ELMONT, N.Y. -- Flower Alley looked like a good thing in Saturday's $1-million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. But just to make sure the Travers winner got an honest pace, Todd Pletcher entered sprinter Bishop Court Hill as a rabbit. Maybe Flower Alley should have been informed of the plan.
Chantal Sutherland tried to do her job and gunned for the lead with Bishop Court Hill. But after a quarter-mile in a quick 23.59 seconds, he was a head behind none other than Flower Alley. What?
"Flower Alley was just a little too fresh," Pletcher said. "I know everyone is going to say that the rabbit is why he got beat. Flower Alley was just too rank. It had nothing to do with the rabbit."
John Velazquez, on Flower Alley, couldn't believe what was happening. As they left the gate from post 4, Velazquez said Rafael Bejarano, on Sun King in post 5, "chirped coming out of there." Flower Alley was wired but not inspired, and his chances began to fall apart at the start.
"My horse was fighting and game, but the horse next to me [Sun King] was bad," Velazquez said. "My horse took off. Now, my horse is rank and the other horse [Bishop Court Hill] is in front. I said, 'Look at this.' ''
So did many people who took 3-2 odds on Flower Alley and keyed him in the NTRA National Pick 4. Their reactions to the bizarre spectacle of dueling entrymates cannot be printed.
"I tried to stay away from [Bishop Court Hill], but then Patrick [Valenzuela, on Lava Man] came to the outside,'' Velazquez said. "I said, 'Now, there is nothing I can do.' ''
The beneficiary of this unintentional tactical suicide was California shipper Borrego, who capitalized on the pace duel the way Pletcher hoped Flower Alley would. Borrego, a deep closer, sat back in last under Garrett Gomez as Flower Alley and Bishop Court Hill battled. Bishop Court Hill, on the inside, led by a head after a half-mile in 46.73 seconds. Flower Alley had his head in front after three-quarters in 1:11.30. Soon their heads would roll as along came Borrego.
The 4-year-old did his best impression of Pegasus by going from last after 6 furlongs to first by 3 lengths after a mile, making up about 8 lengths as he blew the race apart. He was ahead by 7 at the eighth pole and was geared down to jog across the wire 4 1/2- lengths ahead of Suave. Sun King was third, five lengths farther back, and Flower Alley was fourth, 15 1/2-lengths behind Borrego. The exhausted Bishop Court Hill was last of eight by about 50 lengths. At least that went according to the script.
Before rallying to take the Grade I Pacific Classic on Aug. 21 at Del Mar, Borrego was considered a hard-trying plodder whose main claim to fame was finishing second to Smarty Jones in last year's Arkansas Derby. Now he's going to the Classic, where he'll undoubtedly be overbet off his perfect-trip career moment.
"This is two 'millions' in a row," trainer Beau Greely said. "When I saw 46 [seconds], I loved it. He's a very honest horse. I never looked at the Breeders' Cup until right now. He excels at a mile and a quarter. He'll stay here for the Classic."
Taste of Paradise took the 6-furlong Vosburgh at 26-1 odds for Gomez. On paper, he looked like the worst horse in a field of 10, and if he's in the Sprint, I won't be playing him. The 6-year-old mare Riskaverse upset the Flower Bowl at 35-1. Yes, she loves Belmont's grass, but if she goes in the Filly & Mare Turf, I won't be on her.
As for Ashado, who took the Beldame, and Shakespeare, undefeated hero of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, they should be very tough Oct. 29 in the Distaff and Turf, respectively.
After a dud in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga, Ashado looked like the horse who won the Distaff and the 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award last year. "You have to say now that she's one of the top mares -- maybe of all time," Pletcher said. "This was a big win. We want to defend our title in the Breeders' Cup."
The 5-for-5 Shakespeare showed world-class ability and guts as he stretched out 3 furlongs in his Grade I debut and won a long stretch duel by a head over Pletcher's English Channel. "He was great," trainer Bill Mott said. "I think he answered all the questions I had."
Shakespeare's rider, Jerry Bailey, was just as enthusiastic. "I was more worried about him today than I will be four weeks from now," Bailey said. "He was coming back three weeks after a course-record performance [at 1 1/8 miles]. I'm very thrilled. He's the kind I get up early in the morning for."