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72nd Hawthorne Gold Cup headlines Saturday card
Special to the Daily Herald
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Published: 9/25/2008 3:39 PM

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Seven salty veterans with combined earnings of nearly $5 million will do battle in Chicago's signature fall classic: The Hawthorne Gold Cup.

On Saturday, Sept. 27, the 72nd running of this Grade 2, $500,000 mile-and-a-quarter race will feature multiple graded stakes winners, but the post-time favorite will likely be either Fairbanks or Magna Graduate, not so coincidentally the first and second choices in the morning line odds.

Fairbanks, trained by Todd Pletcher, is coming off a rousing win in the Duke of Magenta stakes at Saratoga. The victory over 1 3/16 miles marked the 5-year-old's first win since March of 2007. In his previous race - at Hawthorne - Fairbanks finished second to Ryan's For Real in the inaugural Bill Hartack Memorial Handicap.

Finishing third to Fairbanks in the Duke of Magenta was Magna Graduate, whose impressive resumè include career earnings of over $2.3 million. Steve Asmussen (Curlin's trainer) assumed the training duties of Magna Graduate in early July, taking over for Pletcher. This will be the second start for his new conditioner, and the 6-year-old son of Honor Grades will look to turn the tables on his main rival.

"The race up at Saratoga was definitely a prep," said Scot Blasi, the right-hand man for Asmussen. "We kind of had this race in mind and needed to get a race in him before the Gold Cup. We thought the last race was a good place to get him started."

While the aforementioned duo will likely take the brunt of the betting action, there are other legitimate contenders who are worthy of mention.

The speedy Barcola, from the barn of Mark Hennig, exits the Grade 1, Pacific Classic, where he led for a little more than a half mile before ultimately finishing last. Perhaps more indicative of his ability is his third-place finish in the Stephen Foster, to the mighty Curlin.

"This is a softer spot than last time and fewer unknowns than the Polytrack we ran on in his last start," Hennig said. "He came out of his last race very well and the short field can only help his chances."

Wayzata Bay and Better Than Bonds should also be serious competitors in this well-matched lineup.