09/24/2012 3:17PM

Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont not just a prep for Hymn Book

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Tom Keyser
Hymn Book is one of as many as six Grade 1 winners who could be in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

ELMONT, N.Y. – The connections of the majority of the horses running in Saturday’s $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park are hoping to use the race as a springboard to the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita.

That would put trainer Shug McGaughey in the minority. As far as Hymn Book is concerned, Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup could very well be his Breeders’ Cup.

“We’re not looking toward the Breeders’ Cup with him,” said McGaughey, who trains Hymn Book, a 6-year-old gelding for Stuart Janney III. “My idea was to take one last big chance with him and see how he does. If we have to back it down a little bit, we’ll back it down a little bit.”

Hymn Book is one of as many as six Grade 1 winners who could be in the Gold Cup when entries are taken and post positions assigned on Wednesday. The Gold Cup, run at 1 1/4 miles, is one of five Grade 1 races and six graded stakes overall on what the New York Racing Association is billing as Super Saturday.

Among the other Grade 1 winners considered definite for the Gold Cup are defending Gold Cup winner Flat Out, Santa Anita Handicap winner Ron the Greek, and Whitney winner Fort Larned. Stay Thirsty, last year’s Travers winner and Ruler On Ice, last year’s Belmont winner, are under consideration for the race. Others expected to enter are Atigun, Fast Falcon, and San Pablo.

Hymn Book, who began the year winning the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream, has a 2-2-0 record from 4 starts at Belmont. His two seconds have come in the Grade 2 Suburban each of the last two years.

In the Gold Cup, Hymn Book will be making his first start since finishing fourth to Fort Larned in the Whitney at Saratoga on Aug. 4. McGaughey skipped the Woodward with Hymn Book to because the gelding prefers Belmont to Saratoga, a fact he again drove home Sunday when he worked four furlongs in 46.87 seconds over the main track.

“I wanted to give him a little break between his races. He likes it here. Obviously he loves it when there’s a little bit of water in the track, which he got this morning,” McGaughey said Sunday after the work. “I think this [cooler] weather is suiting him too. I know it’s a big task, but we’ll see what he can do.”

Also working Sunday was Fort Larned, who breezed five furlongs in 1:00.79 over the Belmont main track, getting his last three furlongs in 34.82 seconds.

“I wanted him to go off in about 26 for the first quarter, and I wanted him to stretch his legs and finish up strong,” said trainer Ian Wilkes. “I was very pleased.”

On Monday, the Todd Pletcher-trained duo of Stay Thirsty and San Pablo worked five furlongs together in 1:02.74 after the first renovation break over the Belmont training track. The two finished their last quarter in 24.87 seconds and galloped out six furlongs in 1:15.28. Ramon Dominguez was aboard Stay Thirsty.

“The track seemed to pick up after the second break, but I thought it was a good solid work,” Pletcher said. “They started off slow, finished up strong, and galloped out well, so I’m happy with the breeze.”

While Stay Thirsty is winless in three starts this year, San Pablo won two stakes in 17 days, including the Grade 3 Philip Iselin Stakes at Monmouth on Aug. 18.

“He’s a steadily improving horse,” Pletcher said. “I thought his last race was very good off short rest. He’s got good spacing into this, and I think a mile and a quarter will suit him. We’re optimistic.”

Pletcher said he has both Dominguez and Javier Castellano to ride his horses, but had not yet determined who would ride whom.