Cape Blanco and Teaks North, both two-time grade I winners on turf this year, headline a star-studded six-horse field for the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) that is part of the Oct. 1 stakes extravaganza at Belmont Park.
The 1 1/2-mile grass test is a “Win and You’re In” race in which the winner will receive automatic entry in the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs.
What the race lacks in size is more than made up for in quality.
Trained by Aidan O’Brien for Mrs. Fitriani Hay, Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier, and Michael B. Tabor, Cape Blanco has compiled an impressive record of eight wins and one second in 14 starts, with converted earnings of $3,555,665. He has been installed as the 4-5 Joe Hirsch favorite.
Last year, the son of Galileo-Laurel Delight, by Presidium, won two group I stakes—the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby and Tattersalls Millions Irish Champions Stakes in Ireland, took the Totesport Dante Stakes (Eng-II), and ran second in the prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I).
Brought to the U.S. in mid-year, Cape Blanco defeated two-time American turf champion Gio Ponti by 2 1/4 lengths in the Man o’ War Stakes (gr. IT) at Belmont Park in July. A month later, he again defeated Gio Ponti in an impressive 2 1/2-length triumph in the Arlington Million (gr. IT).
“He has always shown great tactical speed, so we were fairly confident he’d be well suited by the American style of racing, but you never really know until you try,” O’Brien said of the decision to send the colt to the U.S.
Following the Man o’ War, Cape Blanco returned to his trainer’s Ballydoyle training center in Ireland, shipping back to the U.S. for the Arlington Million. Following that race, he again went back to Ballydoyle and has now returned to the U.S.
“He appears to be in great form so we’re hopeful he’ll run somewhere close to (his) best again in the Joe Hirsch,” the trainer said. “He’s an extremely laid back horse so the traveling doesn’t seem to take too much out of him.”
Jockey Jamie Spencer will again make the trip to the U.S. for the mount.
Trained by Justin Sallusto for Resolute Group Stables, Teaks North began the season on a strong note, winning the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. IT) in February. Following three unplaced efforts, the son of Northern Afleet -Teaksbury Road, by High Honors, re-emerged as one of the leaders of the turf division with successive victories in the Monmouth Stakes (gr. IIIT) and United Nations Stakes (gr. IT), both at Monmouth Park.
A millionaire who has won seven of 18 career starts, Teaks North is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Sword Dancer (gr. IT) victory of Winchester, the 2010 Turf Classic winner who is returning to defend his crown.
A Virginia homebred trained by Christophe Clement for Mr. and Mrs. Bert Firestone, Winchester’s only victory from two starts this year came in the Sword Dancer. Previously, the son of Theatrical-Rum Charger, by Spectrum, finished second in the Stars and Stripes (gr. III) at Arlington Park when that race was moved from turf to the main track.
In addition to winning the Turf Classic last year, Winchester won the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT).
“I know it’s a tough race, but he loves Belmont Park,” Clement said, explaining that the Northern Dancer at Woodbine on Sept. 18 had also been under consideration for Winchester.
Clement is also represented in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic by Grassy, Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilshneider’s hombred son of El Prado-High Savannah, Rousillon. The winner of five of 15 starts, Grassy is coming off a victory in the Bowling Green Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park. He ran third in this race a year ago.
“Grassy has done great” since the Bowling Green, Clement said. “We’re running back a little quick, but he is training well and looks well. He finished third in the Turf Classic (last year) so there is no reason to not try it again.”
Another grade I winner in the field is Mission Approved, winner of the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) in June but unplaced in two subsequent starts. A son of With Approval-Fortunate Find, by Fortunate Prospect, Mission Approved has won eight of 25 starts for trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul. The 7-year-old races for his trainer and Terikchand Chatterpaul.
Rounding out the field is Ken and Sarah H. Ramsey’s homebred Dean's Kitten, who was on the Triple Crown Trail as a 3-year-old of 2010 after winning the Lane’s End Stakes (gr. II) at Turfway Park. The son of Kitten's Joy -Summer Theatre, by Ide, went on to finish 14th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
A stakes winner on grass at Belmont Park as a 2-year-old in 2009, Dean’s Kitten this year won the Dallas Turf Cup on grass at Lone Star Park and finished third in both the Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) and Arlington Million.
$500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT, Race 6, 3:22 p.m.) 3 & Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML odds
1. Cape Blanco (IRE), J P Spencer, 126, A P O’Brien, 4-5
2. Teaks North (FL), J Castellano, 126, J Sallusto, 8-1
3. Dean’s Kitten (KY), R A Dominguez, 126, M J Maker, 15-1
4. Mission Approved (NY), R Maragh, 126, N Chatterpual, 12-1
5. Winchester (VA), C H Velasquez, 126, C Clement, 2-1
6. Grassy (KY), J R Velazquez, 126, C Clement, 10-1