Once again, even-money Tacitus is your favorite in a Grade 1 race – the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. And once again, Tacitus enters a Grade 1 favored – without a Grade 1 victory.

Happy Saver-JCGC
Happy Saver’s connections passed on running him in the Preakness for Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup. He’s the 2/1 second choice in the featured Grade 1 at Belmont Park. (Image: Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club)

In this race, he has plenty of company in the latter category, even if Tacitus doesn’t have plenty of company on the track. The Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup headlines Saturday’s Belmont Park stakes slate. But, the 1 ¼-mile test does so with only five actors chasing an all-expenses-paid spot in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

There’s an historic chaser for Tacitus and his cohorts. Not only does the winner get that Breeders’ Cup Classic date, but he joins a veritable equine Hall of Fame of Jockey Club Gold Cup winners. Nine Kentucky Derby winners won the 101-year-old race, including Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox (1930), Whirlaway (1942), Citation (1948), and Affirmed (1978).

Other winners include Man o’War (1920), Nashua (1955-56), Sword Dancer (1959), Buckpasser (1966), Damascus (1967), Forego (1974), John Henry (1981), Easy Goer (1989), Cigar (1995), and Curlin (2007-08). Kelso won the race five consecutive times from 1960-64.

This Jockey Club Gold Cup Brings Pedigree, if Not Wins

That veritable Who’s Who of Thoroughbred talent sets a rather high bar for a race that doesn’t have a current Grade 1 winner in the field. In fact, while Tacitus hit the board in five Grade 1s (three seconds and a third), the other four horses combined to win only two graded stakes, at any level.

Tacitus’ quest for a Grade 1 win has been a recurring theme every time he enters the starting gate. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who conditions the son of Tapit, said his goal is getting Tacitus that Grade 1 win. The 4-year-old owns three runner-up finishes as the favorite in Grade 1 races.

Last year, Tacitus won two Grade 2s on the Kentucky Derby Trail, the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial. He broke a 15-month winless streak on Independence Day at Belmont Park with a 8 ¾-length romp in the Grade 2 Suburban. In between, Tacitus finished second in the Belmont Stakes and the Travers Stakes, among other near misses.

This is Tacitus’ Calling Card: Placing as the Favorite

Tacitus couldn’t sustain his Suburban form last time out. While the racing world paid attention to the Kentucky Derby, Tacitus finished second – once again as the favorite – in the Sept. 5 Grade 1 Woodward Stakes. Even with a slow pace, he couldn’t track down eventual winner, Global Campaign.

Mott told the New York Racing Association’s Ryan Martin that he didn’t think his tactics with Tacitus were incorrect.

“I don’t think we did anything wrong. The horse that beat him just ran a very good race,” Mott said. “The only thing we could have tried differently – and I don’t know if that would have changed the outcome – was maybe go to that horse (Global Campaign) right away from the gate. I don’t know that it would have changed anything. You sure weren’t going to take him back more.”

There are Good Options Other than Tacitus Here

If you’re understandably skittish about jumping on Tacitus’ well-beaten back, who else is there? Start with two 3-year-olds who skipped last week’s Preakness Stakes to run the Jockey Club Gold Cup: Happy Saver (2/1) and Mystic Guide (4/1).

The son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, Happy Saver is unbeaten in three races. He captured his first stakes race with his 1 ½-length victory in the Federico Tesio at Laurel Park last month. Todd Pletcher, who somehow hasn’t won a Jockey Club Gold Cup with his 23 starters, brought Happy Saver along slowly, but he doesn’t think the jump to a Grade 1 is beyond him.

“He just had some baby setbacks. We almost had him ready to run here last fall, but we had to give him a break,” Pletcher said. “It just took him a little while to get ready, but he’s certainly made up a lot of ground in a short period of time.”

Untimely DQ Keeps Pletcher Without a JCGC Title

Pletcher thought he broke his Jockey Club Gold Cup schnide last year when Vino Rosso crossed the finish line first, but Vino Rosso was disqualified for interfering with Code of Honor.

The second sophomore to watch is Mystic Guide, who won the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga with a 95 Beyer Speed Figure on the Woodward Stakes undercard. That was the only time Mystic Guide didn’t enter a race as the favorite – not surprising from a horse who has never missed the board (2-1-2) in five starts.

Jockey Club Gold Cup

Morning Line (Jockey)

  1. Happy Saver, 2/1 (Irad Ortiz Jr.)
  2. Prioritize, 4/1 (Luis Saez)
  3. Name Changer, 20/1 (Manny Franco)
  4. Tacitus, Even (Jose Ortiz)
  5. Mystic Guide 4/1 (John Velazquez)

In that Jim Dandy victory, Mystic Guide not only added blinkers, but beat Jesus’ Team – who went on to finish third in the Preakness.

“We were very, very pleased with his Jim Dandy run,” said Jimmy Bell, who manages the Godolphin-owned horse for Godolphin’s USA division. “He stepped up and found his way to the top level. A little of it was the blinkers and getting him more involved in the race early (by) not giving him too much to do at the end. We’re looking forward to the distance of the Jockey Club Gold Cup.”

The pick: Happy Saver. Again, where is the value in a horse like Tacitus with seconditis in Grade 1s? Plus, Happy Saver’s stalking style and inside post bodes very well in this field.