Skip Away held off Cigar to win the 1996 Jockey Club Gold Cup. (Photo courtesy of Horsephotos.com)
The Jockey Club Gold Cup is the feature race during the Belmont Park fall meet, so this isn’t just any other Grade 1 stakes. This race consistently attracts the best and most talented horses all gunning for their chance to take home the winner’s share of the $1 million purse.
What sets the Jockey Club Gold Cup apart is that it is usually the first significant matching of the different generations as the nation’s top 3-year-olds take on older horses for the first time. It is always exciting to see how the top 3-year-olds stack up against some of the best veteran, older horses.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup was first run in 1919 at Belmont Park under the name of the Jockey Club Stakes. From 1921 through 1975 the race was run at a marathon distance of two miles until 1976, when the distance was changed to 1 ½ miles. The race was run at that distance until 1990, when it was changed to its current distance of 1 ¼ miles. The race was run at Aqueduct Racetrack from 1958 through 1974, except for in 1962 and 1968. It has remained home at Belmont Park since 1975.
CURLIN WINNING HIS SECONG GOLD CUP IN 2008
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Since the first Breeders’ Cup World Championships in 1984, the Jockey Club Gold Cup has always been an important steppingstone toward competing in the Breeder’s Cup Classic, often serving as the last race before the Classic for most horses. In 2007, the Breeder’s Cup launched the Challenge Series and made the Jockey Club Gold Cup a part of its inaugural 24-race schedule. Since becoming a “Win and You’re In” race, the Jockey Club Gold Cup winner has received an automatic berth into the Breeder’s Cup Classic, America’s most lucrative race boasting a purse of $5 million. Three times the winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup has gone on to win the Breeder’s Cup Classic: Cigar in 1995, Skip Away in 1997, and Curlin in 2007.
Still not impressed with the prestige of the Jockey Club Gold Cup? Take a look at the veritable who’s who list of previous winners:
- Five different horses that won the Triple Crown won the race: Gallant Fox, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Citation and Affirmed.
- Mad Hatter, Dark Secret, Nashua, Slew o’ Gold, Creme Fraiche, Skip Away, Curlin, and Flat Out all were able to win the race on two separate occasions.
- In 1920, the race was run as a match race between Man o’ War and Damask. Man o’ War won by 15 lengths and also set an American record for fastest 1 ½ miles.
- What is probably regarded as the most exciting running in the history of the event was in 1978 when Exceller beat 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew by a nose.
- Nothing is more impressive though than what Kelso was able to achieve. The beloved gelding won this race a remarkable five times in a row from 1960 through 1964. No other horse has won the race more than twice.
KELSO WINNING 1961 GOLD CUP
Since the race was switched to its current 1 ¼-mile distance, the record for the fastest the race has been run is 1:58.89 set in 1997 by Skip Away.
The most wins by a trainer in this race is seven by Hall of Famer James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons. He won the race in 1929 with Diavolo, 1930 with Gallant Fox, 1933 and 1934 with Dark Secret, 1944 with Bolingbroke, and finally in 1955 and 1956 with Nashua.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup was also won an astounding 10 times by legendary Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Arcaro. Arcaro won this race in 1935 aboard Firethorn, 1946 on Pavot, 1948 on Citation, 1949 on Ponder, 1954 on High Gun, 1955 and 1956 on Nashua, 1959 on Sword Dancer, and again in 1960 and 1961 aboard Kelso.