The penultimate weekend of racing at Hollywood Park’s spring/summer meet is highlighted by a pair of Grade 1 races on Saturday. The 71st running of the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup run over a mile-and-a-quarter and the 59th running of the $250,000 Triple Bend Handicap for sprinters going seven furlongs, both run on the main track, showcase some of the top horses in the country.
Trainer Bob Baffert starts Richard's Kid (pictured) in the Gold Cup, seemingly the only contender that stacks up with race favorite and last year's winner, Rail Trip. But if you ask Baffert, he's not so confident in his chances.
"I don’t know if he can win off the bench, but he’ll run well," said Baffert of last year’s Pacific Classic winner, a race in which Rail Trip finished a troubled third. "He likes the distance of the race so this will set him up well for the Del Mar meet."
Richard's Kid, who will be ridden for the first time by Baffert’s new go-to-guy Marin Garcia, hasn't run since March, when he traveled half way around the world to compete in the $10 million Dubai World Cup run over a Tapeta surface at Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates.
"He didn’t get to run much in Dubai. There was no pace and he had to close into a really slow pace," said Baffert of Richard's Kid seventh place finish, beaten by only two-and-a-half lengths.
With Compari and Tres Borrachos signed up for the Gold Cup, there should be more pace to run at. However, Rail Trip's running style gives him the benefit of being able to sit just off that pace and be the first to explode turning for home.
"He’s always been a good horse. I think he really likes Hollywood Park," said Baffert of Rail Trip, who has five wins and two second place finishes in seven starts over Hollywood's Cushion track. "I think it really moves him up. Only because I think it’s more like a dirt track. I think Rail Trip is better on the dirt than he is on synthetics. He’ll be tough."
In the Triple Bend, Baffert starts both E Z's Gentleman, ridden by Martin Pedroza, and Sangaree, also ridden by Garcia.
"Sangaree has been very consistent lately, running pretty tough. (He’s) a hard knocking horse," said Baffert. "He’s been running second to Rail Trip and that’s why I preferred not to run him against him again. He can’t beat him so I think the 7/8th’s race is maybe a better chance for him to win a race."
In his previous one-turn race, Sangaree finished fifth in the Grade 2 Portrero Grande at Santa Anita. E Z's Gentleman finished third, losing by less than a length to Ventana, another horse trained by Baffert.
With so many good horses in his barn, Baffert is often faced with the dilemma of having his horses run against each other in all levels of competition.
"I would enter ten if I had a chance and I knew I could win," said Baffert, who has won with 20 of his 67 starters at the meet and had a whooping 47 runners finish in the money. "You have to give everybody an equal chance, so if I have two that fit the race I really don’t have a problem with it. My clients don’t have a problem with it. It gives them each a chance to win the race."
Gayego, who will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano for the first time, is likely to go favored in the Triple Bend having won both career starts at Hollywood. He too is making his first start since running in Dubai on World Cup day, where he finished eighth in the $2 million Grade 1 Golden Shaheen, a race won by local trainer Carl O’Callaghan’s Kinsale King.
Trained by Saeed bin Suroor, who starts his first runner of the meet, Gayego also finished fourth, coming up just a neck short, in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita in November.
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