Paddy O'Prado has proven over his last three starts that he is the best 3-year-old turf horse in the country. On Oct 2, he will get his stiffest test when he makes his debut against older horses in the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) at Belmont Park.
Paddy O’Prado, the 3-1 morning-line favorite, will also travel 1 1/2 miles for the first time when he takes on 10 rivals, including grade I winners Telling, Interpatation, Winchester, and the improving Al Khali. Post time for the Turf Classic, the fourth of five grade I events on the Belmont program, is 5:11 p.m. EDT.
Trained by Dale Romans for Jerry Crawford’s Donegal Racing, Paddy O’Prado has been terrific in his last three starts, all turf wins. After finishing third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and sixth in the Preakness (gr. I), the son of El Prado scored in the Colonial Turf Cup (gr. IIT) in June, the Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) in July, and the Secretariat Stakes last out for his first grade I victory. Stabled at Churchill Downs, the gray/roan colt has had four works since the Secretariat, including a five-furlong final tune-up on Sept. 25 when he was timed in 1:02 15 on the main track.
Regular rider Kent Desormeaux will keep the mount on Paddy O’Prado, who has produced a 4-2-3 record from 11 starts with earnings of more than $1.3 million. Out of the Prized mare Fun House, he was bred by Winchell Thoroughbreds.
“There are always questions when you do something for the first time, but if I didn’t think he would handle a mile and half or run well against older horses, I wouldn’t bring him,” Romans said. “This is something he needs to prove he can do in order for us to take him to the Breeders’ Cup (Turf, gr. IT).”
Also entering off a grade I win is Alex and JoAnn Lieblong’s Telling (8-1). The 6-year-old A.P. Indy horse won the Aug. 14 Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) at Saratoga for the second straight year, winning by 1 1/2 lengths at odds of 10-1. In 2009, he won the event at 33-1 to snap a 10-race losing streak.
Trained by Steve Hobby, Telling was off the board in his other two starts in 2010. He crossed the wire third in last season’s Turf Classic but was placed fourth through disqualification. Javier Castellano will have the mount.
“He’s doing super,” said Hobby. “This is really an important race for us; the Breeders’ Cup was a disaster last year and he’d have to run really well here to try that again. He doesn’t have to win, but of course if he did, that would make the decision easy.”
The 2009 Turf Classic was won by Elliot Mavorah’s Interpatation, the lone win in the last 23 starts for the 8-year-old son of Langfuhr. The 43-1 shocker came in wire-to-wire fashion on a soft turf course when defeating dual Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti by 1 3/4 lengths. Robby Albarado was in the irons for that win, but Jose Lezcano will have the mount this time. Interpatation, 0-for-4 in 2010, was fourth last out in the Sword Dancer.
Winchester has remained in good form for trainer Christophe Clement all season, winning twice and hitting the board three other times in six total starts. The 5-year-old son of Theatrical won the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) in June at Belmont for his second grade I score. He won the Secretariat as a 3-year-old.
Winchester (9-2) was third in the United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park in July and missed by a nose to Al Khali Sept. 11 in the Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT).
“He came out of the (Bowling Green) in good order and he’s been training well,” said Clement. “It’s a bit quick; I would have preferred an extra week, but that’s the way it is. He had a very nice work on (Sept. 26).
Clement will also send out Grassy, who was seventh in the Sword Dancer.
Al Khali, one of two starters for Bill Mott, won the Bowling Green from off the pace under Alan Garcia, which was in contrast to his other victory this season, a front-running optional claimer at Belmont in July. Sandwiched between those two was a third-place finish in the Sword Dancer.
Mott’s other entrant is Juddmonte Farms’ homebred mare Treat Gently, a two-time graded stakes winner this season, including the May 22 Sheepshead Bay (gr. IIT) at Belmont.
“(Al Khali) has been close (running a mile and half) and he was at a mile and three-eighths last time and seemed to handle that okay,” said Mott. “(For Treat Gently) I think the distance is important. If we thought she was as good at a mile and a quarter, we would run her against the fillies, but I think the mile and a half suits her a little better.”
The Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will provide live coverage of the five grade I races at Belmont Oct. 2, beginning with a three-hour broadcast that starts at 3 p.m. The broadcast can be heard on the HRRN flagship station, WLXO 96.1 FM in Lexington, Ky., and will be streamed live on both the HRRN website and Breeders’ Cup site. Mike Penna will anchor the HRRN coverage, along with analyst and former top trainer Jude Feld.
$500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT, Race 9, 5:11 p.m.), 3YO and Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Grassy (KY), G K Gomez, 126, C Clement
2. Never On Sunday (FR), P Fragoso, 126, P L Biancone
3. Solitaire (ON), R Maragh, 126, H J Bond
4. Treat Gently (GB), J R Velazquez, 123, W I Mott
5. Al Khali (KY), A Garcia, 126, W I Mott
6. Bearpath (KY), C H Borel, 126, I R Wilkes
7. Telling (KY), J Castellano, 126, S Hobby
8. Strike a Deal (KY), R A Dominguez, 126, A E Goldberg
9. Paddy O'Prado (KY), K J Desormeaux, 121, D L Romans
10. Winchester (VA), C H Velasquez, 126, C Clement
11. Interpatation (KY), J Lezcano, 126, R Barbara