With five weeks until the Breeders' Cup, many of the marquee prospects for our sport's biggest weekend have penciled in their final prep races for this weekend. Thanks to that, Saturday's cards at both Belmont and Santa Anita are chock full of graded stakes.
This piece features a full preview of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) at Belmont, a Win and You're In for the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1). The contentious field of eleven includes Arlington Million (G1) exacta Beach Patrol and Fanciful Angel, three-year-old dynamo and Secretariat Stakes (G1) winner Oscar Nominated, and the American debut of globetrotter The Grey Gatsby.
In addition, a chart below the preview features selections for all the graded stakes action at both Belmont Park and Del Mar -- nine races in all, including eight Grade 1 events. Six races other than the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic also offer Win and You're In bids to the Breeders' Cup. At Belmont, there is also the Vosburgh (Breeders' Cup Sprint). Out west at Santa Anita, there are five semi-local preps for Breeders' Cup races at Del Mar: the Zenyatta (Distaff), Chandelier (Juvenile Fillies), FrontRunner (Juvenile), Rodeo Drive (Filly and Mare Turf), and Awesome Again (Classic).
NYRA features live streaming of racing at Belmont Park on their website. XBTV will provide free full-card streaming of the Santa Anita card on their website. Horse Racing Radio Network will also stream audio coverage of both Belmont and Santa Anita live on their website. Their broadcast runs from 5:00pm-8:00pm Eastern. It features the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, Vosburgh, and Beldame from Belmont, as well as the Awesome Again, Zenyatta, FrontRunner, Chandelier, and Rodeo Drive from Santa Anita.
Updated Thursday, September 28 to add morning lines for the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, to link to a source for Dortmund's anticipated scratch in the Awesome Again, and to enumerate all Win and You're In races. Updated Friday, September 29 to link to XBTV's free coverage of the Santa Anita card.
Saturday, September 30 - Belmont Park
Race 11: Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes (G1), three-year-olds and up, one and a half miles on the turf, post time 5:45pm CST
Originally inaugurated as the Turf Classic Stakes in 1977, the race was renamed to honour turf writer Joe Hirsch in 2004. He started his career with the New York Times, but is best known for his work with the Daily Racing Form, where he wrote for over fifty years. This race offers a $600,000 purse, as well as a Win And You're In berth in the Breeders' Cup Turf. The Joe Hirsch Turf classic has been a rich source of Breeders' Cup Turf winners, including Illinois-bred Buck's Boy, who swept that double in 1998. Others to complete that feat in the same year include Manila, Theatrical, Tikkanen, and English Channel. Little Mike, who won the Breeders' Cup Turf in 2012, won the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic the following year.
No one can catch Illinois-bred Buck's Boy in a boggy 1998 edition of the Turf Classic.
This race drew a strong field, but some of them like a mile and a half more than others. MONEY MULTIPLIER seems to want it a bit shorter than this, and the same with ASCEND. And, the race is full of class horses with big questions. THE GREY GATSBY has been short of his best for a long time. The switch to the Chad Brown barn means FANCIFUL ANGEL will be an underlay to reproduce his shocking run in the Arlington Million last out.
The one who likes a mile and a half most of all is SADLER'S JOY. The son of Kitten's Joy won't be the 7/1 he was last out when he won the Sword Dancer, but he doesn't need to be. He'll still likely be longer price than BEACH PATROL and perhaps even MONEY MULTIPLIER -- and his victory last out in the Sword Dancer (G1) was the outing he needed to have in order to prove that he can seal the deal against this class of horse. Though SADLER'S JOY is a closer, he does not need a fiery pace in front of him, and he has done consistently good work when jockey Julien Leparoux gets the call. He also boasts solid enough form over the Belmont sod: a win and two thirds in five tries. The thirds are both Grade 1 placings, and the two off-board finishes happened in his first two career starts. It suffices to say he is a faster and more seasoned horse now, and he makes his first try at Belmont going twelve furlongs -- a distance at which he has three wins and a second (by a head) in four tries.
OSCAR PERFORMANCE gets a class test here, as the multiple Grade 1 winner makes his first try against older horses. His nine-race career has been a case of feast or famine: six cozy victories, three resounding defeats. But, it has been all feast at Belmont: three tries, three wins. OSCAR PERFORMANCE impressed last out in the Secretariat Stakes, rating nicely and rallying with authority. He still needs to prove himself against more seasoned foes here, and prove that he can get the distance (it's his first try going twelve furlongs). But without a plethora of speed in the field, with excellent long-distance turf breeding, and with the turf male division being a revolving door this year, the price may be right to bet that OSCAR PERFORMANCE remains in his best form.
The third slot was a tight call between BEACH PATROL and MEKHTAAL. BEACH PATROL has been a consistent sort in these Grade 1 turf races all year long, and seeing him get a piece would be no surprise. But, the Chad Brown trainee will be a short price, and he has not yet tried a mile and a half. This space likes the twelve-furlong pedigree for MEKHTAAL a little bit better, and sees some upside for that one to improve off a tenth-place finish in the Arlington Million. He has gotten a bit more time to settle here since that American debut. He switches to the barn of Graham Motion -- and gets first-time Lasix here, a situation in which Motion wins 24% of the time with a positive ROI. He also stands to improve from his one try at a mile and a half last year; that came on soft ground, and his better tries against class horses have come over firmer footing. MEKHTAAL will get that at Belmont, making it worth taking another chance on this son of Sea the Stars seeing out the twelve-furlong trip.
#4 SADLER'S JOY (4/1)
#3 OSCAR PERFORMANCE (3/1)
#8 MEKHTAAL (15/1)
Longshot: #7 CHANNEL MAKER (20/1), like OSCAR PERFORMANCE, is a three-year-old facing older horses for the first time. He has far more class to prove than that one, as his best race this year came against Canadian-breds in the Breeders' Stakes at Woodbine. But, that victory last out came at the same mile and a half trip as the Joe Hirsch, and his Brisnet figure put him close to what he needs to show against these open, older Grade 1 horses. CHANNEL MAKER also hails from a barn that has started the Belmont meet hot: Bill Mott, who has five wins and another five money finishes in 23 starts this meet. Mott wouldn't be running CHANNEL MAKER in this spot just for fun, and the son of English Channel should be a good enough price to bet that he'll make good account of himself in this class test.
Below are all of Nicolle Neulist's picks for Saturday's graded stakes at Belmont Park and Santa Anita. This will be updated as they finish handicapping the card. If you have questions about the logic behind any of these picks, please leave a comment, or tweet us at @picksponderings!
The Awesome Again was handicapped in light of Jay Privman's report that Dortmund will be scratched.
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