The Jockey Club Gold Cup, this state's second-richest thoroughbred race, has had trouble drawing large, strong fields of well-matched horses. Because of Slew o' Gold, Saturday's $500,000-added race at Belmont Park will be no exception.
Slew o' Gold, a 4-year-old son of Seattle Slew, was so impressive in overcoming a foot injury to win the Marlboro Cup three weeks ago that some experts believe he might go to the post at odds as short as 1 to 10. Six to nine horses are expected to contend for the $360,000 first prize; if Slew o' Gold wins, he will become the first horse to receive a $1 million bonus for having swept the three races that comprise New York's fall championship series (the Woodward Stakes and Marlboro Cup). He was a neck shy of winning the bonus last year, finishing second to Highland Blade in the Marlboro Cup.
The distance and weight allowances of the Gold Cup should make it even easier for Slew o' Gold to win. He will carry 126 pounds, with 3-year-olds carrying 121 under the weight-for-age assignments. The race will be run at 1 1/2 miles, probably Slew o' Gold's most effective distance.
Under the handicapping of the 1 1/4-mile Marlboro Cup, Slew o' Gold carried 129, spotting his rivals 10 to 15 pounds. He ran on an injured right front hoof that required special shoes designed by his farriers, Ray Amato Sr. and Ray Amato Jr.
"Ideally, you want to give the horse time to let nature heal the (injury)," said the younger Amato. "But in any sport, you have to play with injuries sometimes."
Although his foot has started to mend, Slew o' Gold will wear the modified aluminum bar shoes again Saturday, although as much for familiarity as for necessity. "All horses have minor problems, but this was really a major one," said co-owner Mickey Taylor. "I think he proved he runs on heart by winning."
Slew o' Gold has been close to the lead in winning each of his last five races. As always, Angel Cordero Jr. has the mount.
To ensure an honest pace, trainer John Hertler has entered Mugatea, Slew o' Gold's speedy stablemate, who in three stakes races has not failed to cover the first half-mile in less than 46 seconds. But he's had just one race longer than seven furlongs this year.
The biggest challenges are likely to come from horses Slew o' Gold already has defeated: Hail Bold King, who ran evenly in the Marlboro Cup but finished 6 1/2 lengths back, and Canadian Factor, an able plodder who will be ridden for the first time by Chris McCarron. Canadian Factor rallied in the Woodward and Marlboro, although coming up short, and is well suited to 1 1/2 miles. But, he adds 12 pounds.
Completing the field are In the Ruff, Papal Bull, Bounding Basque, Broadway Harry and Big Jim Taylor.