A stout field of eight will square off in this year’s running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes at Belmont Park. The race serves as a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” event for the Longines Turf on November 3 at Churchill Downs. Headlining this year’s event is the Chad Brown-trained Robert Bruce, who has been impressive since moving to the United States from his native Chile earlier this year. He has won two of three starts stateside, including the Grade 1 Arlington Million Stakes last time out over a stellar filed. He breaks the rail here, which may be his toughest challenge. Irad Ortiz, Jr., will have the mount once again with the unenviable job of guiding Robert Bruce to the winner’s circle despite the tough draw.
“He’s doing real well and I’m thrilled with the way that horse is moving,” Brown said. “He’s done well from the Million. [He] can stay further. I’m confident he’ll step up for a mile and a half, but we’ll just have to see.”
The winner of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes will receive an automatic position in the Breeders’ Cup Longines Turf this fall at Churchill Downs. Pre-entry and entry fees will be paid and a nominator award of $10,000 will be given to the person who nominated the foal or racehorse. Also, all Breeders’ Cup starters based outside of the state of Kentucky will receive a travel allowance of $10,000 if based in North America and $40,000 if based internationally.
The Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes shares the Saturday card with three other stakes races, including two Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” events: The Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup (Classic) and the Grade 1 Vosburgh (TwinSpires Sprint). The North American-based Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” events return on Friday, October 5 at Keeneland, and continue through the weekend at Keeneland, Belmont, and Santa Anita.
The full field from the rail out includes: Robert Bruce, Hi Happy, Sadler’s Joy, Carrick, Teodoro, Spring Quality, Highland Sky, and Channel Maker.
#1 Robert Bruce – This 4-year-old son of Fast Company is loving life since joining Brown’s barn. He debuted with a big victory in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy Stakes before running a close sixth in the Grade 1 Manhattan Stakes. After those starts, he captured the biggest triumph of his career in the Arlington Million, and now he must stretch out in distance, but Brown is very confident that he can do it with no trouble whatsoever.
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#3 Sadler’s Joy – He started off his year with a win in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Stakes at Gulfstream Park, but since then, he has struggled a bit, going winless in his next five starts. Last time out, he was very disappointing in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes, finishing a non-competitive sixth. That track favored speed, though, which is a reasonable explanation for his poor performance. He could rebound in a big way if the track is more favorable to his late-running style.
#2 Hi Happy –Earlier in the year, Hi Happy was all the rage after back-to-back big-time wins. The first came at Gulfstream Park in the Grade 2 Pan American Stakes before parlaying that to another score in the Grade 1 Man ‘O War Stakes at Belmont Park. Since those two triumphs, he has failed to pick up another victory, and he really struggled at Saratoga over the summer. Moving back to Belmont Park makes him dangerous.
#6 Spring Quality –Two races back, he pulled off a nice upset with a big win in the Grade 1 Manhattan Stakes here at Belmont Park. He followed that up with a solid third-place effort last time out in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga. That effort was not as strong as his Manhattan, but it showed that his Manhattan win was not a fluke. He has also hit the board in nine of 12 lifetime starts.
#8 Channel Maker – This 1 1/2-mile distance is where we see him at his best. He is coming off a solid Saratoga meeting where he won the Grade 2 Bowling Green Stakes and the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes. He showed his staying power, which is the most important thing when running these marathon distances. The only down side for him: he has failed to hit the board in two prior career starts at Belmont Park.
#7 Highland Sky – He is sure to be a longshot after back-to-back fifth-place efforts at Saratoga in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes and the Grade 2 Bowling Green Stakes. However, he could be sneaky here, as both of those races favored speed horses, and he had no shot. He always drops to the back of the pack, and he has hit the board in seven of nine careers starts here, so Belmont Park should suit him better.
#5 Teodoro – He serves as the lone European shipper here, and in the last few weeks, European shippers have not performed all that well in American debuts, so we’ll see if Teodoro can change that. The son of Teofilo has won two of five starts this year overseas, including a Group 3 event two back. This distance is perfect and he’s put forth a nice work since shipping over.
#4 Carrick – Last time out, he shocked the horse racing world with a neck victory in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington at odds of 38/1. That was his third win in four starts while also being the best effort of his career by a wide margin. He faces another tough task here as he moves up to older competition for the first time. It will be fun to see if the wild ride can continue in this difficult spot.