A photo was needed to confirm Bright Future (7/2) as the winner of a brief but hard-fought duel in the 2023 Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes at Saratoga on September 2. Trained by Todd Pletcher for Repole Stable and St Elias Stable, this compact chestnut four-year-old son of Curlin had to dig deep to resist the late challenge of Godolphin’s Proxy (4/1), a much larger physical saddled by Michael Stidham.
The winning margin was eventually announced as a nose in this grade one contest run over a mile and a quarter on the dirt. Bright Future was given a great ride by Javier Castellano. It was a big factor in the colt’s first stakes race placing. Starting from the widest gate in this field of eight, it was typical of a jockey who is finding a way to win a lot of top races. Castellano rode Mage to victory in the Kentucky Derby and won the Belmont Stakes and the Travers Stakes on Jena Antonucci’s star colt, Arcangelo.
Bright Future’s share of the $1 million prize fund massively increased his lifetime earnings to $717,000. Proxy, a five-year-old son of Tapit, had already reached the $2 million mark with a number of stakes level wins and placings to his name. In July he won the grade three Monmouth Cup Stakes and last November he was victorious in the grade one Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Josie Carroll’s Tyson (11/2) finished third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, beaten two and a quarter lengths under Manuel Franco. Another son of Tapit, this four-year-old came into the race having stormed to a three-length victory in the grade two Seagram Cup Stakes at Woodbine in late July.
Kenny McPeek’s Rattle N Roll looked a worthy favorite at 33/20. This four-year-old son of Connect has been in great form, scoring in three consecutive races earlier this year, all at grade three level. His winning sequence came to an end in the Stephen Foster Stakes on July 1 when he was forced into second place by Gary and Mary West’s West Will Power. He was beaten half a length in the mile and a furlong contest at Ellis Park. Proxy finished last in the eight-runner race after leaving the stalls awkwardly and never getting close to the action.
Bright Future was bred by Clearsky Farms in Kentucky out of Sophia’s Song, a daughter of Bellamy Road. He was bought by Elias and Repole for $350,000 as a yearling at Keeneland and it has taken him some time to live up to his name. He did not hit the track as a juvenile and was beaten more than 40 lengths when tried at stakes level for the first time in June at Belmont Park in the Brooklyn Stakes, a grade two run over a mile and a half.
What happened in the race?
It was a fairly even break but Tyson stumbled slightly leaving the stalls and was bumped by his blinkered stablemate, the 21/1 shot Duke Of Love who was drawn on his outside and jinked left out of the gates. Bright Future was drawn widest of all and easily outpaced Josie Carroll’s pair as they both lost momentum. Castellano pushed him forward to pursue Warrior Johny (8/1) who broke well from stall three and soon grabbed the lead and the rail under Junior Alvarado.
Proxy settled on the rail behind the leading pair and had Rattle N Roll and Tyson behind him. The 36/1 shot Unbridled Song was content to hug the rail at the back of the pack with Clapton (11/1) alongside him.
Warrior Johny had established a clear lead of two lengths after the first quarter was completed in a scorching 22.25 seconds. Castellano was happy to save ground behind him on Bright Future while Franco pushed Tyson up to Proxy’s flank, boxing him in on the rail. The half mile was run in a much steadier 48.86 with little change in the running order and Clapton trailing the pack.
Tyson was asked for an effort approaching the mile and ran three wide to challenge for the lead. The mile was completed in 1.38.59 and the hard-ridden Warrior Johny was struggling to retain his advantage as they rounded the final turn. Bright Future was poised to pounce on his outside as Tyson lost valuable ground running wider behind them with Proxy on his inside.
Duke Of Love ran four wide, unable to improve his placing and followers of the favorite, Rattle N Roll, realized they had picked the wrong horse as he found nothing for pressure mid pack. Bright Future rapidly established a two-length lead under a hands and heels drive as the long-time leader weakened in the final furlong.
That left a clear passage for Proxy to improve his position but, having been trapped for most of the race he took some time to respond to Joel Rosario’s urgings. He passed Tyson on his inside and was gaining on the leader with every stride, gradually overshadowing him approaching the wire. Bright Future’s white bridle was the only part of him visible as he bravely battled against his massive challenger. He was completely obscured from view on the wire as the race was completed in the extremely slow time of 2.03.
There was an equally close battle for third as Tyson repelled the late challenge of Chad Summer’s Clapton who stayed on to take fourth, beaten into the position by the narrowest of margins. Duke Of Love was fifth, beaten three lengths but almost a length ahead of the disappointing favorite, Rattle N Roll.
Bright Future’s win was particularly welcome for his co-owner Mike Repole and Pletcher. Last week Repole experienced the disappointment of witnessing two of his best horses under-performing at this track. Forte started as the 7/4 favorite in the Travers but was beaten eight lengths into fourth. His four-year-old filly Nest was a beaten heavy favorite in the Personal Ensign Stakes taking third. Both were saddled by Pletcher.
What next for Bright Future?
The Jockey Club Gold Cup is a ‘Win and You’re In’ race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Santa Anita. Bright Future may well have to face Proxy again as Stidham recently announced that he would be pointed at the Classic too. It would not be a surprise to see the Jockey Club Gold Cup finishing positions reversed.