Ten races? Yes 10. Saturday's International Gold Cup card at Great Meadow in The Plains, Va., literally has something for everyone - hurdle, timber and flat races for real money, pari-mutuel wagering, tailgating, people-watching, shopping, walking and a great view. Post time is noon (so they can fit in all those races) so get there early and enjoy the show.
The featured $90,000 International Gold Cup attracted just five horses but that's kind of what happens when there are five open timber races over the season's first five weeks, plus two races over the more varied timber courses at Virginia Fall and Great Meadow. Two's Company seeks his third straight and fifth win of the year, but he'll have to tangle with upstart Grand Manan and veteran Cornhusker. Fall Gold Cup specialist Grinding Speed was a scratch. Hopefully we get to see him again soon.
Now on to the picks, where the TIHR race tightened considerably after Far Hills. Sean picked four (4!) of the seven winners - Get Ready Set Goes, Special Skills, Rawnaq and Officer's Oath. Tom had two - Rawnaq and Get Ready Set Goes. Joe also had two - Rawnaq and Le Chevalier - while dealing with the pain of having three top picks finish second on the day (and his little brother picking four winners). Everybody has eight wins now (from 33 autumn races). Look out.
First race. $40,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/2 miles. The distance usually saps the strength of inexperienced runners so factor that into the equation and consider Spoiler Alert at 15-1 on the morning line. He leads the field with seven prior starts. The maximum 10 runners with one dangerous also-eligible.
Joe: Other Cheek, Signature Look, Spoiler Alert.
Tom: Other Cheek, Signature Look, Canadian Gold.
Sean: Other Cheek, Signature Look, Surprising Soul.
Second race. $40,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/2 miles. This purse level used to mean a stakes over hurdles. Another full field of 10. Alcazar de Maram (by Giant's Causeway out of Breeders' Cup winner Maram) is the 2-1 favorite after finishing second twice this spring, but will get tested by Ack Feisty, Kremlin, Wild Dynaformer and Aflutter. The latter is a half-brother to stakes winner Parker's Storm Cat. Artie's Flight leads with six prior jump starts (one third).
Joe: Aflutter, Ack Feisty, Wild Dynaformer.
Tom: Alcazar de Maram, Wild Dynaformer, Kremlin.
Sean: Alcazar de Maram, Wild Dynaformer, Kremlin.
Third race. $40,000 open timber over the steeplethon course, 3 miles. They jump everything and anything in this twisty, turny, all-over-the-place race. Specialist Saluda Sam has won over the course three times (and finished second twice and third once). Lemony Bay beat Saluda Sam in May, but finished a neck behind his rival last time at Virginia Fall.
Joe: Lemony Bay, Saluda Sam, Zanclus.
Tom: Saluda Sam, Lemony Bay, Zanclus.
Sean: Lemony Bay, Saluda Sam, On The Corner.
Fourth race. $45,000 allowance (NW2) hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Where was this group at Saratoga. Fifteen on the program. Twelve will run and pretty much any of them could win. Easy Exit and Formidable Heart exit maiden wins, Cul Baire looked like a budding star in 2015 before falling at the last fence in Saratoga. He's prepped twice on the flat this year. Alwaary looked good last year too. Osmoz could be any kind. All For Us hasn't been worse than third in five starts this year (seven if you count two flat wins). Share Out is dangerous. Blue Atlantic was third twice at Saratoga and ought to be more suited to this course.
Joe: Blue Atlantic, All For Us, Cul Baire.
Tom: Alwaary, Share Out, Blue Atlantic.
Sean: Blue Atlantic, All For Us, Cul Baire.
Fifth race. $75,000 Zeke Ferguson Memorial hurdle stakes going 2 1/8 miles. Another good group of second-tier stakes horses who aren't quite Grade 1 material and skipped Far Hills last week. Diplomat defends his title after winning by 6 lengths last year. Top Striker's Saratoga form would fit. Schoodic is way better than his last three. Charminster won over the course in May. Balance The Budget is a stakes winner. Portrade upset the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup in August. Orchestra Leader comes off a powerful win at Foxfield. All The Way Jose looked sharp on the flat at Virginia Fall and is a former novice champion. Sharp Numbers returns at a big price for Jack Fisher. You could go five deep and not have the winner. Ready? Choose one.
Joe: Schoodic, Charminster, Diplomat.
Tom: Diplomat, Charminster, Top Striker.
Sean: Portrade, Charminster, Schoodic.
Sixth race. $90,000 International Gold Cup timber stakes going 3 1/2 miles. It's not quite the 4 miles of the Gold Cup, but is always a fascinating race. Grinding Speed, who won in 2012, 2014 and 2015, was scratched this week so the understudies get their chances. Two's Company has won four of five (with a second) this year and leads the timber standings with $87,000. The Jack Fisher trainee will be tough to handle again. Grand Manan ran away with wins at Willowdale in May and Genesee Oct. 8. A product of the Janney/Phipps breeding program, he will be difficult to catch. Trained by Alicia Murphy, like Grinding Speed, Cornhusker is plenty capable and prepped at Virginia Fall.
Joe: Two's Company, Grand Manan, Cornhusker.
Tom: Two's Company, Prime Prospector, Grand Manan.
Sean: Two's Company, Cornhusker, Prime Prospector.
Seventh race. $30,000 allowance (NW one other than) turf going 1 1/4 miles. Fueled by purse money from the Virginia Equine Alliance, the day's final four races offer solid chances for horses of all types. Twelve in the race with two on the AE list, this looks wide open. Alexahente looked good at Delaware in June, awful at Saratoga in July. He is by War Front so you should pay attention.
Joe: Alexahente, Winter House, New Saloon.
Tom: Winter House, Dye Fore, Alexahente.
Sean: New Saloon, Winter House, Alexahente.
Eighth race. $30,000 allowance (NW one other than) turf going 1 1/4 miles. The second division also goes 12 deep. Free Union won on the dirt at Penn National Oct. 13. Bugle Blues got beat 2 lengths at Saratoga in August. Corstorphine won at Laurel in September. Bonded won a maiden over the course last year. Quiet Prediction runs back in a week after finishing eighth at Keeneland. There are 3-year-olds and 9-year-olds in the race.
Joe: Corstorphine, Hoppala, Bugle Blues.
Tom: Bugle Blues, Quiet Prediction, McDonald's Diva.
Sean: Hoppala, Corstorphine, Life Said.
Ninth race. $45,000 open turf going 1 1/2 miles. Renown, who just won Keeneland's Sycamore, won this last year. Twelve in the body, plus three on the AE list. Unsinkable tries to right his ship, but must content with millionaire stablemate Royal Bench, stakes winner Rum Tum Tugger (last seen finishing third at 60-1 at Kentucky Downs) and Whitman's Poetry (third to Renown in the Laurel Turf Cup last month) among others. Purse could be tripled.
Joe: Rum Tum Tugger, Unsinkable, Whitman's Poetry.
Tom: Rum Tum Tugger, Unsinkable, Set To Music.
Sean: Unsinkable, Royal Bench, Rum Tug Tugger.
10th race. $35,000 allowance flat going 1 1/4 miles. Restricted to Virginia-bred or Virginia-sired runners, the finale drew a dozen with two on the AE list. Typically wide open, the field includes spring course winners Willisville and Prima Facie, plus familiar foes Gumper and Hooping and Virginia Fall winner Cryptos' Holiday.
Joe: Cryptos' Holiday, Willisville, Hooping.
Tom: Early Grey, Cryptos' Holiday, Mr. Bossy.
Sean: Cryptos' Holiday, Hooping, Willisville.
For more, see the Gold Cup website.