06/25/2016 8:47PM

Melatonin punches ticket to Breeders' Cup Classic by winning Gold Cup

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Benoit & Associates
Melatonin, ridden by Joe Talamo, wins his second major race of the season in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Melatonin was 16-1 when he won the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap in March in his first stakes win. Melatonin won his second stakes in Saturday’s $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita as the 9-5 favorite.

The Gold Cup at Santa Anita may have had half the purse as the Big Cap, but was arguably more valuable. With the victory, Melatonin earned a fees-paid berth to the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic here on Nov. 5 through the Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In program.

The Gold Cup at Santa Anita proved Melatonin belongs in the discussion among California’s leading older horses. The group is led by California Chrome, the winner of the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March. California Chrome and Melatonin could meet in the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 20.

Six months ago, Melatonin would not have seemed a candidate for such a race. The gelding had two career wins – a maiden race and an optional claimer – at 3 and 4.

This year, Melatonin has won 3 of 4 starts. The win in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita pushed Melatonin passed $1 million in career earnings, to $1,218,552 for owner Susan Osborne.

“It’s a dream,” Osborne said in the winner’s circle.

She described the winner as “one in a million.”

Melatonin paid $5.60 and earned his Gold Cup win in the mind of trainer David Hofmans.

 “I think it might be his best race,” Hofmans said.

 Ridden by Joe Talamo, Melatonin stalked pacesetter Lieutenant Colonel for the first seven furlongs before taking a narrow lead on the turn. Melatonin was challenged through the stretch by the 24-1 longshot Win the Space and slowly pulled away from that rival to win by a half-length.

Win the Space, the longest shot in a field of eight, finished three-quarters of a length in front of Hard Aces, the winner of the 2015 Gold Cup at Santa Anita. Hoppertunity, the 3-1 second choice, finished fourth in his first start since a third-place finish to California Chrome in the Dubai World Cup.

Imperative finished fifth, followed by Lieutenant Colonel, Second Summer, and Bal a Bali.

Trainer Bob Baffert considered scratching Hoppertunity from the Gold Cup on Thursday, but opted to stay in the race.

Melatonin won the Big Cap from the front and was a game second to Effinex in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap on April 16 after setting the early pace. Saturday, Talamo said he was comfortable to have Melatonin in second early when Lieutenant Colonel led through early fractions of 23.83 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 47.70 for a half-mile.

“Some people thought he was one-dimensional and needed the lead, but he’s not,” Talamo said. “He’s a jockey’s dream. He can go to the front or sit second or third.”

Melatonin led by a head with a furlong to go. Jockey Gary Stevens said he  thought Win the Space took the lead for a few strides in the stretch.

“I thought we had it,” Stevens said. “I stuck my nose in front. Joe just had more. It was a big race.”

Melatonin was timed in 1:59.79.

“He fought in the last furlong with Win the Space,” Talamo said. “You could feel him catch another gear. My horse did all the work in the last eighth.”

Melatonin has been the star runner for Hofmans this year. The 73-year-old trainer is best known for winning races such as the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic with Alphabet Soup, who beat Cigar, and the 1997 Belmont Stakes with Touch Gold.

Hofmans has been delighted with Melatonin’s progress this year, but knows the 5-year-old by Kodiak Kowboy must show further improvement in the big races to come.

“Those were good horses,” Hofmans said of the Gold Cup field. “What he’s got to face in the future are Grade 1-plus horses.”