Unbeaten Happy Saver Gives Pletcher First Jockey Club Gold Cup Triumph

Saving ground throughout under Irad Ortiz Jr., Wertheimer and Frere’s homebred Happy Saver outdueled fellow 3-year-old Mystic Guide and 3-5 favorite Tacitus with a determined stretch run to win Saturday’s Grade 1, $250,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.

Now a perfect four-for-four after his first graded stakes win, Happy Saver earned a fees-paid berth for the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Classic after the Win and You’re In Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series victory.

Happy Saver covered 1 1/4 miles on a fast main track in 2:02.09 and paid $6.70 to win. Mystic Guide, ridden by John Velazquez and coming off a victory in the G2 Jim Dandy, finished second, beaten three-quarters of a length. Tacitus, who set an uncontested pace under Jose Ortiz, finished another 1 1/4 lengths back in third, with Prioritize fourth and  Name Changer fifth.

The victory was the first in the Jockey Club Gold Cup for Pletcher, who trained Vino Rosso, first across the finish but disqualified and placed second for stretch interference in last year’s running. Vino Rosso went on to win the G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“Not only had we not won it,” said Pletcher, “we’d suffered some really close defeats and then throw in a disqualification on top of that and it’s been a frustrating one over the years. This one was fun. It’s one of the races that has been hard on us. We’ve had some tough losses and it was very fulfilling to win it today.”

Happy Saver broke alertly, but Jose Ortiz seemed intent on getting the early lead aboard Tacitus, who was allowed to set soft fractions of :24.93, :49.68 and 1:13.61 for the opening six furlongs.  Happy Saver tucked in just behind the leader, while Mystic Guide was to his outside and in the clear in the long run down the backstretch.

Mystic Guide moved up to challenge Tacitus with a quarter mile to run, the mile clocked in 1:37.25, while Irad Ortiz Jr. kept  Happy Saver glued to the fence, waiting for daylight. That opportunity came when Tacitus and Mystic Guide straightened away into the stretch, and Happy Saver quickly accelerated through the opening, setting the stage for a three-horse duel down the lane.

Tacitus was the first to retreat, then Happy Saver showed his superiority over Mystic Guide, inching away in the final sixteenth of a mile for the winning margin.

“He has a big heart, like I told Todd in the paddockmk,” Ortiz said of Happy Saver. “He’s a fighter. Every time he has a horse in front of him and when you ask him to go, he passes the horse and then he puts his ears up. He still had something after he went by Johnny’s horse.

“It was emotional. I wanted to win it so bad. Last year, I got DQ’d and that was for Todd, too. He’s a cool horse, a special horse. I rode him first time out and we knew he was a nice horse. Todd has always liked him.

“This race was uncomfortable for him. I wasn’t really happy down in there but I didn’t really have any other options. I just had to go with the flow of the race. I thought we were going to be on the lead and I was surprised to look up and see Tacitus on the lead early. I can’t take back but I can’t go head and head so I just let my horse be there. I used him a little on the backside to stay close and go from there.

“I had horse. I just didn’t have anywhere to go. I had a little space inside but i didn’t know if Jose [Ortiz, aboard Tacitus] had a lot of horse and I didn’t want to check him because his horse has a big stride, so I just waited. When we turned for home, I knew he’d be there for me and if the hole was still open, I’d go for it. If not, I’d go around Johnny [Velazquez aboard Mystic Guide]. But it was still open, so I went for it. When I needed him, he was there for me.”

“Watching the race, I thought he was a little uncomfortable inside there,” Pletcher said of Happy Saver. “He was in a tricky spot. Johnny [Velazquez, aboard Mystic Guide] had first run on him and was able to keep him in there. To his credit, that was a pretty game performance to come up the inside there in his fourth start and first time against older horses going a mile and a quarter. To do that after breaking his maiden on June 20th is hard to do.

“I was very proud of the horse and his performance. I’m happy for the connections, the Wertheimers have been loyal supporters for many years and I’m appreciative of that. It’s great to get a Grade 1 win for them. He’s by a Derby winner [Super Saver (2010)] we trained, so it’s fun all the way around.

“When we started getting serious with his breezes, he was breezing with Dr Post and some horses we knew had talent and he was staying right with them, but I couldn’t have imagined on June 20 he’d be winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup and be 4-for-4. That’s hard to do, but it’s a tribute to his quality.”

Happy Saver, bred in Kentucky, was produced from Happy Week, a daughter of Distorted Humor. Happy Saver’s third dam is Weekend Surprise, a broodmare of the year whose offspring include Horse of the Year and leading sire A.P. Indy.

Pletcher said he would evaluate how Happy Saver comes out of the race before deciding on whether or not he goes to the Breeders’ Cup.

“First and foremost we’ll see how he bounces out of this race,” said Pletcher. “It was a tough race and he’s still a lightly raced horse. That’s part of the reason we decided to come here instead of going to the Preakness. We’ll enjoy this for the moment and talk to the Wertheimers and come up with a plan. I wouldn’t say we’re definite for it, but I wouldn’t rule it out either.”

Happy Saver begins to pull away from Mystic Guide nearing the finish of the Jockey Club Gold Cup

 

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