Hard Aces gets dealt win of Gold Cup at Santa Anita

Jun 28, 2015 - 2:19 AM Arcadia, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - Hard Aces, ridden by Triple Crown winning jockey Victor Espinoza, surged through the stretch to hold off Hoppertunity in winning Saturday's $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita

The Gold Cup, formerly the Hollywood Gold Cup, is a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" race, which gives the winner a guaranteed spot in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 31 at Keeneland.

Hard Aces, trained by John Sadler for Hronis Racing, was 7-1 in the 11-horse field for the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup. Catch a Flight was the 6-5 favorite with Bob Baffert's Hoppertunity at 5-2.

Big Cazanova set most of the pace while Hard Aces sat in 10th as the field went up the backstretch. Espinoza, who just an hour earlier participated while Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was paraded, moved his mount into contention around the final turn.

At the top of the stretch, Hoppertunity and jockey Martin Garcia had the lead with Hard Aces second. Hard Aces accelerated past Hoppertunity down the stretch and was able to post a nose victory even as Baffert's colt fought back.

"Very tight, we hope we did. We thought we got it," Sadler said immediately after the race. "He got a beautiful trip, he come up the inside. He's really been moving forward for us. He had some good numbers before we bought him, that's why we bought him. We thought there was an opportunity in the handicap division here."

Finishing third was Catch a Flight followed by turf specialist Finnegans Wake, Big Cazanova, Lideris, Majestic City, Moreno, Poshsky, Motown Men and Batti Man.

The time for the 76th Gold Cup was 2:02.46 on a fast track.

Hard Aces more than doubled his career earnings with the $300,000 earned Saturday. The 5-year-old son of Hard Spun has lifetime winnings of $592,145 with six wins, three seconds and seven thirds in 23 starts.

"Pacific Classic will be next ($1 million, 1 1/4 miles, Aug. 22). He'll stay home and run right in our own back yard at Del Mar," Sadler said about Hard Aces' future. "This is a Win and You're In, so right now we have two horses qualified (Talco in the Mile), so we're going to enjoy these races and kind of move forward."

Hard Aces began the year by winning the Louisiana Handicap at Fair Grounds on Jan. 17 when he was trained by Larry Jones. After being transferred to Sadler, Hard Aces was fourth in the Santa Anita Handicap, sixth in the Oaklawn Handicap and third in Santa Anita's Californian behind Catch a Flight.

Hard Aces paid $17.80, $8.00 and $4.20. Hoppertunity returned $5.60 and $3.40, and Catch a Flight paid $2.40 to show.

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