the greatest, Native Diver thrilled my childhood, but Single Agent holds that special place in my heart to this day...
not only is native diver on my all time favorite list but so is jerry lambert, i often wonder on jerry lambert the last i knew of was he was riding at los alamitos.id read an article in a racing book about him.that was 10 or 15 years ago.
Native Diver was the peoples horse!
I remember when Postnobills ran a hole in the wind to trounce the field in a track record that year. It's not every day that you get to see that in person. The rider that day (Bobums) just had to go along for the ride.
OMG. No Noor? The 1950 Gold Cup was the greatest race in the history of the track (other than maybe the 1987 and 1984 Breeders' Cup Classics). It was run in the fall due to a fire at the track, and drew EVERYONE, including the horse of the year Hill Prince, 2 Derby winners (Ponder and Triple Crown winner Assault), and the fine filly Next Move. And Noor, one of the most underrated horses in history, the first horse to beat 2 Triple Crown winners (he beat Citation 4 times in the spring), who ran by everyone with a spectacular move and won in track record time.
Ack Ack carrying 134 lbs was one of my all time favorites. If memory serves me right, I believe he may have also broker the track record in that race
All I know is the day Affrimed carried 130 pounds with nearly 60,000 people in the stands (no infield) I knew I would never forget that moment. Sky Jack? Really?