The 2014 Gold Cup at Santa Anita
The 2014 racing season brought massive changes to the Southern California circuit. As a result, a familiar setting became a different sight that year.
With the closure of Hollywood Park the previous December, the track's racing dates were divided between Santa Anita, Del Mar and Los Alamitos. The new schedule expanded Santa Anita's traditional winter/spring meet to early summer, and that gave the Hollywood Gold Cup a new home at the Arcadia track.
Along with a different address, the Hollywood Gold Cup acquired a new name. Now known as the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (which would stay until 2020 when the Hollywood Gold Cup returned as the official title), the race was actually not completely new to Santa Anita. Back in 1949, Hollywood Park's grandstand was damaged in a fire, so its racing programs were transferred to Santa Anita while work on the grandstand progressed.
But the Hollywood Gold Cup was now at Santa Anita permanently, and the name change also conveyed the start of a new era in local racing.
What did not change, however, was its Grade I status, its one and one-quarter mile distance, and the fact it could attract graded stakes winners. Headlining the group was the two-time and defending winner of the race, Game On Dude. After capturing the previous two renewals of the Gold Cup, Game On Dude was seeking to stand alongside the legendary Native Diver and Lava Man as the race's only three-time winners. Not only that, winning the Gold Cup would give Game On Dude the distinction as being the only horse to win the Gold Cup at two different racetracks. Fresh off his unprecedented third win in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap and a second in the Grade II Charles Town Classic afterwards, the Dude was looking to make some more history as the Santa Anita meet wound down.
Squaring off against the eventual post time favorite were fellow stakes winners at that same meet: Fury Kapcori (Grade III Precisionist); Clubhouse Ride (Grade II Californian, long the Gold Cup's traditional prep race); and Majestic Harbor (Grade III Tokyo City Cup).
Imperative had lost to Game On Dude in the Big 'Cap but came back to beat him in the Charles Town Classic. Salto Del Indio was a Chilean-bred who won or placed in several group stakes in his native country before making his North American debut in the Gold Cup. The same went for Lideris, who was competing outside Peru for the first time. Like Salto Del Indio, he was a veteran of group stakes, winning or placing in a few before heading to Calfornia.
When the bell rang and the gates opened for the seventy-fifth Gold Cup, a new chapter for the race, both in the short and long-term, began to write itself. Game On Dude and Fury Kapcori emerged as the top two, dueling for the lead early. Fury Kapcori won the early battle, having full control with one lap left around Santa Anita. Game On Dude was not far behind on the inside as he held a few lengths advantage over Majestic Harbor, who raced a couple of paths off the rail. Clubhouse ride was along the rail in fourth. Imperative came next, and behind him were Lideris and Salto Del Indio.
Fury Kapcori led a strung out field as he went into the clubhouse turn and backstretch. He had a couple lengths advantage over Game On Dude, who in turn carried a smaller margin over Majestic Harbor. As Fury Kapcori continued his run, he set fractions of 22.38 and 45.39, quick fractions for the distance. After clearing the half-mile pole, Game On Dude cut the defecit a bit. Normally one to go to the lead, Game On Dude stayed close so as not to let Fury Kapcori get away with too big a margin. Majestic Harbor and Clubhouse Ride had narrowed the gap as well, and the Gold Cup appeared to be anything but a forgone conclusion in terms of who would win as the field went into the far turn.
With a clocking of 1:09.80 for six furlongs, Fury Kapcori held the lead in the far turn. But Game On Dude was ready to take his place as the third horse to win three Gold Cups. He moved forward on the outside, coming up to his rival. Splitting them were Clubhouse Ride and Majestic Harbor. Clubhouse Ride found a path along the rail, while Majestic Harbor went wide around all of them. Both horses cleared the original frontrunners to take the top two spots, and Majestic Harbor emerged with the lead as he straightened for the final part of the Gold Cup.
The first mile was timed in 1:35.14. Majestic Harbor had gotten to the rail to save ground. Clubhouse Ride tried to muster a rally on the outside. Game On Dude and Fury Kapcori were behind them, neither one making any headway. Clubhouse Ride was not catching up to Majestic Harbor, who continued along the inside. Fury Kapcori took third as Game On Dude's bid for a third Gold Cup effectively concluded.
Before reaching the sixteenth pole, Majestic Harbor widened his lead. He found more as the wire came closer. Clubhouse Ride, always one to give his best effort, could not match Majestic Harbor on this day. Neither could Fury Kapcori. Even with a cutback in distance after the Tokyo City Cup, Majestic Harbor was still fine at the classic distance of a mile and one-quarter.
Coming to the wire in 2:01.53, Majestic Harbor became the winner of both a new and old tradition. He joined a long line of horses as a Gold Cup winner, yet he became the first winner in the race's new era. That distinction, not to mention the prestige, gave Majestic Harbor the biggest victory of his career. Trainer Sean McCarthy also captured the Gold Cup for the first time, a significant milestone for him, and Tyler Baze took his second Gold Cup.
What was new was actually both new and old. Many in Santa Anita's grandstand on June 28, 2014 had likely seen the Gold Cup at Hollywood Park at least once. And though it was now called the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, the race still had all that amazing history and roll call of legends that won it. Seabiscuit, Citation, Noor, Swaps, Round Table, Native Diver, Ack Ack and Affirmed and Lava Man were all Hollywood Gold Cup winners. And they were all part of Santa Anita. And so now was the Gold Cup.
The program for that Saturday afternoon had the Gold Cup as its feature race. But it was more than just the main event on the card. To begin with, it is a big deal anytime a race celebrates its seventy-fifth running. That alone was cause for celebration. But it also marked a new phase for the grand race. Even with Hollywood Park disappearing from the landscape, the Gold Cup continued to be a reminder of the track's rich history. That history cannot disappear.
Though it reached three-quarters of a century in 2014, and is now well past eighty, the Gold Cup is timeless.