English Channel Meets Foreign Invaders in Hirsch Turf Classic

English Channel, who ran fifth in last year's John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT), has his final prep for this year's Breeders' Cup Saturday in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) at Belmont Park.

The 4-year-old Smart Strike colt is one of seven entered today for the 12-furlong event.

English Channel has had another good year, with wins in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. IT) and United Nations Handicap (gr. I). In his last start, he ran fourth in the Aug. 12 Arlington Million (gr. IT).

In last year's Hirsch Turf Classic, James Scatuorchio's English Channel finished second in a game effort, beaten a head by Shakespeare. Trained by Todd Pletcher, he will be ridden again by John Velazquez.

Pletcher said the outside post was a big factor in the Million.

"The post really killed us more than we anticipated," Pletcher said. "It's an odd place to start a mile-and-a-quarter race to begin with, but what made it worse was the chain reaction at the start. We got started off in right field and he never got a chance to settle through very soft fractions."

Because English Channel is better when he can stalk a target, Pletcher entered Icy Atlantic as a "rabbit." Icy Atlantic, who was recently purchased by Scatuorchio, is coupled with English Channel in the wagering.

A trio of European invaders may be the biggest threats to English Channel: Frost Giant, Freedonia, and Royal Highness.

Frost Giant, trained by Aiden O'Brien, has run just four times but won the Bruce Betting Kilternan Stakes (Ire-III) in his last start at Leopardstown. Owned by Michael Tabor, the son of Gaint's Causeway will be ridden by Edgar Prado.

"He didn't win too far in the group III but he looked like his father – they were never gonna get by him," said O'Brien from Ireland. "We hadn't a lot of other options for him here and (jockey Kieran Fallon) thought it was a possibility he might get a mile and a half. We sent him to find more about him; this will show us what route to go with him, whether we stay at a mile and a half or back up to a mile and a quarter. He looks like a horse in his races that will get a mile and a half. He should improve, but he's going to need to improve off a group III."

Three-year-old fillies Royal Highness and Freedonia exit the same race, having finished third and four, respectively, in the Prix Vermeille Lucien Barriere (Fr-I) at St. Cloud.

Royal Highness, by Monsun, is a group II winner trained by Bascal Bary while Freedonia, by Selkirk, won the Prix de Pomone (Fr-II) two starts back for trainer John Hammond.

The field, in post order with weight and jockey assignments:
Frost Giant, Edgar Prado, 121
Icy Atlantic, Mike Luzzi, 126
Freedonia, Thierry Gillet, 123
Dreadnaught, Cornelio Velasquez, 126
English Channel, John Velazquez, 126
Interpretation, Tom Turner, 126
Royal Highness, Thierry Thulliez, 123