June 13, 2024

Gift Box returns in Gold Cup; Vasilika looks to remain hot in Gamely

Hronis Racing's Gift Box (green silks) edged McKinzie by a nose in the 2019 Santa Anita Handicap © BENOIT PHOTO

He trained last year’s champion older horse Accelerate to slew of important wins including the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), and trainer John Sadler is seemingly as excited about the long-range prospects for Gift Box, who tops the field in Monday’s $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) on Memorial Day.

More of an allowance-class type when previously based in New York, the gray six-year-old has developed into Southern California’s leading older dirt performer since joining Sadler last season. Victorious over the late Battle of Midway in the San Antonio (G2) in December, he came back in early April to deny McKinzie by a nose in a thrilling renewal of the Santa Anita H. (G1).

McKinzie has since gone on to dominate the Alysheba (G2) at Churchill Downs, and Gift Box will be strongly favored to do the same Monday over the same track and distance which the Breeders’ Cup Classic will be run in November.

“He’s doing better than ever,” Sadler said. “This should be his best race.”

Peter Eurton had Core Beliefs ready to capture the March 23 New Orleans H. (G2) at Fair Grounds in his first start in six months. Among those behind him was Lone Sailor, who invades from Kentucky for Tom Amoss after missing by a neck to Quip in last month’s Oaklawn H. (G2).

Vino Rosso, the 2018 Wood Memorial (G2) winner, stretches back out for Todd Pletcher after taking the $150,000 Stymie over a mile at Aqueduct and then running fourth in the seven-furlong Carter H. (G1). Trying dirt for the first time is Blitzkrieg, who’s won three in a row, including the San Francisco Mile (G3), since being claimed by Doug O’Neill for $25,000.

Higher Power, another recent acquisition for Hronis Racing and John Sadler, was stakes-placed last spring and and an allowance winner at Fair Grounds in March for previous connections. Mongolian Groom settled for third in the Big ‘Cap but could only finish fifth in the Charles Town Classic (G2) two weeks later.

Vasilika, a veritable win machine with 13 victories in her past 15 starts, heads the field for the first stakes of the day, the $500,000 Gamely (G1) for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on the turf. A six-time graded stakes winner, Vasilika has already captured the Royal Heroine (G2), Buena Vista (G2), and Megahertz (G3) this season, all over one mile.

Trainer Chad Brown relies solely on Rymska, whose victory in the March 9 Hillsborough (G2) was book-ended by seconds in the Suwannee River (G3) and Jenny Wiley (G1). A former Brown pupil, Elysea’s World, now with Richard Baltas, exits a half-length triumph in the Santa Ana (G3) over 10 furlongs.

Cutting back farther in trip is Causeforcommotion, who dominated the 12-furlong Santa Barbara (G3) by nine lengths when last seen. Ollie’s Candy debuts for John Sadler following a nine-month break, and her near-impeccable record includes a victory in the Summertime Oaks (G2) and narrow defeats in the San Clemente (G2) and Del Mar Oaks (G1) in a pair of grass attempts.