Wertheimer and Frere’s Happy Saver is out to protect his title and etch his name amongst a quality group of horses to secure multiple triumphs in the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup for 3-year-olds and upward going 1 ¼ miles at Saratoga Race Course, which will host the 103rd edition on Saturday.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup is a “Win And You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 6 at Del Mar.
Since its inception in 1919, the Jockey Club Gold Cup has been one of the most prestigious events on New York’s racing calendar, won by Hall of Famers Man o’ War , Hill Prince , Sword Dancer , Buckpasser , Damascus , Forego , John Henry , Easy Goer , and Cigar .
The great Kelso won the Jockey Club Gold Cup a record five straight years from 1960-64. Nine Kentucky Derby winners have won the prized event, including Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox , Whirlaway , Citation  and Affirmed . Contested at Belmont Park from 1975-20, the historic event was moved to Saratoga for the first time this year.
Happy Saver, a son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, will attempt to become the 11th horse to win back-to-back runnings of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, joining Hall of Famers Nashua [1955-56], Shuvee [1970-71], Slew o’ Gold [1983-84], Skip Away [1996-97] and Curlin [2007-08]. The most recent horse to secure this task was Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist [2014-15].
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Happy Saver was undefeated when taking last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, engaging in a dramatic stretch duel with Mystic Guide [the subsequent winner of the Group 1 Dubai World Cup] in his first start at graded stakes level. The 4-year-old chestnut colt arose from a seven-month hiatus in style, capturing a one-turn mile allowance optional claiming event on May 28 at Belmont Park in tactical fashion.
Happy Saver finished third last out in the 10-furlong Grade 2 Suburban contested on a sloppy and sealed main track on July 3 at Belmont, finishing 2 3/4-lengths back of returning rival Max Player.
“I don’t think he ran that badly on an off track last time,” Pletcher said. “The way the race unfolded going a mile and a quarter at Belmont and drawing the outside is never a good thing. I thought he ran well all things considered. He kept closing and it was his only his second start of the year, so hopefully he moves forward.”
Through a record of 6-5-0-1, Happy Saver has accumulated earnings $374,200. A Kentucky homebred, Happy Saver is out of the stakes-placed Distorted Humor Mare Happy Week. A direct descendant of prolific broodmare Gay Missile, Happy Saver comes from the same extended family as champion and influential stallion A.P. Indy as well as American classic winners Summer Squall and Lemon Drop Kid.
Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., the pilot in all six lifetime starts, retains the mount from post 4.
George E. Hall and Sport BLX Thoroughbreds’ Max Player arrives off a victory against Happy Saver in the Grade 2 Suburban, which he won at 11-1 odds for Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen. The son of third-crop sire Honor Code battled gamely with Mystic Guide down the Belmont stretch and came out a neck on top while garnering a career-best 101 Beyer Speed Figure.
Off the board in his four efforts prior to the Suburban, Max Player was a distant third to New York-bred hero Tiz the Law in both the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets and Grade 1 Runhappy Travers last year.
“He’s coming off a nice win in the Suburban,” said Asmussen assistant Scott Blasi. “It was nice to see him step up again and run to his ability. This is a logical spot to run him back. He’s done well up here, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. will retain the mount from post 2.
Don Alberto Stables’ Forza Di Oro brings three straight wins to his first Grade 1 engagement, arriving off a sharp three-length victory in his seasonal debut for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
The 4-year-old chestnut son of Speightstown, who sired 2010 winner Haynesfield, earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure when defeating allowance optional claiming company traveling nine furlongs on July 21 over a muddy and sealed Saratoga main track off an eight-month layoff. He recorded the same figure capturing the nine-furlong Grade 3 Discovery on November 28 at Aqueduct in his previous start.
The lightly-raced Forza Di Oro has breezed four times at Saratoga out of his optional-claiming win, including a half-mile breeze in 49.95 seconds on August 29 over the Oklahoma dirt training track.
“I’ve been pleased with his works, visually,” said Mott, who trained Ron the Greek , Flat Out  and Cigar  to Jockey Club Gold Cup scores. “He’s indicating that he needs to be tried in that good company. Knock on wood, we have three days to go so we’re hoping to get him over there in good shape.”
Mott is cautiously optimistic about Forza Di Oro’s ability to handle the stretch out in distance.
“So far, he hasn’t indicated that he can’t handle it,” Mott said.
Jockey Junior Alvarado, the rider in all six lifetime starts, will be back aboard from post 1.
Trainer Dallas Stewart will saddle Chess Chief in attempt of his second graded stakes victory this season.
Owned by The Estate of James J. Coleman, Jr., the 5-year-old son of leading sire Into Mischief captured the Grade 2 New Orleans Classic under returning rider Luis Saez on March 20 at Fair Grounds in his most recent victory.
“We feel good about it. He’s trained very well up here,” Stewart said. “He’s a come-from-behind type of horse so we’re just going to let Luis do his thing.”
Saez, the Saratoga meet’s leading rider in overall wins and stakes victories, will vie for his third Grade 1 triumph of the meet from post 3.
After capturing the Grade 1 Whitney and Grade 1 Runhappy Travers this meet, Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox will look to end Saratoga on a high note when sending out Night Ops for his Grade 1 debut.
Owned by Steve Landers, the 5-year-old bay son of Warrior’s Reward has finished in the money in 11 of his last dozen starts, dating back to a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming triumph in November 2019 at Churchill Downs, besting subsequent graded stakes winner Pirate’s Punch.
A winner of the Essex at Oaklawn Park and the Grade 3 Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows in 2020, Night Ops is still in search of his first victory this year but has garnered stakes black type in all six 2021 starts. He commenced his season when third to eventual Grade 1-winner Silver State in stakes company at Oaklawn ahead of four runner-up efforts, most recently in the Alydar on August 6 at the Spa finishing 1 ½ lengths behind Art Collector, who exited that effort to win the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic.
Night Ops boasts the highest bankroll in the field with earnings of $823,656 and a consistent record of 24-6-7-4.
Jockey Manny Franco seeks his second Jockey Club Gold Cup win from post 5.
Completing the field is owner-trainer Uriah St. Lewis’ Forewarned, who enters off a close second against fellow Ohio-breds in the Best of Ohio Governor’s Buckeye Cup on August 14 at Thistledown.
The eight-time winner and earner of over a half-million dollars will attempt to give St. Lewis a second victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup after scoring a 45-1 upset in the 2018 running with Discreet Lover. Forewarned will also look to give his dual Jockey Club Gold Cup-winning sire Flat Out his first offspring to win the race. The last Jockey Club Gold Cup winner to sire a winner of the race was Nashua, the father of prominent distaffer and fellow Hall of Famer Shuvee.
Jockey Sonny Leon ships in to ride from post 6.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup is slated as the closing race on Saturday’s 12-race program, which also features the Grade 1, $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational, a “Win And You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. The stakes-laden card is bolstered by the Grade 2, $250,000 Prioress for sophomore fillies going six furlongs, and the Grade 3, $200,000 Saranac for 3-year-olds colts at 1 1/16 miles over the inner turf. First post is 12:35 p.m. Eastern.
Saratoga Live will present daily television coverage of the summer meet on FOX Sports. For the complete Saratoga Live broadcast schedule, and additional programming information, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.
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NYRA Press Release
Photo: Happy Saver (Adam Coglianese Photo)