Leonard C. Green's A Thread of Blue will turn back in distance for the Grade 2, $400,000 Hill Prince, a nine-furlong inner turf test for sophomores at Belmont Park on Saturday, kicking off the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Racing Festival.
The two-day Festival will feature four “Win and You're In” qualifiers beginning on Saturday with the Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne, where the winner will secure a spot in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. In addition to the Hill Prince, the day's undercard will include the Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic; 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 2:30-6:00 p.m. Eastern on FS2 with regional coverage airing on MSG Networks from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, A Thread of Blue contested two-thirds of the inaugural Turf Trinity, winning the second leg, the $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational gate-to-wire at 1 3/16 milles ahead of his last-out fourth over good going in the 1 ½-mile Jockey Club Derby Invitational at Belmont.
McLaughlin said the shorter distance, and prospect of firmer turf, should suit A Thread of Blue.
“We like the cutback,” said McLaughlin. “It rained the day before the Jockey Club Derby. We were unlucky because he likes it firm. Hopefully, it doesn't rain too much this week. He's doing very well.”
A five-time winner from 11 starts, A Thread of Blue opened his sophomore campaign at Gulfstream Park, where he won the Dania Beach on February 3 and Grade 3 Palm Beach on March 2.
Following a two-month freshening, the Hard Spun colt returned to action in the Grade 2 American Turf at Churchill Downs on May 4, where he set the pace en route to a three-quarter length loss to Digital Age.
A yielding turf hindered A Thread of Blue when fourth as the mutuel favorite on June 1 in the Grade 2 Penn Mile leading into his Turf Trinity efforts.
McLaughlin said A Thread of Blue should appreciate the tighter turns of Belmont's inner turf.
“We're switching to the inner course which I think is better,” said McLaughlin. “The turnback is obviously to our advantage. He ran very well at a mile and a half, but a mile and an eighth is probably better. The outer course was a little bit loose last time, so all systems are go.”
Regular pilot Luis Saez has the call from post 2.
Three-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown will saddle a pair of contenders for owner Klaravich Stables in Digital Age and Standard Deviation. The Irish-bred Digital Age, a son of Invincible Spirit, won his first three starts including scores in the Columbia in March at Tampa Bay Downs and the American Turf.
Following a two-month freshening, Digital Age returned to contest all three legs of the Turf Trinity, rallying from twelfth to finish fourth in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby. Digital Age closed from sixth to complete the exacta in the Saratoga Derby, but failed to menace when eighth in the Jockey Club Derby.
Standard Deviation graduated at first asking in an off-the-turf sprint in August 2018 at Saratoga. The Curlin bay did not win again until making his turf debut in the 1 1/16-mile Tale of the Cat at Monmouth Park on June 1. Following an even seventh in the Belmont Derby, Standard Deviation returned to Monmouth on August 18, where he notched a 3 ¼-length win in the Jersey Derby at 1 1/16-miles on the turf.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will guide Digital Age from post 5, while Hall of Famer John Velazquez has the call on Standard Deviation from post 7.
Beach Haven Thoroughbreds' Uncle Benny is 2-for-2 on Belmont's inner turf over which he won the Futurity last October and the Allied Forces last out on September 8, both contested at six furlongs.
Trained by Jason Servis, the Declaration of War bay completed his 2-year-old campaign with a strong second, defeated a half-length by Line of Duty, in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. He opened up his sophomore season on August 7 when seventh in the Mahony at Saratoga and will stretch out beyond a mile for the first time on Saturday.
Manny Franco retains the mount from post 9.
Bloom Racing Stable's Henley's Joy captured the first leg of the Turf Trinity, the Grade 1 Belmont Derby, on July 6 at ten furlongs on the inner turf. Sent to post at odds of 20-1, the Kitten's Joy chestnut stalked from third position and clawed away at Social Paranoia's lead with an outside move down the lane to secure the three-quarter length score.
Trained by Mike Maker, Henley's Joy finished fifth in both the Saratoga Derby and Jockey Club Derby. Emerging from the inside post, Dylan Davis will take over from Jose Lezcano.
French-bred Taos, trained by Jean-Claude Rouget for Martin Schwartz, adds international flavor to a talented field. The Toronado bay captured the 1 5/16-mile Prix Torestrella at Toulouse on April 23 and followed up with a score in the Derby du Midi at Bordeaux Le Bouscat at 1 3/16-miles on May 25.
Last out, following an 82-day break, Taos finished last of five in the Group 2 Prix Guillaume d'Ornano on August 15 at Deauville. Junior Alvarado will guide Taos in his North American debut from post 3.
Rounding out a talented field are Bourbon War [Jose Lezcano, post 4], and Seismic Wave (Kendrick Carmouche, post 6], Neptune's Storm [Ricardo Santana, Jr., post 8].
The Hill Prince is slated as Race 8 on Saturday's 11-race card. First post is 12:20 p.m. Eastern.
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