NEW YORK — Trainer Woody Stephens failed to win his sixth straight Belmont Stakes last June, but he managed to give a big jolt to Java Gold's bid for 3-year-old and Horse of the Year honors Saturday.
Java Gold, the 1-5 favorite, finished second, 4 3/4 lengths behind the Stephens-trained Creme Fraiche in the $1.084-million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
"He may not be a great horse," the 74-year-old Stephens said of his 5-year-old gelding, "but make a mistake, and he'll beat you."
Both Stephens and Mack Miller, who trains Java Gold, agreed that the slow pace of the 1 1/2-mile Gold Cup made the difference.
"The pace was bad," said Miller, whose colt had won four straight races including three straight Grade I races--the Whitney, Travers and Marlboro Cup.
"Woody's smart. He knows about these things and he put his horse on the lead. He took a shot and he won it. Timewise, it was a very bad race, but Woody's a pro. If we had to do it again, we'd be closer to the lead."
Miller, whose colt had won six of seven previous starts this year, said a decision on whether to run Java Gold in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Hollywood Park Nov. 21 would be made by the middle of next week.
"I knew I was going very, very slow, and I knew being on the lead wouldn't bother him," winning rider Laffit Pincay said.
The fractions were 25 1/5, 51, 1:16 2/5 and 1:41 2/5 for the first mile, 2:05 for 1 miles and 2:30 4/5 for 1 1/2 miles.
Creme Fraiche grabbed the lead shortly after the start and maintained it throughout the race, while Java Gold lagged behind.
Creme Fraiche, the 1985 Belmont Stakes winner as part of Stephens' five-race win streak in the 1 1/2-mile event, carried 126 pounds.
As the second choice, the son of Rich Cream-Likely Exchange, paid $9.60, $2.60 and $2.10.
Java Gold, who was ridden by Pat Day and carried 121 pounds, returned $2.20 and $2.10. Easy N Dirty, 126, paid $2.10 to show.
It was only the third victory in 11 starts this year for the Brushwood Stable gelding, but it was worth $650,400 and boosted Creme Fraiche's career winnings to $3,293,045.
Groovy, the nation's top-rated sprinter and a longshot candidate for Horse of the Year, held on for a surprisingly difficult, three-quarter length victory over fast-closing Moment of Hope in the $232,800 Vosburgh Stakes.
Groovy took an immediate one-length lead and pushed that margin to five lengths as he turned for home. But jockey Angel Cordero was forced to use a steady left-handed whip the whole length of the stretch to enable Groovy to record his sixth victory in as many 1987 starts.
Groovy, sold recently by John Ballis and Ted Kruckle to Prestonwood Farm, covered the seven furlongs in 1:22 3/5, well off the track record of 1:20 2/5 set by King's Bishop in 1973.
The Stephens-trained Gone West, the 9-2 second choice, finished fifth.
Groovy returned $2.60, $2.40 and $2.10 as the 1-5 favorite. Moment Of Hope paid $4.40 and $2.10, and Sun Master returned $2.10 to show.
Groovy, a 4-year-old colt, collected $139,680 to push his career earnings to $1,121,956.
Undefeated Personal Ensign, ridden by Randy Romero, easily won the $114,400 Rare Perfume Stakes by 4 3/4 lengths for her fifth straight victory.
Personal Ensign covered the mile course in 1:36 3/5 and paid $3.60 to win.