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ELMONT, NY – A rematch between Sword Dancer Stakes (G1) winner Gufo and neck runner-up Japan in the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes (G1) and a dozen 2-year-old fillies entered in the $150,000 Matron Stakes (G3) co-support the Vosburgh Stakes (G2) Saturday at Belmont Park.
The Hirsch is slated as race 7 and the Matron (at 6 furlongs on the inner turf) is race 6, with the Vosburgh kicking off an all-stakes Pick 3 in race 5. First post on Saturday is 12:35 PM Eastern.
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Otter Bend Stables’ Gufo has displayed an affinity for 1 1/2-mile turf tests and has never finished off the board in a dozen starts while sporting a ledger of 7-2-3 and lifetime earnings of $1,138,510.
The consistent Declaration of War chestnut will face a quality field which includes returning rival Japan, as well as previous Joe Hirsch Turf Classic victors Channel Maker (2018, 2020) and Arklow (2019).
Trained by Christophe Clement, Gufo earned a career-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure when fending off Japan by a neck in the Sword Dancer. The talented turf stayer raced along the rail through the early stages of the Sword Dancer, picking up ground past the second turn and into the backstretch. He was in command past the 3/16 and held off Japan’s menacing outside rally.
Prior to the Sword Dancer, Gufo was a 1-length winner of the 12-furlong Grand Couturier on July 5 at Belmont.
During his sophomore campaign last year, Gufo secured graded stakes triumphs in the 9-furlong Kent (G3) at Delaware Park and captured the 10-furlong Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) 2 starts later.
While stretching out to 1 1/2 miles has paid dividends for Gufo, Clement said adding blinkers for the Grand Couturier score has been equally as beneficial.
“The blinkers made him a bit more manageable,” Clement said. “It’s nice to have a horse that is so consistent at that level. We’ll need some racing luck like always. He’s run well in every Grade 1 in New York on turf this year and that’s what it’s all about. It’s a Grade 1 so it will be a tough race by definition, but we’ll be there.”
Joel Rosario, the pilot aboard Gufo in 6 of his 12 starts, will have the call from post 3.
Gufo Back In Winner’s Circle After Game Sword Dancer Effort
Japan seeks to turn the tables on Gufo for trainer Aidan O’Brien, who shipped Cape Blanco to the United States to take the 2011 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.
Owned by Coolmore triumvirate Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith in partnership with Masaaki Matsushima, Japan gradually improved position throughout the Sword Dancer and attempted to collar Gufo in the final furlong coming up a nose short.
The 5-year-old son of Galileo was a 2-time Group 1 winner in 2019, defeating three other Group 1 winners in the Juddmonte International in August 2019 at York. He captured the Grand Prix De Paris (G1) in May 2019 at Longchamp.
Winless in five starts in 2020, Japan recaptured his winning form this season with a pair of Group 3 triumphs. In his seasonal bow, he won the Ormonde on May 6 at Chester, 3 starts ahead of a victory in the Meld on July 15 at Leopardstown.
“The turns at Saratoga didn’t inconvenience him,” said O’Brien’s travelling assistant T.J. Comerford. “He went around Chester in England which has pretty tight turns. He just probably didn’t get the run of the race when he wanted. He came out of it well. He’s going the right way. He’s training well and Aidan is very happy with him. All he has to do is run like he did the last time and that gives him a good shot.”
Wayne Lordan ships in to ride from post 7.
A 5-time graded stakes-winning 7-year-old, Channel Maker captured both the Joe Hirsch and Sword Dancer last year ahead of a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), which earned him Champion Turf Horse honors.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Channel Maker won both of his respective Joe Hirsch Turf Classics in wire-to-wire fashion, garnering career-best 108 Beyers.
After defeating a field of four Grade 1 winners by 4 1/2 lengths in 2018, Channel Maker earned his second Joe Hirsch Turf Classic victory two years later, winning by 2 1/4 lengths under Manny Franco. He joined his sire English Channel amongst a compact group of horses to have won multiple runnings of the Joe Hirsch. A triumph this year would make Channel Maker the only horse to win 3.
Channel Maker, 1 of 5 millionaires in the field, boasts the largest bankroll with earnings of $3,266,551. He is also the most seasoned amongst his competitors with a record of 41-7-6-5.
Franco will ride from post 6.
Donegal Racing, Joseph Bulger and the Estate of Peter Coneway’s Arklow, the 2019 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic winner, will vie to join Channel Maker and Val’s Prince [1997, 99] as horses to win non-consecutive Joe Hirsch Turf Classics.
