The Hollywood Gold Cup inaugural winner was Seabiscuit. Its last winner was Improbable. And in between, one of the West Coast’s signature races turned loose winners such as three-time champs Lava Man and Native Diver, two-time winner Game on Dude and Triple Crown owners Citation and Affirmed.

Royal Ship-Hollywood Gold Cup
Royal Ship brings the best last-out Beyer Speed Figure, a 108, from this Grade 2 Californian victory. He is the 5/2 co-second favorite in Monday’s Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita Park. (Image: Benoit Photo)

August company, to be sure. But winning the Hollywood Gold Cup often bodes well going forward. The last two winners of this Grade 1 race closed their careers with Eclipse Awards. Both Improbable and 2019 winner Vino Rosso headed into stallion duties as Champion Older Dirt Male.

The 1 ¼-mile Hollywood Gold Cup headlines Santa Anita Park’s nine-race Memorial Day card. The $300,000 race is one of three Grade 1 events on the card, along with the Shoemaker Mile and Gamely Stakes. Along with the Santa Anita Handicap and August’s Pacific Classic at Del Mar, the Hollywood Gold Cup is the middle leg of the West Coast’s older-horse Classic distance trifecta.

From its 1938 beginning to 2013, the Hollywood Gold Cup held court at Hollywood Park. When that track closed the end of 2013, the race moved north to Santa Anita.

Grade 1 glory awaits Hollywood Gold Cup winner

Its reputation as a season-making event migrated north with it. This year’s seven contenders all seek one thing: a Grade 1 win on the resume. As decorated as several are, none of them own that elusive Grade 1 victory yet.

That somehow includes Rushie (5/1), who somehow isn’t the favorite here. The Michael McCarthy-trained, Trevor McCarthy-piloted 4-year-old comes in off his runner-up to By My Standards in the Oaklawn Mile. That nose loss as the 9/5 favorite doubled as his 2021 debut and illustrated yet again how the three-time winner loves being up front.

One of those three wins came in the Grade 2 Pat Day Mile last year. One of the only two times Rushie missed the board in his nine races came in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, where he finished seventh. Along the way, Rushie placed in two key 2020 Derby preps. He finished third to Art Collector and Swiss Skydiver in the Blue Grass Stakes. Before that, he finished third to Honor A.P. and Authentic in the Santa Anita Derby.

Rushie brings a rush to value

Rushie’s value is there for the taking. Should you go chalk, there’s 2/1 favorite Express Train, perhaps the most battle-tested contender in the field. He’s tackled Grade 1 or Grade 2 competition his last five starts. Express Train went 1-2-1 in those five starts, winning the Grade 2 San Pasqual at the end of January.

That vaulted him into a disappointing runner-up in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, where he took the lead into deep stretch – only to have Idol reel him in at the wire. Express Train rolled into Oaklawn Park five weeks later for the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. He finished third, to Silver State and Fearless.

The one thing Express Train brings that none of his closest rivals do is experience at 10 furlongs. That came in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Royal Ship and Country Grammer meet again

The other two intriguing candidates are 5/2 second-favorites Royal Ship and Country Grammer. A 5-year-old Brazilian-bred gelding, Royal Ship sails into the Hollywood Gold Cup seeking his second consecutive graded stakes victory. This comes after he won the Grade 2 Californian Stakes on dirt, beating Country Grammer in the process.

That was Royal Ship’s first win on dirt, further illustrating how underrated Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella is as a conditioner. He moved Royal Ship to dirt for the Californian, after he finished third, fifth and sixth in three turf stakes races. Those, sandwiched around a fourth in the Native Diver Stakes on dirt at Del Mar.

“He’s coming into the race great. I hope he runs as good or better (as the Californian) this time,” Mandella told Santa Anita’s Ed Golden.

Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup/Santa Anita Park

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

  1. Royal Ship, 5/2 (Mike Smith/Richard Mandella)
  2. Country Grammer, 5/2 (Flavien Prat/Bob Baffert)
  3. Brown Storm, 20/1 (Umberto Rispoli/Mike McCarthy)
  4. Heywoods Beach, 5/1 (Tyler Baze/John Sadler)
  5. Rushie, 5/1 (Trevor McCarthy/Mike McCarthy)
  6. Two Thirty Five, 30/1 (Abel Cedillo/Doug O’Neill)
  7. Express Train, 2/1 (Juan Hernandez/John Shirreffs)

Country Grammer can’t make the same claim. He came out of a seven-month layoff, set the pace in the Californian, then couldn’t hold off Royal Ship. That layoff came after his fifth in the Travers Stakes last summer, which sent the Peter Pan Stakes winner earlier that summer to the sidelines.

That Californian place marked Country Grammer’s career-best 112 Equibase Speed Figure, a mark 14 points better than his previous career mark.

The pick: Rushie. He may stretch out for the first time, but has the pedigree, a sizzling trainer in Preakness Stakes winner McCarthy and form to make this his first Grade 1 win. And good value comes along for the ride.