After heavy rains at Belmont Park forced her to make Presious Passion a late scratch from the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) Oct. 3 at Belmont Park, trainer Mary Hartmann knew exactly what she had to do. She shipped her multiple grade I-winning 6-year-old cross-country to California where she knew she would find the kind of firm footing her star appreciates for a different Hirsch at Santa Anita Park.
Oak Tree’s $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship over 1 1/4 miles Oct. 11 has attracted a field of nine. The 41st running of the event, named in honor of Oak Tree’s original president who served from the association's founding in 1969 until his death in 2000, is one of two grade I stakes on Santa Anita's nine-race program that includes the $300,000 Ancient Title (gr. I) at six furlongs. The Clement Hirsch goes as the seventh race, with the Ancient Title to follow one race later.
Patricia A. Generazio's Presious Passion can send his earnings over $2 million with a victory against a field that includes recent Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) winner Spring House, R. D. Hubbard’s 7-year-old gelding who ran fourth as the 9-5 favorite in last year’s Hirsch, and 8-year-old ridgling Artiste Royal, winner of the 2007 Hirsch.
“He loves firm going,” Hartmann said after making the decision to scratch, and Presious Passion’s record attests to her conviction. The Florida-bred son of Royal Anthem has won his last three starts over “firm” courses, capped by a course record-shattering United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) victory at Monmouth Park on July 4, his second win in the prestigious event. He faltered in his last start, the Arlington Million (gr. IT) on Aug. 8, fading to eighth at 9-2 odds over an Arlington Park course labeled “good.”
In his only prior start at Santa Anita, Presious Passion ran second by one-half length to Soldier's Dancer in last January’s Sunshine Millions Turf on a "good" track. He is ridden by Eastern-based Elvis Trujillo, who was part of the Southern California jockey colony early in his career. Trujillo appears to be a good fit with a 5-2-1 mark in 10 races atop the chestnut who favors running on or near the lead. Presious Passion returns to Southern California with earnings of $1,852,818 from an overall record of 12-6-1 in 40 starts.
Spring House rallied from a distant eighth to take the 11-furlong Del Mar Handicap Aug. 30 under Alex Solis on Aug. 30. The nose victory at 5-2 odds over Hirsch entrant Sir Dave elevated the Chester House gelding, bred in Kentucky by Hubbard and partners, to a career record of 10-7-11 in 43 races with earnings of $1,121,284.
Irish-bred Artiste Royal, from the Neil Drysdale barn, was the 9-5 favorite in the Del Mar Handicap, rallying strongly but belatedly to finish fourth, just three-quarters of a length behind Spring House. The reverse scenario played out in January when Artiste Royal’s rally gained victory in Santa Anita’s San Marcos Stakes (gr. IIT) with Spring House finishing 1 3/4 lengths back in fourth. That nose victory over another Hirsch entrant, Medici Code, was Artiste Royal's last trip to the winner's circle. He looks to end a six-race losing streak.
Joe Talamo, who was in the saddle when Artiste Royal upset two-time winner The Tin Man in the 2007 Clement L. Hirsch, has the riding assignment on the son of Danehill for owners David and Jill Heerensperger. The multiple grade I winner is on the verge of eclipsing $1 million in earnings with a bankroll of $997,790 from a career record of 7-9-7 in 34 trips to the post.
That veteran trio should take most of the action in the Hirsch, but there are others worth considering.
The deep closer Sir Dave figures to get some attention after his strong effort at Del Mar. The 4-year-old Untuttable gelding, seeking his first stakes win for La Canada Stables and trainer Jack Carava, also ran second to Spring House in the Golden Gate Fields Turf (gr. IIIT) May 30.
Three-year-old Rendezvous scored a 22-1 upset by a nose over Battle of Hastings in his most recent start for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) on Sept. 6, and faces older horses for the second time in his career. The Victory Gallop colt ran second in the La Jolla Handicap (gr. IIT) on the Del Mar lawn prior to the Del Mar Derby.
The front-running Black Astor disappointed in the Del Mar Handicap, fading to 10th for trainer Lisa Lewis, but the 5-year-old went gate to wire to register a two-length win over three rivals in Hollywood Park's Sunset Handicap (gr. IIT) prior to that.
And Medici Code, although he hasn't won since the 2007 Del Mar Derby, is usually thereabouts and could be coming up to a top effort following a tightener in the Del Mar Mile Handicap (gr. IIT) Aug. 29. The fifth-place effort, three lengths behind the victorious Ferneley, was the Darrell Vienna charge's first start in more than five months.
$300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship (gr. IT, Race 7, 3:30 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Medici Code (GB), G K Gomez, 124, D Vienna
2. Presious Passion (FL), E Trujillo, 124, M Hartmann
3. Times Gone By (KY), V Espinoza, 124, R E Mandella
4. Sir Dave (FL), J Rosario, 124, J Carava
5. Rendezvous (KY), R Bejarano, 121, J Hollendorfer
6. Artiste Royal (IRE), J Talamo, 124, N D Drysdale
7. Quarter Moon (KY), A Delgadillo, 124, M F Stute
8. Spring House (KY), A O Solis, 124, J C Canani
9. Black Astor (KY), M E Smith, 124, L L Lewis