2018 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Preview, Plus Belmont and Santa Anita Graded Stakes Selections

PrintJust five weeks remain until the 2018 Breeders' Cup.  Most of the contenders are planning for their final preps, and top prospects on both coasts will make their final tune-ups this weekend at Belmont Park and Santa Anita Park.

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 field of eight includes the winners of two of the local Grade 1 races last month: Arlington Million winner Robert Bruce and Secretariat Stakes winner Carrick.

In addition, a chart below the preview features selections for all the graded stakes action at both Belmont Park and Del Mar -- eight races in all, including seven Grade 1 events that are all Win and You're In races.

At Belmont, in addition to the Joe Hirsch, there is also the Vosburgh (Breeders' Cup Sprint) and the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Breeders' Cup Classic).  The other graded stakes, the Grade 3 Pilgrim, is for juvenile turf horses.  It does not offer a bid to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, though two years ago it did yield the winner of that race: Oscar Performance.

Out at Santa Anita, there are four more Breeders' Cup preps for the west-coast set: the American Pharoah (Juvenile), Chandelier (Juvenile Fillies), Rodeo Drive (Filly and Mare Turf), and Awesome Again (Classic).  The American Pharoah Stakes was formerly named the FrontRunner Stakes, but was renamed this year to honour its 2014 winner, who went on to win the Triple Crown the following year.

NYRA features live streaming of racing at Belmont Park 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 Vosburgh, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and Jockey Club Gold Cup from Belmont, as well as the American Pharoah, Awesome Again, Chandelier, and Rodeo Drive from Santa Anita.

Updated September 29 to account for the scratch of Hi Happy from the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.

Saturday, September 29 - Belmont Park

Race 8: Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes (G1), three-year-olds and up, one and a half miles on the turf, post time 4:42pm 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.

Last year trainer Chad Brown won the Joe Hirsch with his Arlington Million winner, Beach Patrol.  This year, Brown may do that again.  ROBERT BRUCE has been a monster in both Chile and the United States, with his only loss coming when he got stopped twice coming down the stretch in the Manhattan (G1).  Even then, it was dazzling just how well he kept his composure, and just how quickly he regained his momentum.  ROBERT BRUCE has been able to win with a sharp pace in front of him, or a slower one.  He can handle a rail draw, and he can win at Belmont.  The closest thing to a question with ROBERT BRUCE is the stretch to a mile and a half; even though he won at the distance once in Chile, he hasn't traversed it here.  But, ROBERT BRUCE has passed every other test, and his devastating late kick should help him pass this one as well.

With the scratch of frontrunner Hi Happy, the pace situation gets softer and fuzzier.  CHANNEL MAKER was more forward than usual last-out, CARRICK showed a bit of pace earlier in his career, and TEODORO has gone gate to wire at times.  Perhaps TEODORO is now the most likely pacesetter, though there are ground and class concerns for him.

The one who appeals the most among the rest is CHANNEL MAKER.  The Ontario-bred finished second over this distance in the Sword Dancer, chasing around lone speed in Glorious Empire.  He has found better form this summer when tapping into a more forward style than he had shown earlier in his career. and that will be a benefit with the soft pace in this.  The question for CHANNEL MAKER is the course, as he has missed the board in both tries at Belmont.  Is he a Saratoga horse for the course?  He could be, but it's too early to tell, as he has excuses for both of those outings.  But, one came in last year's Joe Hirsch, and this four-year-old son of English Channel is better now than he was at three.  The other came when eighth behind SPRING QUALITY in the Manhattan (G1) earlier this year -- but CHANNEL MAKER was beaten only a length and a half for all of it, may be a better horse even now, and has upside stretching out to this mile and a half.  He also has upside with the yielding conditions, as he won the Bowling Green over soft footing.

Among the rest, there are many who could fill in the exotics.  SPRING QUALITY has tactical versatility and a Grade 1 win over this course two back.  SADLER'S JOY will be rallying from well off the pace, but may not get enough to chase.  Even TEODORO, with class to prove, has a bit of speed, first-time Lasix and Ryan Moore in the irons.

CARRICK, however, gets the slight nod as most appealing of the rest  the lone three-year-old in the race, has beaten older before -- of course, this is a whole new ballgame, as the older horses he has beaten in the past were claiming and starter horses, and these are Grade 1 foes.  But, it's the right time for CARRICK to try the big boys.  Even though Analyze It, the horse he outgamed in the Arlington Million, is a proven second-place type when races get tough?  Analyze It may be a hanger, but he's a fast hanger, and to beat him in the Secretariat CARRICK had to get the mile and a quarter in a faster time than ROBERT BRUCE ran in the Million.  He isn't without questions, of course -- these are the best horses he has ever seen, and he has never gone the mile and a half.  But, he has tactical speed, strong stamina pedigree, and a good rapport with rider John Velazquez.  CARRICK may surprise a few people again.

Selections

#1 ROBERT THE BRUCE (2/1)

#8 CHANNEL MAKER (9/2)

#4 CARRICK (8/1)

Longshot:  #5 TEODORO (15/1) has much to prove.  His form comes over good ground in Britain -- and many of those races, checking British sources, came on days when the ground was rated good-to-firm.  So, the rain-soaked ground will be a new challenge.  Most of his form has come at a level softer than this -- perhaps a solid allowance horse is the best American equivalent to what he has been beating in those handicap grades.  But, assuming he stays somewhere near his morning line, there are suggestions he could pull a shocker in the Joe Hirsch.  TEODORO's one step to Group company did go well -- two starts ago, he wired the Rose of Lancaster Stakes (G3) at Haydock.  With the scratch of HI HAPPY, if Ryan Moore taps into that style, TEODORO threatens to do that again.

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Below is a spreadsheet with all of Nicolle Neulist's picks for Saturday's graded stakes at Belmont Park and Santa Anita; for any browsers that have difficulty with embedded Google spreadsheets, a web link is available here.

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!

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