Gary Barber and Wachtel Stable's Channel Maker took the lead at the start and carried it all the way to the wire in Saturday's Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Cup, earning his first top-level victory at odds of 9-2. Jose Ortiz guided the 4-year-old son of English Channel to the nearly five-length triumph over even-money favorite Robert Bruce, completing 1 1/2 miles over Belmont's soft Widener turf course in 2:30.73. Channel Maker, trained by Bill Mott, earned an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup Turf with this win.
“A horse couldn't be doing better than he's been doing,” said Mott. “I don't know if he can stay this good for another four or five weeks. But he's just gotten better and better since we had those two runs at Saratoga. He's been hard to hold on the ground. Put it this way, he needed to run. I'm glad we didn't have to wait another four or five weeks to run.”
Channel Maker broke on top of the seven-horse field, and was accompanied by Carrick into the clubhouse turf. Teodoro, who got off to a very slow start, surged up the outside to put pace pressure on Channel Maker, and those two pulled away from Carrick and the rest of the field by nearly four lengths down the backstretch.
Ortiz kept the pace measured, ticking off fractions of :25.05, :50.52, and 1:16.31. Favorite Robert Bruce was a few lengths behind Carrick, as many as seven lengths off the lead.
Teodoro upped the pressure heading into the far turn, but folded well before the stretch to leave Channel Maker alone on the lead. Carrick did not respond to urging, but Robert Bruce started to roll up the inside through the turn to be just two lengths behind the frontrunner at the top of the lane.
“At the three-eighths pole, he was still pricking his ears, waiting for somebody to come,” said Ortiz. “When we left the 5 horse [Teodoro], he was waiting for somebody to come and no one came. When I asked him to go, he responded beautifully.”
Channel Maker kicked away from the late-running Robert Bruce to cross the wire a 4 1/2-length winner. Robert Bruce had to settle for second, with Sadler's Joy checking in third. Highland Sky got up for fourth.
“I'm disappointed,” said Chad Brown, trainer of beaten favorite Robert Bruce. “There was no pace in the race and my horse broke so well and then he ended up behind. I'm not sure why. The winner ran really good, but the pace was so slow and after breaking so good, I don't understand why he was so far back.”
Bred in Ontario by Ivan Dalos' Tall Oaks Farm, Channel Maker did not meet his reserve at the Keeneland September sale when bidding stopped at $57,000. The gelding had been runner-up twice and third once in his previous tries in Grade 1 company, but broke through in the Joe Hirsch to improve his record to four wins, four seconds and three thirds in 20 starts. Channel Maker's career earnings now stand at over $1 million.
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