Convento Viejo's Robert Bruce will look to record his second consecutive Grade 1 win in heading an accomplished eight-horse field in the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic as part of September Super Saturday at Belmont Park.
One of four graded stakes on the day, the 42nd running of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic is also one of three Breeders' Cup “Win and You're In” Challenge Race qualifiers on the 11-race card, offering a berth in the Breeders' Cup Turf on November 3 at Churchill Downs to the winner. Carded as Race 8 with a post time of 4:42 p.m., the 1 ½-mile race on the Widener turf will air as part of Belmont Park Live's coverage from 4-6 p.m. on MSG+.
The Chilean-bred Robert Bruce has two wins in his first three starts since arriving from his native country. Under trainer Chad Brown, the 4-year-old Fast Company colt registered a personal-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure in rallying from eighth for a half-length win the Grade 1 Arlington Million on August 11 at Arlington Park at 1 ¼ miles. Brown said he is expecting a similar effort as Robert Bruce stretches out to 1 ½ miles for the first time since winning the Group 1 El Ensayo Mega in his last race in Chile on October 27 at Club Hipico De Santiago.
“He's doing real well and I'm thrilled with the way that horse is moving,” Brown said. “He's done well from the Million. [He] can stay further. I'm confident he'll step up for a mile and a half, but we'll just have to see.”
Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who was aboard for the Arlington Million win, will have the return call from post 1.
Augustin Stable's Spring Quality will ship up from Fair Hill, Maryland looking to sustain his recent success after finishing on the board in his last four starts, all against graded stakes company.
The Graham Motion trainee will be returning to Belmont for the first time since winning the Grade 1 Manhattan by a neck over fellow Joe Hirsch entrant Sadler's Joy on Belmont Stakes Day, June 9. The 6-year-old Quality Road gelding will be competing at 1 ½ miles for the second consecutive start after running third in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer on August 25 at Saratoga.
“I don't think the mile and a half will be an issue with him,” Motion said. “I thought the Sword Dancer turned into a bit of a tricky race. Speed obviously played good that day in Saratoga, so I don't think the [distance] will be an issue. He handles Belmont [well].
“Saratoga is a tricky turf course. It's tight, it's fast, and I think he's a little more suited to a more galloping type of turf course.”
Spring Quality has posted two wins, a runner-up effort and a third-place finish since closing out his 5-year-old campaign with a win in the 1 3/8-mile Grade 3 Red Smith at Aqueduct in November 2017, which marked just his second race on turf after making his first seven starts on dirt. With a 6-3-1 record in 12 career starts, the Pennsylvania-bred will be looking to earn millionaire status after entering with $960,797 in career earnings.
“We gave him a lot of time to develop and were always very patient with him. You could say we took too long to get him on the grass,” Motion said. “This is obviously what he was always calling out to do. He just handled the dirt so well that I didn't want to make him into a grass horse until he could benefit from it. He's shown he can compete at the top level on the grass in Grade 1 company.”
Hall of Famer Edgar Prado, who was aboard for Spring Quality's last seven starts, will ride again from post 6.
Hi Happy will also look to improve on his Sword Dancer effort after running fourth for trainer Todd Pletcher. The Argentinian-bred 6-year-old struggled with Saratoga's soft turf in running sixth in the Grade 2 Bowling Green on July 28 but will now be returning to Belmont, where he has posted triple-digit Beyers in his last two starts: a 101 in his third-place Manhattan finish and a 104 for winning the Grade 1 Man o' War on May 12.
“He just kind of ran an even race [in the Sword Dancer], but he didn't run horribly,” Pletcher said. “The first time at Saratoga in the Bowling Green, he didn't handle the course at all that day, so I just never got the sense that he handled Saratoga as well as he's handled Belmont or Gulfstream. Hopefully, getting him back here will help get him back into form.”
Luis Saez, who piloted Hi Happy to the Man o' War win by a half-length, as well as the Manhattan, will break from post 2.
Channel Maker, second to Glorious Empire in the Sword Dancer, fared well on Saratoga's turf during the meet, finishing first in a dead heat in the Bowling Green. After finishing no better than sixth in his previous two Belmont starts, the 4-year-old son of English Channel will get another chance at the Widener turf for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
Jose Ortiz will be in the irons from post 8.
Graded stakes winner Carrick has three wins in his first four starts for trainer Tom Morley, including an impressive victory by a neck over Analyze It in the Grade 1 Secretariat on August 11 at Arlington Park.
Carrick, the only 3-year-old in the field, was unraced as a juvenile and started his career 2-for-2 at Belmont before moving up to stakes company, finishing third in the Grade 3 Kent on July 14 at Delaware Park. That marked his only start in which the Giant's Causeway colt didn't earn a trip to the winner's circle, rebounding to win the 1 ¼-mile Secretariat on a course rated good.
Hall of Famer John Velazquez will exit from post 4.
Sadler's Joy, sixth in the Sword Dancer and third in the Bowling Green, will return to Belmont for the first time since the Manhattan, which was the second of two consecutive runner-up efforts after finishing behind Hi Happy in the Man o' War and Spring Quality in the Manhattan. The 5-year-old son of Kitten's Joy will be looking for his first win in six starts for trainer Tom Albertrani, drawing post 3 in tandem with Hall of Famer Javier Castellano.
Highland Sky will be looking to thrive in the confines of Belmont after back-to-back fifth-place efforts in the Bowling Green and Sword Dancer. Trainer Barclay Tagg said Highland Sky, who has twice finished second in graded stakes, will look to take advantage of a course more suitable to his style.
“He's doing great. So far, so good, and I think he'll like this course here,” Tagg said. “It's a little bit bigger and it won't be so tight on the turns.”
Manny Franco will be aboard from post 7.
Teodoro will make his North American debut for trainer Thomas Dascombe. After posting six wins in 15 starts, including a win in the Group 3 Rose Of Lancaster on August 11 in Great Britain, the 4-year-old Irish-bred will have the services of acclaimed jockey Ryan Moore from post 5
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