ELMONT, N.Y., OCT. 10 -- Java Gold had been heaped with praise and virtually conceded the horse-of-the-year title before today's Jockey Club Gold Cup, and his rider, Pat Day, evidently believed too many of the press clippings.
Day was so overconfident that he transformed the Gold Cup from a soft spot into an impossible task for Java Gold. He permitted Creme Fraiche to steal an uncontested early lead and go on to score a 4 3/4-length victory over the 1-to-5 favorite.
Jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. and Creme Fraiche set some of the slowest fractions ever seen on a fast track at Belmont Park: a half mile in 51 seconds, six furlongs in 1:16 3/5, a mile in 1:41 2/5. Creme Fraiche was so strong at this point that it would have taken a superhorse to overcome his four-length advantage, and Java Gold is no superhorse.
The Gold Cup didn't have to develop this way. Java Gold is blessed with more natural speed than any of his five rivals; earlier in the season he won a six-furlong race in 1:09 2/5. But he has scored his major recent victories -- the Whitney, the Travers, the Marlboro Cup -- by coming from far behind and unleashing a big kick in the stretch. Day evidently didn't want to tamper with a good thing.
So when Java Gold broke sharply from the outside post position, Day had no inclination to try for the early lead. He even permitted Angel Cordero Jr., aboard Nostalgia's Star, to carry him toward the middle of the track instead of hustling to get a decent position.
Pincay hadn't had any intentions of taking Creme Fraiche to the lead, but after being handed a gift he wasn't about to give it back. "I was supposed to take him back," Pincay said, "but we were just walking and I said, 'No way I'm going to start fighting him now.' "
He galloped around the track with Nostalgia's Star stalking him, and Java Gold some four lengths behind him. When Day started asking for a response from Java Gold on the turn, it was too late. When Creme Fraiche ran his fifth quarter mile in 23 3/5 seconds, there was no way any horse could make up appreciable ground on him.
Creme Fraiche completed the 1 1/2 miles in a slow 2:30 4/5. Java Gold was barely able to catch long shot Easy N Dirty to finish second.
"In hindsight," Day said, "maybe I should have been up there all the way. The way we broke I could've taken the lead, but I was hesitant to do that because of the success he's had running from off the pace."
The winner boosted his career earnings over $3 million by taking the biggest share of the $1,084,000. Creme Fraiche gave trainer Woody Stephens his fourth straight Belmont Stakes victory in 1985, and won last year's Jockey Club Gold Cup by taking advantage of a slow pace to pull an upset over Turkoman. "You make a mistake and he'll beat you," Stephens said.
Trainer Mack Miller said he would make a decision about Java Gold's plans in the next few days. He was inclined toward skipping the Breeders' Cup Classic if he could have wrapped up the 3-year-old championship and the horse-of-the-year title today. Now Java Gold might have to go west to recoup the prestige he lost today.
Two other prominent Breeders' Cup candidates tuned up today for their engagements at Hollywood Park next month. Groovy won the Vosburgh Stakes by three-quarters of a length over Moment of Hope to stay unbeaten in sprints this year. Personal Ensign scored her fifth straight career victory in the Rare Perfume Stakes and looked so good doing it that she will be a strong contender in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.