After battling dual-classic winner Big Brown down the stretch in the Sept. 13 Monmouth Stakes only to fall a neck short, Gary Tanaka's Proudinsky will try to get back to his winning ways when he takes on eight turfers in the $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) Sept. 27 at Belmont Park.
The 1 1/2-mile Turf Classic is race nine on a Belmont card that features five grade I events. It immediately precedes the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), in which Curlin will shoot for the all-time Thoroughbred earnings record. Heavy rain is expected in the New York area Sept. 25-27, which could play a major factor on the Widener Turf Course.
Proudinsky, who has a victory in the grade II Mervin Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap (gr. II) among four starts this season, will face a deep and talented field in the Turf Classic. Among those entered are Grand Couturier, who comes in off a two-length score in the Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) at Saratoga; Dancing Forever, winner of the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) two starts back; Barclay Tagg trainee Summer Patriot, who has two straight resounding scores at Saratoga; grade I winner Presious Passion; and Strike a Deal, a tough-luck 4-year-old with three runner-up finishes this year.
Bred in Germany, Proudinsky has a 4-4-1 record from 13 lifetime starts for trainer Bobby Frankel. In his only start at Belmont, the 5-year-old Silvano horse finished 11th to Dancing Forever in the Manhattan. His victory in the Mervin Muniz was on a yielding turf course at Fair Grounds. Ramon Dominguez, who was aboard in the Monmouth Stakes, gets the return call.
English-bred Grand Couturier hit the winner’s circle for the first time since prevailing in the event in 2007 when he took the Sword Dancer by two lengths Aug. 16. The 5-year-old Grand Lodge horse has made two of his three starts this year at Belmont, with a third-place finish in the June 19 Academy Award Stakes his best showing. Owned by Marc Keller, Grand Couturier is 6-0-5 from 16 starts. Alan Garcia rides.
“He has been a bit more manageable this year with his soundness issues,” trainer Rob Ribaudo said. “That has been the biggest help. But you realize that you only have a handful of these races to go after, and there is no secret why you take it easy in the early spring and summer and point to Saratoga and the fall. Those races are all a half-million (dollars) or more, and you know that every horse cannot dance every dance.
“That being said, we thought about this race and we thought about the race in Canada (Pattison Canadian International at Woodbine). Now that race is $2 million, but it is a week away. Going there almost takes you out of the Breeders’ Cup, and we want to run in the Breeders’ Cup (Turf).”
Phipps Stable’s Dancing Forever came up empty during his fifth-place finish in the Sword Dancer, but showed his affinity for the Belmont turf when he got up by a nose to win the June 7 Manhattan. The 5-year-old son of Rahy also scored in the Fifth Third Elkhorn (gr. IIT) this spring at Keeneland.
“In the Sword Dancer, he really didn’t like the ground that soft,” trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey said. “When he did get hold, he started running, but he was scrambling. So, I hope that was all it was. The turf is pretty hard and there is supposed to be a lot of wind along with the rain, so maybe it will all work out.”
Rene Douglas will get the mount on Dancing Forever.
Patricia Generazio’s Presious Passion and Jayeff Stables’ Strike a Deal ran one-two, respectively, in the grade I United Nations Stakes on Monmouth’s yielding turf course July 5. Presious Passion took the early lead and was able to hold off late-charging Strike a Deal by a neck. Neither has won since then, but Strike a Deal missed by only a length in the Nijinsky (gr. IIT) at Woodbine Aug. 4. It was the 4-year-old Smart Strike colt’s third runner-up finish in four stakes efforts this season.
“He just can’t get the cheese,” said Strike a Deal's trainer, Alan Goldberg. “He smells it. He just can’t get it. He just can’t seem to come up with the ideal scenario. But he’s a genuine horse and he tries. Maybe this time, it will be his turn.”
$600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT, Race 9, 5:19 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Interpatation, 126, Kent J. Desormeaux
2. Elusive Fort, 126, Robby Albarado
3. Dancing Forever, 126, Rene R. Douglas
4. Proudinsky, 126, Ramon A. Dominguez
5. Summer Patriot, 126, Eibar Coa
6. Grand Couturier, 126, Alan Garcia
7. Strike a Deal, 126, Javier Castellano
8. Presious Passion, 126, Eddie Castro
9. Jade's Revenge, 126, Edgar S. Prado