Trained by Brad Cox, the durable 7-year-old son of Arch secured his only Grade 1 victory when defeating Channel Maker by a half-length two years ago.
Sporting a ledger of 35-9-8-2, Arklow has won at least one graded stakes race every year since 2017. After rounding out his 6-year-old season with a win in the Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) in November at Del Mar, Arklow made his seasonal bow when coming from 10 lengths off the pace to win the Louisville (G3) on May 15 at Churchill Downs.
Arklow arrives off a late closing second in the Calumet Turf Cup (G3) on September 11 at Kentucky Downs, a race he had won in 2018 and 2020.
“He had a tough trip last out at Kentucky Downs but he ran a really good race,” Cox said. “He came out of the race in good shape and had two nice works on the turf at Belmont. He’s made almost $3 million in his career and it would be exciting to win this race for the second time.”
Jose Lezcano picks up the mount from post 2.
In pursuit of his third Joe Hirsch victory, trainer Chad Brown will saddle Serve the King [post 1, Irad Ortiz, Jr.] and Rockemperor [post 4, Javier Castellano].
Peter Brant’s Serve the King earned his first stakes victory last out in the restricted John’s Call on August 25 at Saratoga, which he won by a 1/2-length. The lightly-raced 5-year-old son of Kingman sports a consistent record of 9-4-1-1.
Rockemperor, owned by Madaket Stable, Michael Dubb, Wonder Stable, Michael E. Kisber and Michael J. Caruso, was fourth in the Sword Dancer last out. The 7-time graded stakes-placed son of Holy Roman Emperor last found the winner’s circle in a 10-furlong allowance optional claiming tilt on June 26 at Belmont. He will race with blinkers off on Saturday.
Completing the field is Three Diamonds Farm’s Cross Border, who enters off a third in the Sword Dancer for trainer Mike Maker. Unplaced in the last 2 Joe Hirsch Turf Classics, the New York-bred 7-year-old secured graded stakes victories with back-to-back wins in the Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga [2020-21].
Cross Border was bred in New York by Berkshire Stud and B.D. Gibbs. Luis Saez will ride from post 5.
Commonwealth New Era Racing’s Dufresne will look to make amends following a lackluster effort in her stakes debut when stepping into graded company in the Matron.
Trained by Michael Trombetta, the Uncaptured bay traveled wide throughout in the Woodbine Cares and appeared to hang coming out of the turn before gaining momentum in the final 1/16, closing to finish third in the 5-furlong inner turf test last out on September 19.
“We don’t really know what to make of that last effort, hopefully we see a good performance up there on Saturday,” Trombetta said. “She likes to be close, but I don’t think she needs to be on the lead. The distance should help her.”
Bred in New York by Newtownanner Stud Farm, Dufresne is out of the Pioneerof the Nile mare Rapids, who is a half-sister to 2011 Remsen (G2) winner O’Prado Again.
A $62,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale, Dufresne graduated at second asking sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs against fellow state-breds over firm footing on August 12 at Saratoga Race Course.
Trombetta, who has 1,993 career wins heading into Wednesday’s racing action, said Dufresne has the frame of a stakes sprinter.
“She’s real solidly built. She’s not real big, but she’s solid,” Trombetta said. “She’s done everything we’ve asked of her. This will be another test to see if she’s good enough to run at that track with these horses.”
Eric Cancel has the call from post 5.
Trainer Wesley Ward has entered the formidable duo of Chi Town Lady and Poppy Flower, who breezed 5 furlongs in company Saturday on the Belmont inner turf.
Ward said Chi Town Lady is also under consideration for a start against the boys in Sunday’s $150,000 Futurity (G3), a 6-furlong turf test for juveniles offering a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” berth to the $1 million Juvenile Turf Sprint on November 5 at Del Mar.
“I’m looking at that race and the Futurity as well,” Ward said. “She had a big work in company with Poppy Flower. The owner of Poppy Flower was on hand and said that Chi Town Lady looked much better in the work.”
Chi Town Lady graduated by 3 lengths at first asking sprinting 4 1/2 furlongs on the Keeneland main track. The Verrazano chestnut stumbled at the start last out on August 18 in the 5 1/2-furlong Bolton Landing over a yielding Mellon turf at Saratoga Race Course, but was able to regroup under Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez to best stablemate Poppy Flower by 1 3/4 lengths.
Bred in Kentucky by Castleton Lyons, Kilboy Estate and Gavin Tierney, Chi Town Lady is out of the Harlan’s Holiday mare Toni’s Hollyday.
“She’s really starting to blossom as time has gone on,” Ward said. “She was always a nice filly, but she’s one of these 2-year-olds that with time is getting better.”
