Wachtel Stables, R. A. Hill Stables, Gary Barber and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing's Channel Maker will attempt to repeat his 2018 victory when taking on a field of seven assembled for Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at 12 furlongs over the Widener turf course at Belmont Park.
The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic is one of eight stakes events carded for this weekend's Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Racing Festival, which also features four Breeders' Cup “Win and You're In” qualifiers beginning on Saturday, October 5 with the Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne, where the winner will secure a spot in the Juvenile. The day's undercard will include the Grade 2, $400,000 Hill Prince for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles on turf; the Grade 3, $150,000 Matron for juvenile fillies going six furlongs on the turf; and the $150,000 Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational also at six furlongs on grass.
America's Day at the Races will present live national television coverage of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Racing Festival at Belmont Park on Saturday from 2:30-6: p.m. Eastern on FS2 with regional coverage airing on MSG Networks from 4-6 p.m.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Channel Maker will attempt to become the first horse to win back-to-back editions of the Joe Hirsch since his sire English Channel won in 2007-08. One of three contenders sired by the six-time Grade 1 winner, Channel Maker enters off of a trio of fourth-place finishes, most recently in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational, where he finished 2 3/4 lengths back of the victorious Annals of Time.
Channel Maker last found the winner's circle when taking the Grade 1 Man o' War on May 11 over the Belmont inner turf, where he garnered a 104 Beyer Speed Figure. His best number took place in last year's Joe Hirsch, where he earned a 108 Beyer when racing on an uncontested lead and drawing off by 4 1/2 lengths.
“He's run three good races since the Man o' War,” said Randy Hill of R. A. Hill Stables. “He's a hard horse to ride and he's had some bad trips in his last few starts, so with the right trip he should be able to run his race. One of the biggest plusses is the fact that it's Belmont and we know he likes the surface. We'll see what the jockey switch does.”
Hall of Famer John Velazquez, a three-time winner of the Joe Hirsch, will have the mount aboard Channel Maker, who will leave from post 7.
Trainer Todd Pletcher will send out Calumet Farms' Channel Cat, who will break from post 2 in tandem with Luis Saez.
One of three entrants sired by English Channel, the 4-year-old chestnut colt recorded a 102 Beyer two starts back in the Grade 2 Bowling Green at Saratoga, where he set a leisurely pace upfront and held off a late charge from fellow Joe Hirsch aspirant Ya Primo to win by a half-length. Channel Cat was a last-out third beaten 2 1/4 lengths in the Sword Dancer.
“He's very consistent and a solid performer. He always shows up and runs well,” Pletcher said. “We've been pointing for this race since Saratoga so hopefully he puts in a good effort. I think he's versatile. If there's someone intent on having the lead, that's fine. If it ends up being a toddling pace, he can take control so we have to see how it all shakes out.”
Seeking his second Grade 1 victory is Sadler's Joy, who won the 2017 Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational.
A Woodslane Farm homebred trained by Tom Albertrani, the 6-year-old chestnut son of 2004 Joe Hirsch winner Kitten's Joy boasts the highest amount of lifetime earnings in the field with $2.3 million.
Seeking his first victory since last year's Grade 2 Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream Park, Sadler's Joy was third in the 2018 Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf won by world champion Enable and did not return until July, where he was a close sixth in the Bowling Green before finishing a neck behind Annals of Time in the Sword Dancer.
Sadler's Joy will be ridden by Jose Lezcano from post 6.
Trainer Chad Brown will look to notch a third victory in the Joe Hirsch when he saddles Ya Primo, who breaks from post 3.
Owned by Don Alberto Corporation in partnership with Madaket Stables and Wonder Stables, the dual Group 1 winner in his native Chile set the pace in the Sword Dancer last out, before fading to ninth in his second North American start. He made his debut in the Northern Hemisphere when tracking a slow pace to finish second a neck behind Channel Cat in the Bowling Green.
Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. will guide Ya Primo.
Trainer Mike Maker will send out four-time graded stakes winner Zulu Alpha and six-time winner Cross Border.
Owned by Michael Hui, Zulu Alpha was a last out winner of the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs, which came after a close fifth in the Bowling Green. The son of Street Cry is still in search of his first Grade 1 victory but came close three starts back when finishing a neck behind Hunter O'Riley in the United Nations at Monmouth Park.
The seasoned veteran of 28 career starts began his season with a pair of graded stakes victories over the turf at Gulfstream Park in the Grade 3 W.L. McKnight and the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida.
Zulu Alpha will emerge from the rail and will be reunited with jockey Channing Hill, who piloted the horse to three of his nine career victories.
Cross Border enters the Joe Hirsch off of three straight victories and will make his stakes debut in the Joe Hirsch. Owned by Kirk Wycoff's Three Diamonds Farm, the 5-year-old son of English Channel defeated his New York-bred counterparts over the turf at Saratoga in his prior two starts. Cross Broder began his racing career in Canada for the tutelage of trainer Robert Tiller. After winning over the Woodbine turf last June, he did not race again for another year, where he was a narrow second against allowance company over the Widener turf course.
Breaking from post 4, Cross Border will be ridden by Manny Franco.
Rounding out the field is Arklow, who has finished in the money in all four efforts against stakes company this year.
Owned by Jerry Crawford's Donegal Racing, the 5-year-old son of Arch was second by a neck in both the Man o' War and Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup earlier this year. A three-time stakes winner for trainer Brad Cox, Arklow seeks his first win since last year's Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup. He was second in this year's edition of the event to Zulu Alpha.
Jockey Junior Alvarado will pilot Arklow from post 5.
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