Hawthorne: Headache grinds out a big win in Gold Cup

STICKNEY, Ill. – Mike Maker still was a trainer on the rise when he won the 2004 Hawthorne Gold Cup with Freefourinternet, a 27-1 shot. These days, Maker-trained horses pop up in major stakes races all over the country, and Headache’s win Saturday in the 2011 Gold Cup came as much less of a surprise. Wearing down Where’s Sterling and Cease in a slogging war of attrition, Headache won the Grade 2, $500,000 Gold Cup by a half-length, paying $12.60 as the fourth choice in a field of 10.

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Headache grinds out a big win in Gold CupA 5-year-old Tapit gelding, Headache is owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey and was ridden to victory by Paco Lopez. The Ramseys owned Headache for the first five races of his career, in 2008 and 2009, when Nick Zito trained the horse. In September 2009, Headache was claimed for $20,000, but the Ramseys claimed him back for $25,000 a month later and after one more race for a tag, Headache permanently exited the claiming ranks. Mainly an allowance horse last year, Headache’s big 2010 win came in the Claiming Crown Jewel, but Headache has continued to improve this season.

He crushed third-level allowance foes May 21 at Churchill Downs, pairing up top performances when winning the Cornhusker Handicap, his first graded stakes, over Awesome Gem on June 25. Headache was a tough-trip fifth Aug. 6 in the Grade 1 Woodward, went back to Kentucky for a slight freshening, and scored the biggest win of his career on a summery afternoon at Hawthorne.

Headache raced in sixth and seventh around the first turn and down the backstretch, staying clear of trouble as Cherokee Lord set splits of 24.11 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 48.79 to the half. Rule, narrowly favored at 5-2 over Giant Oak, raced just in behind the leader, with Moe Man between horses near the lead and Cease farther out in the track. Cease pushed forward around the far turn, taking the lead past the three-furlong pole, and briefly opened a length or so at the top of the stretch. Where’s Sterling soon drew abreast of Cease, and those two raced head and head as Lopez and Headache eased into contention on the far outside. Headache reached the top pair past the sixteenth pole and continued on resolutely to the wire, with Where’s Sterling a head better than Cease for second. Winning time for the 1 1/4 miles was a tepid 2:04.68, and the Gold Cup’s final quarter-mile went in 25.48. A significant Breeders’ Cup Classic prep this probably was not.

Mister Marti Gras finished fourth, followed by Giant Oak, Maristar, a fading Rule, Moe Man, Worldly, and Cherokee Lord.

Cease, making just his sixth start, was rank under the wire the first time and wound up four wide around the first turn when Moe Man pushed him out.

“He was a little strong,” jockey Miguel Mena sad. “I think he might have won.”

Giant Oak lost even more ground. Very wide around the first turn, Giant Oak made an early wide run down the backstretch and might have been seven paths off the fence around the far turn. Jockey Jesus Castanon told trainer Chris Block that Giant Oak “got bumped a little and got rank” on the backstretch, Block said.

With the Keeneland meet in full swing, neither Maker nor the Ramseys attended the Gold Cup. Assistant trainer Dave Kueffner saddled Headache for Maker.

Trainer Michele Boyce swept the two overnight stakes on turf as Princeville Condo ($10.40) closed late, and survived a stewards’ inquiry to win the $60,000 Robert Carey Memorial and Happy Henrietta ($16.20) led wire to wire in the $60,000 Indian Maid Handicap.