Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable's Vino Rosso nosed out Code of Honor in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, but was demoted to second following a stewards' inquiry and jockey's claim of foul by Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
The pacesetting Vino Rosso, with Irad Ortiz, Jr. up, was engaged by a rallying Code of Honor for the stretch run of the 1 ¼-mile event with the rivals going eye-to-eye in the final furlong. Ortiz, Jr. moved Vino Rosso out from the rail, bumping with Code of Honor, who came over a path, multiple times as the pair arrived at the wire in a final time of 2:00.30.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said he was disappointed with the disqualification.
“To me, it was a classic horse race from the top of the stretch to the finish line. Two horses hooked up and they brushed, but to me, no horse was ever knocked off stride and neither horse lost momentum because of it,” said Pletcher. “It was a piece of race riding; Irad drifted out a little bit, Johnny drifted in a little bit. I've watched a lot of races and I felt pretty comfortable watching the head on there would not be a disqualification and I was surprised when there was.”
Pletcher added that there would be no appeal of the stewards' decision.
“I don't believe there will be an appeal. I spoke to both owners last night and they were sort of split,” said Pletcher. “They agreed they would not appeal but I plan to meet with the stewards today as well to get an explanation of what they saw. I didn't feel like I saw the same thing, but seldom in these appeal situations does anything ever come out of it.”
Ironically, Ortiz. Jr. picked up the call aboard Vino Rosso as Velazquez was committed to Code of Honor. Ortiz, Jr utilized a front-running style in the five-horse Gold Cup, against the grain of the Curlin chestnut's usual stalking trip.
“Our strategy was to come out of the gate and not necessarily expect to be on the lead but we got a clean break and no one else took the initiative,” said Pletcher. “I thought he had a good trip and seemed very comfortable being on the lead.”
Pletcher said he was proud of the way Vino Rosso dug in down the lane.
“We felt he's the kind of horse if he has time to see his competition, which he did, he can dig down and find a little more,” said Pletcher. “He was able to keep his head in front and I thought it was a gallant effort on his part.”
Bred in Kentucky by John D. Gunther, Vino Rosso, who launched his 4-year-old campaign with a victory in the one-mile Stymie at Aqueduct in March, boasts a record of 5-1-3 from 14 starts with purse earnings in excess of $1.5 million boosted by wins in the 2018 Grade 2 Wood Memorial and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Gold Cup in May.
Pletcher said Vino Rosso, who skipped the nine-furlong Grade 1 Woodward presented by NYRA Bets last month, is demonstrating a preference for the mile and a quarter distance as he matures.
“A mile and a quarter is an ideal distance for him. He has a high cruising speed and he's able to keep running those fractions quarter after quarter, similar to what he did in the Santa Anita Gold Cup,” said Pletcher. “That's one of the reasons why we decided to pass on the Woodward and go to the Jockey Club because the mile and a quarter is the perfect distance for him.”
Pletcher said Vino Rosso has exited the Jockey Club Gold Cup in good order.
“Vino Rosso came out of the race terrific. He cooled out well last night and he was full of himself this morning,” said Pletcher.
Despite the disappointment, Pletcher said Vino Rosso is aging like a fine wine and will point the colt to the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic on November 2 at Santa Anita Park.
“We feel good about it. He seems to be maintaining his form. He started out the beginning of the year going a mile and we're counting yesterday, essentially, as a win,” said Pletcher. “He's maintaining form and getting better all the time. We always felt that the older he got, the better he'd get and that seems to be the case.”
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