Ward said if Chi Town Lady continues to thrive, he would consider entering her in the 1-mile, $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
“This particular filly I think will go a mile, especially at Del Mar, so I’m thinking about the mile race on the grass for her,” Ward said.
Chi Town Lady Bests Stablemate Poppy Flower In Bolton Landing
Arnmore Thoroughbreds’ Poppy Flower graduated at third asking in a 6-furlong turf sprint at Belmont on June 20 ahead of her Bolton Landing second. The Lea chestnut enters from a third-place finish in the Ainsworth at 6 1/2 furlongs on September 12 at Kentucky Downs
Joel Rosario will pilot Chi Town Lady from post 8, while Poppy Flower will emerge from the inside post under David Flores.
Chester and Mary Broman’s homebred Makin My Move romped to a 12 1/2-length debut win sprinting 6 furlongs against fellow New York-breds August 20 on the Spa main track.
Trained by John Kimmel, the Carpe Diem bay has since posted 4 consecutive bullet works on the Oklahoma training turf, including a rapid 1/2-mile in 46.04 on September 3 in her first grass work.
Out of the multiple stakes-winning More Than Ready mare Hard to Stay Notgo, Makin My Move is a half-sister to the Kimmel-trained stakes-placed turf specialist Gotta Go Mo.
“Gotta Go Mo can do nothing but run on the grass, so I thought maybe grass might be her deal,” Kimmel said. “She [Makin My Move] was pretty amazing in her first work on the grass. Every work she’s had on the grass has been solid. She continues to go out there and handle it really well.”
Kimmel said a strong gate work August 4 on the Oklahoma dirt training track convinced him to start Makin My Move on the main track. After breaking outward on debut, Makin My Move made the lead and continued to widen her margin at every point of call.
“She worked so good on the dirt out of the gate that day and she did win well, but I think she’s better on the grass,” Kimmel said. “She wasn’t on the front end right away last time, but she got there. She has tactical speed, but she doesn’t have to be on the front end.”
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano will pilot Makin My Move from post 6.
MeB Racing Stables and Vincent D. Esopi’s Mystic Eyes, a $40,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, graduated in her August 5 debut by 4 1/2 lengths sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs over firm footing at the Spa.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Mystic Eyes followed with a runner-up effort in the Ainsworth.
“She looked good breaking her maiden on the grass at Saratoga, so this looked like a good opportunity. She’s a nice filly,” Pletcher said.
By Maclean’s Music, Mystic Eyes is out of the stakes-winning Storm Cat mare Cloudburst – a half-sister to 1996 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and Champion 2-Year-Old Boston Harbor.
Manny Franco has the call from post 3.
Scott Dilworth, Evan Dilworth, Randy Andrews and Susan Andrews’ Lady Danae bested Matron-rival Bubble Rock by 2 lengths in her August 13 debut sprinting 5 1/2-furlongs over firm Mellon turf at the Spa.
The Joe Sharp-trained daughter of Klimt followed with an even fifth last out in the Ainsworth.
Bred in Kentucky by Machmer Hall, Carrie Brogden and Craig Brogden, Lady Danae was purchased for $210,000 at the OBS Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training.
Luis Saez retains the mount from post 4.
Shortleaf Stable homebred Bubble Rock, by More Than Ready, exited her runner-up effort to Lady Danae with a convincing 3 1/4-length score in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight on the firm Mellon turf on September 3 at Saratoga.
Trained by Brad Cox, Bubble Rock is out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Reef Point, who is a half-sister to millionaire Blue Chipper – winner of the 2019 Keeneland Korea Sprint (G1) in Seoul and third-place finisher in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
Irad Ortiz Jr. has the call aboard Bubble Rock from post 7.
Swilcan Stable and LC Racing’s Mainstay, a half-sister to 2-year-old Champion Filly Vequist, will exit post 11 under Kendrick Carmouche in her turf debut. Trained by Butch Reid Jr., Mainstay is by Astern and out of the Mineshaft mare Vero Amore.
She won her June 4 debut by 7 3/4 lengths sprinting 4 1/2 furlongs on a sloppy Monmouth Park main track and followed with a runner-up effort to Pretty Birdie in the 6-furlong Schuylerville (G3) in July at Saratoga.
Mainstay enters from a fading fourth in the 6 1/2-furlong Adirondack (G3) on August 8 at the Spa.
Rounding out the field is The Club [post 2, Jose Lezcano], Gal in a Rush [post 12, Dylan Davis], Benbang [post 10, Jorge Vargas Jr.], and High Arabian [post 9, Benjamin Hernandez].
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