Timeform's Mark Milligan previews the Belmont Jockey Club Gold Cup on Saturday evening...
"He looks the value choice in what should be a tremendous race."
Timeform on Gronkowski
With only five weeks to go until the Breeders' Cup, the waters should become a lot clearer following a raft of Grade 1 races to be held at Belmont and Santa Anita on Saturday. The Jockey Club Gold Cup (22:50 BST) is the highlight of Belmont's card, and there is plenty of European interest in the race, with Aidan O'Brien's Mendelssohn and Saeed bin Suroor's Thunder Snow shipping in to try and take the prize. To give the race an even more familiar flavour, the ex-Jeremy Noseda-trained Gronkowski, runner-up for Chad Brown in the Belmont Stakes in June, is also in the field.
All three may have their work cut out, however, to catch Morning Line favourite Diversify, who is attempting to win the race for the second successive year. Better than ever at the age of five, Diversify set strong fractions on the way to recording a convincing win in the Whitney Stakes on a sloppy track at Saratoga last time. That was Diversify's third win in a row, his only disappointment this year coming when clearly amiss on his seasonal bow at Charles Town in April.
It's probably fair to say Mendelssohn has been a touch disappointing since his spectacular success in the UAE Derby in March. Well held in the Kentucky Derby, he then flattened out back at a mile when third in the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont in July. His last run in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga was a better effort, but he was still readily outgunned by Catholic Boy, having made the running on a speed-favouring track.
Thunder Snow managed to take advantage of the inside bias that was prevalent throughout most of the Dubai Carnival at Meydan, running out a convincing winner over West Coast in the World Cup in March. Last of eight on his comeback in the Juddmonte International at York last time, he had excuses there (lost two shoes), and should strip fitter for that run. He does need to prove himself in the US, though, his last run there being when bucking out of the stalls in last year's Kentucky Derby and being pulled up after less than a furlong.
Gronkowski was on the Kentucky Derby trail in the spring for Jeremy Noseda, but a setback forced him to miss the race, and he was subsequently transferred to Chad Brown. His US debut came when a good second to Justify in the Belmont Stakes, a tardy start costing him ground, but for which he may have made the Triple Crown winner work a bit harder. It's probably best to forgive his most recent effort when well beaten behind Catholic Boy and Mendelssohn in the Travers, the speed-favouring nature of the surface there not suiting his closing style. Back at the scene of his best effort, much better is expected.
Minimum Bet Guarantee
Betfair's 'minimum bet guarantee' on all Class 1 and 2 races in the UK and Ireland - which means all customers are able to bet to win a minimum of £500 - has been extended to cover all races at selected meetings this week. T&Cs apply.
In summary, this has the makings of a cracking trial for the Breeders' Cup Classic, though predicting how the main protagonists will play it tactically is tricky. Diversify is almost certain to go forward, but whether he will be joined by Mendelssohn and Thunder Snow is harder to forecast. Even if that pair decide stalking is their preferred option, the waters are muddied further by the presence of outsider Uno Mas Modelo, who has been winning over sprint trips of late and should show plenty of early speed. With all that in mind, the percentage call is that this will be run at a good clip, which should play into the hands of Gronkowski, who has already shown an affinity for this track. He looks the value choice in what should be a tremendous race.
Selection: Back Gronkowski