Orb: has not won since Kentucky Derby success at muddy Churchill DownsPICTURE: EquiSport Photos/Jessie Holmes
Orb and Malice meet elders in Jockey Club
Preview: USA, Saturday 10.49pm BST (live on ATR)
Belmont Park: Jockey Club Gold Cup (Grade 1) 1m2f, dirt, 3yo+
THE Jockey Club Gold Cup, $1 million highlight of the Super Saturday card at Belmont, hosts a potentially thrilling clash of the generations as Classic winners Orb and Palace Malice meet older horses for the first time - headed by Flat Out, who is seeking to complete a historic hat-trick in the 1m2f event.
While the Jockey Club plainly looks the most significant US trial for the Breeders' Cup Classic, it is remains a prestigious target in its own right, the centrepiece of a day featuring no fewer than ten Grade 1 events in the States - five at both Belmont and Santa Anita.
Kentucky Derby winner Orb (Shug McGaughey/Javier Castellano) arrives at Belmont with a bit to prove, having failed to score in three outings since the first Saturday in May and producing a puzzling effort last time out in the Travers Stakes, where he hit the front in the stretch only for his effort to peter out close home.
Orb was beaten three-quarters of a length into third behind Will Take Charge; perhaps he was short in condition, having not run since the Belmont.
"I think the Travers helped him," said trainer Shug McGaughey. "I thought he ran a very good race in the Travers and he came out of it very good. His works at Fair Hill have been exactly what we've wanted. I think we've got a fresh horse that's going in the right direction with a good, solid race under his belt."
Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice (Todd Pletcher/Mike Smith) looked unlucky in the Travers, where he stumbled at the start and was unable to take up his customary forward position before finishing to good effect, only being touched off by Orb for third.
"I would say it's a very strong renewal," said Todd Pletcher. "It's a tall order for everybody in there, really. Palace Malice's year started in January at Gulfstream and at the end of September he still seems to be doing great. If anything, I think he's improved with the time. He's a May foal and he seems to get better and stronger as we go along and seems to thrive on the action and the training in between. I've been very, very pleased with the way he's held up physically and mentally."
Palace Malice is joined in the Jockey Club by year-older stablemate Cross Traffic (John Velazquez), who showed himself to be among the leading dirt performers in the country when making nearly all in the Whitney at Saratoga on August 3.
The question is whether Cross Traffic can stretch his stamina out for another furlong in Saturday's race, where he must also overcome a tricky draw widest of all in gate eight.
"We'll have to see about the mile and a quarter, but everything that he's shown us indicates that it shouldn't be a problem," said Pletcher, who also has a third string to his bow in Brazilian Grade 1 winner Vitoria Olimpica (Irad Ortiz).
Bill Mott saddles a pair of veteran Grade 1 warriors in seven-year-old Flat Out (Junior Alvarado) and Ron The Greek (Jose Lezcano), only a year younger.
Flat Out, who has won five races at Belmont, is aiming to join the great Kelso in becoming only the second horse to win three Jockey Clubs; Kelso won five altogether, back in the days when it was a 2m race.
"Flat Out has never disappointed anybody here," said Mott of the seven-year-old, second by a head to Saturday's rival Alpha in the Grade 1 Woodward last time out. "He's doing well and he certainly likes it here.
"He seems to handle the track well, which definitely is part of it. I also think there probably are a lot of factors that go into it, including that he comes into form at that time of year."
A top-class field also features Godolphin's Alpha (Kiaran McLaughlin), who had Flat Out and Ron The Greek among his victims last time in the Woodward at a muddy Saratoga, his favourite venue.
The prolific Last Gunfighter (Chad Brown/Rajiv Maragh) has won seven of his last eight starts. But all those wins came at a lower level - and the sole defeat came at the hands of Flat Out at Belmont Park in the Suburban in July this year.
Also on Saturday
Belmont Park: Kelso Hcap (Grade 2) 1m, dirt, 3yo+ (8.41pm BST, live on ATR)
Donn Handicap winner Graydar (Todd Pletcher/Edgar Prado) may have won his last three but he comes into $400,000 trial for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile after a six-month injury absence, having had surgery on an ankle chip.
Belmont Park: Vosburgh Invitational (Grade 1) 6f, dirt, 3yo+ (9.13pm BST, live on ATR)
The Lumber Guy (Mike Hushion/Mike Luzzi) won this 12 months ago as a three-year-old before a fast-finishing second to Trinniberg in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
He hasn't won for a year, though, and faces tough foes in Grade 1 winners Justin Phillip (Steve Asmussen/John Velazquez) and Strapping Groom (David Jacobson/Junior Alvarado) and multiple Grade 2 scorer Forty Tales (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano).
Belmont Park: Flower Bowl Invitational (Grade 1) 1m2f, turf, 3yo+ f/m (9.45pm BST, live on ATR)
Former Irish-trained Laughing (Alan Goldberg/Jose Lezcano) looks the one to beat as she bids to take her unbeaten record to four this term. Unproven at this 1m2f trip, she is joined by stablemate Tannery (Javier Castellano), who also started life in Ireland, where she was a Group 3 winner. Others in a field full of ex-Euros include Kissable, Qushchi and Valiant Star.
Belmont Park: Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (Grade 1) 1m4f, turf, 3yo+ (10.17pm BST, live on ATR)
Leading owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, whose horses have dominated the US turf scene this summer, are represented in this $600,000 by a powerful trio headed by Big Blue Kitten (Chad Brown/Joe Bravo), who is seeking to complete a Grade 1 turf hat-trick.
"He's finally getting those longer distances, and I think that, in combination with physically maturing, has him in top form, as long as the turf is firm," said Brown. "He's won two Grade 1 races in a row, so he should be a major player."
He is joined by stablemate Real Solution (Alan Garcia), promoted winner of the Arlington Million last month.
Breeders' Cup Turf winner Little Mike (Dale Romans/Mike Smith) and Man o'War victor Boisterous (Shug McGaughey/John Velazquez) also run in this $600,000 event. Lightly raced Slumber (Bill Mott/Junior Alvarado), a Listed race winner for Charlie Hills in 2011, represents the Juddmonte operation.
Churchill Downs: Homecoming Classic (ungraded) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo+ (Sun 2.05am BST)
Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned (Ian Wilkes/Brian Hernandez) prepares for his defence of his title on November 2 in the inaugural running of this $175,000 event under the floodlights.
Last year's Travers dead-heater Golden Ticket (Ken McPeek/Robby Albarado) has a choice of engagements between here and California.