11/29/2014 7:43PM

Red Rifle scores in Hawthorne Gold Cup


STICKNEY, Ill. – On paper, there were four Hawthorne Gold Cup pace players, but when the gates sprang open, only one of them showed up. Red Rifle made a clear lead on a racing surface promoting inside front-runners throughout Saturday’s card and never looked back, winning the Grade 2, $250,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup by 2 1/4 lengths over Mister Marti Gras.

Florent Geroux was in from Fair Grounds to ride the winner for trainer Todd Pletcher, who added a second Gold Cup to the 2008 edition he won with Fairbanks. Geroux, a French import who has ridden on the Chicago circuit for several years, on Nov. 1 won the biggest race of his career when he captured the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Work All Week.

“This was something special for me to be here at Hawthorne, where I started,” Geroux said.

Geroux said Pletcher instructed him to try to break sharply and see how the race developed. If another horse was intent on the lead, let him go, but if Red Rifle made the front, that was fine, too.

That is exactly how Geroux played it, and when none of the other apparent front-runners – Abraham, Call Me George, and Midnight Rider – forced the issue, Red Rifle was allowed to set a comfortable tempo of 23.89 seconds, 48.62, and 1:12.81. He turned for home with a clear lead and increased it to midstretch, taking full control of the race despite switching leads several times.

“At the top of the stretch, he really kicked for home,” said Geroux.

Red Rifle stopped the timer in 2:03.23 for 1 1/4 miles on a fast track and paid $14.80 to win. A 4-year-old gelding by Giant’s Causeway out of the Gulch mare May Night, Red Rifle won for the fifth time in 13 starts while scoring his first graded stakes victory. He was bred by Twin Creeks Farm and Tom and Nancy Clark and is owned by Twin Creeks Racing Stable.

Behind Call Me George in third came Effinex, Ever Rider, Street Spice, Fordubai, Abraham, Cary Street, Hattaash, and Midnight Aria. Cary Street, the 3-1 favorite, became upset in the gate and ran far below his best form.

Mister Marti Gras, rallying from 10th, turned in a fine performance for his second straight Gold Cup runner-up finish while racing against the grain of the track. The 7-year-old gelding also was fourth in this race in 2012 and 2011.