Joe Hirsch Turf Classic: Kitten's Joy in Lion's Den

Joe Hirsch Turf Classic: Kitten's Joy in Lion's Den
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Crown Royal winner Kitten's Joy faces the older guys in Saturday's Hirsch Classic.
Sophomore turf sensation Kitten's Joy gets the ultimate test Saturday, facing a tough group of seasoned older horses in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) at Belmont Park. Leg two of the NTRA's National Pick 4, the Turf Classic will be shown live on ESPN and has an approximate post time of 5:12 p.m. EDT.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred Kitten's Joy, near flawless this year with five stakes wins from six starts against 3-year-olds, faces recent grade I winners Magistretti and Kicken Kris, as well as the globetrotting Tycoon and Polish Summer in the Turf Classic.

A general handicapping rule of thumb is never to back a horse trying to do something he's never done before. It certainly applies here as Kitten's Joy is not only facing older for the first time, but also a new distance, 1 1/2 miles. Beware. Based on his past performances, Kitten's Joy seems more than capable of scaling both hurdles.

Kitten's Joy, a son of El Prado out of the Lear Fan mare Kitten's First, is coming off smashing back-to-back wins at 1 1/4 miles against his own division. On July 10, he cruised to a 2 3/4 length win the Virginia Derby (gr. IIIT), then dismantled a solid group in the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington Park. His time in the Secretariat, 1:59.65, was faster than that day's Arlington Million (gr. IT) (2:00.08).

A victory by the Dale Roman-trained colt would take him a long way toward a starting berth in the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30. The Ramsey's are hoping to get four horses into the World Thoroughbred Championships, with Roses in May (Classic - Powered by Dodge), Nothing to Lose (NetJets Mile), and Badge of Silver (Sprint).

Kicken Kris, a $400,000 Keeneland September sale yearling in 2001, has returned to the top form he showed last year at 3 in his last two starts this summer. Betty Moran's son of the late Kris S. won the 11-furlong Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT) at Belmont, then ran second to Powerscourt in the Arlington Million, but was awarded the win following a disqualification. British jockey Jamie Spencer, who was aboard Powerscourt on Aug. 14, returns in the Turf Classic aboard Tycoon.

Kicken Kris, bred in Kentucky by Valerie Naify, has earned in excess of $1.3 million with a slate of 6-3-3 from 18 career starts. Over the Belmont turf, he's 2-1-0 from four starts. Last year he was second in the nine-furlong Jamaica Handicap, then won the Lawrence Realization (gr. IIIT) at the Turf Classic distance.

Moved up from second to third in the Arlington Million was Michael Tabor's Magistretti. The European import suffered no ill effects from that effort as he came back to roll to an impressive win the Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT) at Belmont Sept. 11 at 1 3/8 miles. A group II winner in England last year at 3, he was second to the mighty Falbrav in the Juddmonte International (Eng-I) last August.

By Diesis out of the Deputy Minister mare Ms. Strike Zone, Magistretti will be ridden by Edgar Prado for trainer Patrick Biancone.

Sam and Jeri Knighton's Request for Parole has raced in four consecutive grade I affairs, coming home a winner in the United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park July 3. He was fifth last time out in the Man o' War, and fifth earlier this summer in the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) at Belmont.

Khalid Abdullah's Polish Summer was fifth to Sulamani in last year's Turf Classic, and since has raced in Hong Kong, Dubai, and France. He won the Palm Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) on the World Cup program in March. The homebred 7-year-old by Polish Precedent has failed to hit the board in his last three starts, two group I and one group II races in France.

The race has been renamed this year, honoring Daily Racing Form's retired executive columnist.

Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT), $750,000, 1 1/2 miles, turf, 3-year-olds and up, 126 pounds, 3-year-olds: 121 pounds, Belmont Park, Saturday, Oct. 2, approx. post time 5:12 p.m. EDT

PP -- Horse -- Jockey -- Trainer
1 -- Kicken Kris -- Javier Castellano -- Michael Matz
2 -- Request for Parole -- Cornelio Velasquez -- Stan Hough
3 -- Maktub -- Jorge Chavez -- Michael Jarvis
4 -- Magistretti -- Edgar Prado -- Patrick Biancone
5 -- Kitten's Joy -- John Velazquez -- Dale Romans
6 -- Tycoon -- Jamie Spencer -- Aidan O'Brien
7 -- Polish Summer -- Gary Stevens -- Andre Fabre

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