06/09/2017 7:40PM

Red Cardinal delivers as favorite in Belmont Gold Cup

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Barbara D. Livingston
Red Cardinal, ridden by Eduardo Pedroza, beats St Michel by a neck in the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational.

ELMONT, N.Y. – The Australian Bloodstock syndicate purchased Red Cardinal last summer as a staying prospect, in particular to run in the Melbourne Cup. The gelding, a 4-year-old at the time, never had raced farther than 1 1/2 miles, but whoever thought Red Cardinal was a horse who wanted more distance had a good opinion.

Red Cardinal now has made two starts going two miles and has won them both, and he was a neck better than St Michel on Friday at Belmont Park in the Grade 3, $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational, where European shippers finished first through fourth. Now We Can, who was second in this race last year, finished third, two lengths behind the runner-up and a nose in front of Wicklow Brave. Then came Hunter O’riley, Bullards Alley, Farz, Wall of Fire, Taghleeb, Clondaw Warrior, Roman Approval, and Renown.

Trained for his first six starts by David Simcock, Red Cardinal now resides in the German training yard of Andreas Wohler. On his back Friday was 42-year-old Eduardo Pedroza, a native of Panama who has spent 22 years as a stable jockey for Wohler. None of Pedroza’s previous five mounts in North America had so much as hit the board, but this one was well meant, paying $7.60 while bet down to favoritism, and Pedroza gave Red Cardinal a perfect ride.

“I asked him one time, he came a little bit, and I waited a little more,” Pedroza said. “He’s a horse if you go too early to the front, he’ll wait a little bit.”

Pedroza still was sitting chilly as the field cornered into the homestretch, at which point he asked Red Cardinal to quicken and got an immediate response. Red Cardinal surged toward the lead on the outside, got it about a furlong out, and responded well when St Michel, who had followed along behind him under Irad Ortiz Jr., came calling the last 100 yards.

“My horse did everything right,” Ortiz said. “He just got beat. That’s a good horse that beat him.”

Red Cardinal clocked 3:18.79 for two miles on firm turf. The field spread out more than a couple dozen lengths during the early stages as Roman Approval chugged off to a big early lead, putting about 15 lengths on his nearest pursuer, Wall of Fire, into the second of three turns. Roman Approval’s pace slowed as the field caught him turning into the backstretch, but the principals still sat near the back of the pack. Wall of Fire went for an early run and took a narrow lead about a quarter out but quickly was swarmed by the closers.

St Michel, just a 4-year-old, continues to develop nicely for trainer Mark Prescott and ran one of his best races in the Gold Cup.  Now We Can had a good trip and finished decently, running a similar race to his second-place finish here last year. Wicklow Brave totally blew the break, spotting the horses who beat him several lengths, and then was rank around the last turn while mounting a bold bid that he couldn’t quite sustain.

As for Red Cardinal, his long-range goal remains the Melbourne Cup in November, Wohler said.

“The main target with him is the first Tuesday in November,” Wohler said. “He’ll have two runs beforehand. We’ll give him a little break. When he comes back, he’ll probably have his next race in France and then either in Germany or in Australia itself.”

Red Cardinal, by Montjeu and out of Notable, by Zafonic, ran his career mark to 5-3-1 from nine starts, and his best racing still probably is in front of him.

“He started very late in his career and hasn’t had many races, and he keeps improving,” Wohler said. “He’s progressing, so we’re quite happy.”