English Channel got a dream trip behind slow fractions set by his stablemate and easily won the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) Saturday, completing Todd Pletcher's assault on Belmont Park's "Super Saturday" card with the trainer's third grade I win.
Pletcher earlier scored in the Beldame (gr. I) with Fleet Indian and in the Flower Bowl Invitational (gr. I) with Honey Ryder. Jockey John Velazquez who rode English Channel and Honey Ryder, also won the Vosburgh (gr. I) with Henny Hughes for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
The trainer broke his own record for single-season earnings on Saturday ($21,554,794) and is in pursuit of D. Wayne Lukas' 1987 record of 92 stakes wins. According to Equibase, Pletcher had eight scheduled to compete in stakes events on Saturday. His three wins at Belmont Park and India's victory in Philadelphia Park's Cotillion Handicap (gr. II) on Saturday gave him 91 stakes winners this year.
"We were in good position with horses that had been training well today," Pletcher said. "Now, you have to hope you can keep them in good form and reproduce the same effort four weeks from now. To me, the hardest two records are Lukas' 92 stakes wins and (Bobby) Frankel's 25 Grade 1 wins (2003). Those are the ones that mean the most to the horse's value. We've had an incredible run."
Icy Atlantic, coupled in the wagering with top turfer English Channel at 3-5, took the lead as Dreadnaught raced up close and English Channel settled on the outside in third with Frost Giant in fourth.
They set slow fractions in the 12-furlong event, going a quarter in :25.51, a half in :51.37, and six furlongs in 1:16.35. Through those stages, the order never changed as the field headed into the turn for home.
Velazquez kept English Channel wide as they struck for the lead. Frost Giant looked ready to make a big run on the hedge but had to steady as the hole closed. English Channel then spurted home by 4 1/2 lengths with French raiders Freedonia and Royal Highness closing on the outside for second and third.
"This was a dominating performance from English Channel," Pletcher said. "He settled beautifully and really responded. These are the important races. These are the days that you want to do well. This horse has a heavy argument for being champion turf horse. His record stacks up with anyone's in the division."
English Channel, a multiple grade I winner for owner James Scatuorchio, will be one of the favorites in the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs Nov. 4. He earned $360,000 while improving his record to nine victories in 15 tries and purses totaling $2,379,028.
The son of Smart Strike
ran the distance in 2:28.69 in winning his third grade I race of the year.
"He made it look a little more difficult than it was, but he went on and looked really good," Velazquez said. "There was just no pace in there."
English Channel paid $3.30, $2.10, and $2.10. Freedonia, ridden by Thierry Gillett, finished a neck in front of the third-place finisher and returned $3.40 and $2.50. Royal Highness, Thierry Thulliez aboard, was worth $3.
Interpatation, Frost Giant, Dreadnaught, and Icy Atlantic completed the order.