Saturday marks the 41st running of the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. Run over 1 1/2 miles, the race is one of four graded stakes on a loaded Saturday card with major Breeders’ Cup implications. Other races on the card include the Grade 3, $200,000 Pilgrim, the Grade 1, $400,000 Beldame, and the Grade 1, $350,000 Vosburgh. The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race, with the winner earning a free entry into the Breeders’ Cup Turf Stakes.
Headlining the race is 3-year-old star Oscar Performance, who enters off of a big win in the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington Park. The win was his third straight stakes victory, as he’s also earned wins in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby and the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge. Oscar Performance won last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and will be looking to take on older horses for this first time with regular rider Jose Ortiz.
“This will be his first kick at the can against older horses, but we’re confident that he can hold his own,” said trainer Brian Lynch. “You hit a much more seasoned group of high-level, competitive horses, whereas in the 3-year-old division, you can catch a lightly-raced group who might not have the miles on them or have fought in the heavyweight bouts. It’s great to have this type of test.”
The top foreign charge for this race comes from the Dermot Weld barn. He saddles The Grey Gatsby in his first North American start. The 6-year-old Irish bred was shipped over with stablemate Zhukova and arrived at Belmont on Tuesday. Weld said that Zhukova, a 5-year-old mare who beat males in the Grade 1 Man o’War on May 13 at Belmont, will skip the Joe Hirsch and instead run in the Grade 1, $500,000 Flower Bowl here on October 8.
“I want to see him put it together,” Weld said. “I think he’ll appreciate going the distance, and I hope he gives Johnny (jockey Velazquez) a good ride. He’s been a little unlucky this summer, but he loves firm ground, so that’s the main reason we’re running him. Our ground (in Ireland) has gone soft. The main thing for him is that he loves fast ground, and that’ll be very helpful for him. We’re fortunate to get someone as talented as Johnny V. I’ll leave it all to him.”
Rounding out the field will be Money Multiplier, Converge, Sadler’s Joy, Beach Patrol, Ascend, Channel Maker, Mekhtaal, Fanciful Angel, and Tricked Up.
#3 Oscar Performance – We’ll see if our number one-ranked 3-year-old can take on and defeat older horses in this tough spot. As of now, Oscar Performance is my pick to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf, but obviously, that pick hinges on this race. I have not been overly impressed with any of the older turf males in this country this year, and this horse possesses a very deadly weapon: great early speed. From a pace standpoint, he looks like he could have the lead all to himself once again here. The time has come for him to give older horses a try, and if he can get the job done in this race, then he’ll have a big shot to be crowned 3-Year-Old Horse of the Year.
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#5 Beach Patrol – This horse has been extremely frustrating all year long, and just when I gave up on him, he jumped up and won the Grade 1 Arlington Million in his last race. Naturally, that was the first race of the year where I didn’t have him on top, and he wins the race. He’d run too good to lose in some of his other races this year, so it was nice to see him break through and pick up the win, regardless of whether I picked him or not. Hopefully, he can sit off the pace again here (as that seemed to work well last time) and pounce when the time is right.
#9 Fanciful Angel – It was quite the American debut for Fanciful Angel when he nearly won the Arlington Million at HUGE odds of 73-1. He was one of the European shippers that was not highly regarded, and sometimes, those horses run better than the ones that are. Now, the rich get richer, as the connections handed him over to super turf trainer Chad Brown. Now Brown, who is loaded anyway, brings the top two finishers of the Arlington Million into this race. It’s hard to say if Fanciful Angel can run up to that level again, but with Brown on his side, he’ll have a solid chance.
#4 Sadler’s Joy – He’s a very consistent performer who’s shown up with a game effort in every race that he’s entered. He picked up his first Grade 1 victory in the Sword Dancer last time out and nearly got the job done in the Grade 2 Bowling Green in the race prior. He can bring his race with him no matter the track, as he’s performed well at Belmont, Saratoga, Gulfstream Park, and Aqueduct. There’s no doubt that he will have a big shot in this one.
#1 Money Multiplier – He’s had two fantastic efforts this year since returning from a ten-month layoff. Last time out, he nearly won the Sword Dancer at Saratoga before being outfinished and taking second. With Sadler’s Joy in this race, it’s hard to think that Money Multiplier can turn the tables, but he should be in the mix until the very end.
#10 The Grey Gatsby – This horse has had hype for several years now and has been rumored to come to the United States on several occasions. Earlier in his career, he was winning races and running well, but lately, he seems to have lost a step. He hasn’t won a race since September of 2014, so it’s hard to put him any higher than this spot. We’ll see if coming over here can revive his career.
#6 Ascend – He was a big upset winner on Belmont Stakes Day in the Grade 1 Manhattan but has struggled in a couple of recent efforts. It’s hard to say if that win was a fluke or if he can show that kind of ability again. There are some positives, though, as he returns to Belmont Park and will have a price just as big as it was in his last win. If you’re looking for a longshot, those are two angles that make him attractive. It’s also worth noting that, while he was fifth in the Arlington Million, he was only beaten by 1 1/4 lengths.
#7 Channel Maker – This is a horse that I’ve liked ever since his debut, but he’s outclassed a in this tough spot. He’s coming off of a nice $400,000 stakes win at Woodbine, but that race was against Ontario-breds. This will be a major test.
#8 Mekhtaal – He made his American debut last time in the Arlington Million and struggled to a tenth-place finish. He rated kindly in that race but had very little drive down the lane. That race isn’t encouraging, and he now faces another extremely tough field here.
#2 Converge – He was claimed in each of his last two races, including from Chad Brown two races back for $25,000. This horse has never been good enough to run against this level and it’s hard to see that changing anytime soon.
#11 Tricked Up – Another that was claimed last time out for $50,000 from Chad Brown and is now with a trainer who isn’t nearly as successful. His numbers weren’t all that great to begin with, and with the trainer change, it makes him hard to like in this difficult spot.