After debating all last week whether to run Skywalker in today's $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup, trainer Michael Whittingham finally decided not to.
"I can run against the same bunch of horses in the fall for three times as much money," Whittingham said. He was referring to the $3-million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Nov. 1.
Another factor regarding the Gold Cup was the way Skywalker emerged from his last start, a third-place finish in the Bel Air Handicap at Hollywood Park June 22.
Super Diamond and Alphabatim, who are part of the six-horse field in the Gold Cup along with odds-on favorite Precisionist, ran 1-2 in the Bel Air, but that's not what has discouraged Whittingham from running in today's race, he said.
"Going into the stretch of the Bel Air, it looked like my horse would win for fun," Whittingham said. "But the track's different now and the ground seemed looser at that point. He didn't take to it and his back was bothering him after the race. He's all right now, but we'll skip this one."
Because of Precisionist, who could become the leading handicap horse in the country with a win today, a lot of trainers are skipping the Gold Cup.
Eight of the horses nominated, among them Roo Art, are not running. Roo Art, winner of the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park in his last start, could have run with nine fewer pounds than Precisionist's 127 in the Gold Cup. Instead, Roo Art remained at Belmont Saturday, to contest the Brooklyn Handicap, in which he shared top weight at 118 pounds with Creme Fraiche.
John Gosden, like Whittingham, is another trainer who had to make a Gold Cup decision last week. Gosden had the possibility of running two horses, Alphabatim and Hatim, in the 1-mile stake.
Gosden discussed the situation with officials at Prince Khalid Abdullah's farm in Lexington, Ky., Thursday. After Alphabatim worked a half mile Friday at Hollywood in :47 4/5, it was decided to enter both horses.
"They don't like to run their horses against each other but at least there was a precedent with these two," Gosden said.
In last March's Santa Anita Handicap, Hatim beat his stablemate by a neck for third place. Greinton won the race, finishing 3 lengths ahead of Precisionist, who was sixth.
The Gold Cup will be only the fourth appearance on dirt for Alphabatim, who is likely to be returned to the turf after today. Gosden hopes to have the 5-year-old ready for the Budweiser-Arlington Million at Arlington Park in August.
Hatim is also a 5-year-old, a horse who won the San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita in February in only his third start on dirt. After his next race, the Santa Anita Handicap, Hatim was off until 10 days ago, when he won a mile allowance race at Hollywood by 1 3/4 lengths.
Gosden would have preferred another race for Hatim before the Gold Cup. "He did all that was required of him in that last race," Gosden said. "Whether he's ready to face Precisionist off just that start is another question."
Either the Gosden entry or Super Diamond will be a distant second choice to Precisionist in the betting.
Although Super Diamond finished half a length behind Precisionist in the mile Californian June 1, and then came back three weeks later to win the 1 1/8-mile Bel Air Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths over Alphabatim, trainer Eddie Gregson has doubts about his 6-year-old gelding handling today's 1-mile distance.
But both Gregson and Laffit Pincay, Super Diamond's jockey, recognize that the horse is more mature and vastly improved and Gregson hopes that Super Diamond will have enough left for the final eighth of a mile.
It would have pleased Fred Hooper, Precisionist's owner, if all five of his rivals had stayed away.
"I wouldn't have minded a walkover," Hooper said. "That would have been nice, picking up the money ($275,000 for the winner) just for running around the track."
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Odds 1 Precisionist Chris McCarron 127 3-5 2 Super Diamond Laffit Pincay 118 5-2 3 Hopeful Word Pat Day 118 15-1 4 a-Alphabatim Bill Shoemaker 120 7-2 5 Herat Randy Romero 114 15-1 6 a-Hatim Eddie Delahoussaye 118 7-2