ELMONT, N.Y., OCT. 6 -- Jack Kent Cooke now has a Jockey Club Gold Cup to put alongside his trophies for the Super Bowl and the NBA championship.
His colt, Flying Continental, won the 72nd running of the Gold Cup in an upset today, giving the Washington Redskins owner his most important racing victory since becoming involved in the thoroughbred business.
In the process, Flying Continental punctured the overblown reputation of the favored Canadian invader, Izvestia, and thoroughly confused the outlook for the Breeders' Cup Classic three weeks from today.
But this big day of racing at Belmont Park did provide some clarity in other areas. Fly So Free swooped around the field and ran away with the historic Champagne Stakes by more than five lengths, establishing himself as the best 2-year-old colt in the East and the probable favorite for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
And Meadow Star confirmed that she is the outstanding 2-year-old filly in the nation when she demolished her rivals in the Frizette Stakes by 14 lengths.
Of all the horses in the three Grade I stakes on today's racing program, however, it was Izvestia who had commanded the most attention. He had swept the Canadian Triple Crown and had won his last eight races by a combined total of 44 lengths.
Even though the gray colt had never beaten another horse of proven quality, his trainer, Roger Attfield, was talking about a possible U.S. horse-of-the-year title for Izvestia. But Flying Continental put his talents into perspective.
Flying Continental broke in front, but rider Corey Black restrained him immediately and let Thirty Six Red and Steinlen fight for the early lead. But Izvestia wanted to run and Craig Perret let him rush up on the backstretch to challenge Thirty Six Red.
As the field approached the turn, it was the turn of Angel Cordero Jr. and De Roche to get into the fray. They surged from last place and hooked up with Izvestia. Meanwhile, Black was still sitting patiently.
Flying Continental accelerated on the outside as the field entered the stretch, and a furlong from the finish line any of three horses could have won it. But Flying Continental had the strongest stretch kick, and he wore down De Roche by a neck as he covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:00 3/5. Izvestia weakened to finish third, another 1 3/4 lengths back.
The winner showed last winter he can beat high-class competition. He captured the Grade I Strub Stakes at Santa Anita against a tough field.
Trainer Jay Robbins gave him a rest during the summer, followed by a couple of prep races at Del Mar. He might have kept him in the West, but when the East's leading older horse, Criminal Type, was injured and knocked out of the Gold Cup, Robbins decided to ship the colt across the country.
His decision rewarded Cooke with a $503,100 payday -- his share of the $838,500 purse -- and gave the owner a bona fide contender for the Breeders' Cup.
The Champagne Stakes also demolished a lofty reputation and produced a new Breeders' Cup contender. Deposit Ticket was the pro tem leader of the East's 3-year-olds, but there were doubts he would be able to go a distance, and those doubts were confirmed today.
He dueled for the lead for a half-mile, and then tired badly to finish 13th and last, as Fly So Free moved five-wide around the turn to score a decisive victory over Happy Jazz Band and Subordinated Debt.