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|1||SERVE THE KING||6/1
|I Ortiz Jr||C Brown|
|J Lezcano||B Cox|
|J Rosario||C Clement|
|J Castellano||C Brown|
|L Saez||M Maker|
|M Franco||W Mott|
|W Lordan||A O’Brien|
$10 Exacta Box – Gufo and Channel Maker = $20
$5 Exacta Box – Gufo, Japan and Channel Maker = $30
If you’re playing only to win, go with my top pick Gufo (5/2).
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Gufo and Japan, the top two finishers from a stirring battle in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Sword Dancer, come together again to headline a solid field of seven set for Saturday’s Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park.
Gufo got the win at Saratoga, holding off Japan by a neck on August 28. It was the second straight win for the 4-year-old son of Declaration of War, and his second win at the Grade 1 level. Trained by Christophe Clement, the big chestnut has won 7-of-12 lifetime, while never finishing out of the top three. A two-time stakes winner at Belmont, Gufo also accounted for the Grade 1 Belmont Derby last fall.
Japan, meanwhile, will be making only his second career start in the United States. Trained by Aiden O’Brien, the 5-year-old son of Galileo was a multiple Group 1 winner in Europe. In the Sword Dancer, he found a little traffic in the stretch which may have cost him the victory. Before the Sword Dancer, he had snapped a losing streak with a Group 3 victory in Ireland.
The rest of the field for the 12 furlong Joe Hirsch Turf Classic includes five other classy grass horses, topped by the two-time winner and defending race champion Channel Maker and the multi-millionaire Arklow, who won the race in 2019.
The invader from Europe easily could have beaten Gufo in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer with a clearer run, but his top rival wasn’t exactly slowing down in the closing stages. A similar type of performance will put him right in the mix once again. One of the best turf horses in the world as a 3-year-old in 2019, he fell off that best form since, but his last two demonstrate that he is putting it back together at the age of 5. From one of the most powerful outfits on the globe, it’s only a matter of him being able to put together two real strong races in a row. If we see the real Japan on Saturday, he is a huge threat.
As consistent as can be, this Christophe Clement-trainee comes into Saturday’s big race on a two-race winning streak. One of the best 3-year-old turf horses last year, the five-time stakes winner has made a home for himself at the demanding 12 furlong distance this season. On Saturday, he will look for his third straight win at the distance, without a loss. His trainer added blinkers for the last two, and it seems to help keep him just a little more involved early, before unleashing his big kick. He will need that here, as there is very little speed in the race. He likes the course and is perfect at the distance. I expect him to run another strong race.
He is the top pick.
It seems like this multiple Grade 1 winner has been around forever. Not quite, but as a graded stakes winner in five consecutive seasons, he is putting together a career to remember. A confirmed stretch-runner, he is often at the mercy of racing luck, and of late, he hasn’t found much. He was unlucky to last time at Kentucky Downs, so he should be primed for another good effort on Saturday. He has only won once in four tries on the Belmont turf, but that lone victory was in this race in 2019. I like the top two just a bit better, but it will be no surprise to see him make a strong late run like we’ve seen so many times before.
The really nice New York-bred once again showed us how good he can be with an impressive victory in the Grade 2 Bowling Green two starts back, and was a solid third behind the two favorites last time in the Sword Dancer. Off that form, you would certainly have to consider him a threat, but the biggest problem might be the return to Belmont Park. Clearly, this is a horse who has done his very best running at Saratoga over the years. To his advantage, he might sit a good spot behind the leader on Saturday, but it’s still not enough to like him better than the two who beat him last time.
While most of the horses in this race have faced each other multiple times, this one from the Chad Brown barn is a bit of a wild card. He certainly has developed later than most, but he seems to be coming into his own of late. After a good performance in the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park, he went up to Saratoga and handled his competition in the 13 furlong John’s Call. It wasn’t quite this class, but it was his best victory to date. Nine races into his career, perhaps he is ready for Grade 1 competition, but I remain skeptical that he is ready to win a race like this.
It has been a disappointing year for the 7-year-old son of English Channel after finishing off 2020 so well, but we have seen this pattern before, where on any given day he can pop up and run big. In fact, it has happened at Belmont more than anywhere else, with wins in this race in 2018 and 2020, as well as a victory in the Grade 1 Man O’ War in 2019. Can he do it again? While his recent form is nothing to write home about, he did show some reasonable fight last time in the Sword Dancer, and could be ready to return to his best. As an added advantage, he looks to be the controlling speed in a race with very little early speed. He is a very dangerous long shot.
The second of two from the powerhouse Brown barn, this Irish-bred son of Holy Roman Emperor just has not been able to get over the hump in top company. He often runs well enough to keep trying, but his only three career wins have come in maiden and allowance company. As usual, his form is pretty solid; an allowance win three starts back, followed by a second in the Bowling Green and a fourth in the Sword Dancer, but once again, I expect him to fall a little short against the big boys.
|Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Race Information|
|What||Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (Grade 1)|
|Time||Saturday, October 9 — 3:47 pm Eastern time|
|How to Watch||Fox Sports 1|
Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.
Email: [email protected]
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