Tonalist Dominates Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont
Tonalist Dominates Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont: Defending champion Tonalist was seemingly unfazed by the sloppy conditions that had enveloped Belmont Park this week, earning his ticket to the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic on October 31 with an emphatic, 4 ¾-length victory in the 97th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on Saturday.
Leaving from the outside post under Hall of Famer John Velazquez, Tonalist settled towards the back of the pack, several lengths behind Constitution, who led the field of six through the opening quarter-mile in 24.35 seconds, the half in 48.17 and six furlongs in 1:12.48 under early pressure from Wicked Strong.
Tonalist, trained by Christophe Clement for Robert S. Evans, gained ground on his rivals as Wicked Strong assumed control from a fading Constitution on the far turn. Velazquez steered the 4-year-old Tapit colt to the inside, easily sweeping past Wicked Strong to complete the 1 ¼ miles in 2:02.16.
Favored at even-money, Tonalist returned $4 on a $2 win bet.
With only this spring’s Grade 3 Westchester in his 2015 win column, Tonalist, who registered a 1 ¾-length victory facing older horses for the first time in the 2014 edition of the Gold Cup, had fallen victim to a recent rash of near misses, with a pair of runner-up finishes in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap and the Grade 2 Suburban this summer at Belmont. Tonalist finished third in his most recent start in the Grade 1 Whitney on August 8 at Saratoga Race Course, falling 1 ¾ lengths short of multiple graded stakes winner Honor Code.
“I think [in the Suburban] I let him do what he wanted to do instead of taking hold of him. and he got caught,” said Velazquez, who has been aboard for the colt’s last four races. “Today, he was in the bridle and I kept him behind horses. [Turning for home] I was going inside or outside, but once [Wicked Strong] started drifting out, I had to go inside. He was so much better today. Everything worked out perfect. He was so good and traveling so well throughout the race.”
Tonalist’s $600,000 share of the Gold Cup purse boosts his career earnings to $3,097,000 with an overall record of 14-6-4-2, including five wins and two seconds from seven starts at Belmont.
“We’re back here, we won this race a year ago and it’s great. I thought that even when he got beat this year, he never ran a bad race,” said Clement. “He’s a top class horse. We’re back on top. I’m delighted for Mr. Evans. Obviously, he believed in us all along. And mostly I’m delighted for the horse, I’ve never lost my faith in the horse. I never thought he was disappointing, he was a bit unlucky for the year, but the way he won today was very impressive.”
Effinex was third, 6 ¾ lengths behind stablemate Wicked Strong. Coach Inge, Looks to Spare and Constitution completed the order of finish.
Describing the Breeders’ Cup Classic as the next “logical” spot, Clement said Tonalist is on schedule to make his second start in the year-end championships, where he finished fifth in the 2014 edition, adding that, “I think we belong in the group and we’ll be there.
“He’s back to what I always believed,” said Clement. “He’s a top class horse. It’s a wonderful race, it’s great to win it two years in a row. Every start this year, I wouldn’t have traded my position with anyone else, even when we got beat. People forget about him, but I never forgot about him.”
Jockey Club Gold Cup 2015 Replay: