ELMONT, N.Y. – Grade 1-winning multimillionaires Channel Maker and Sadler’s Joy will face one another for the 15th time, while each making their respective fourth straight appearance in Saturday’s 43rd running of the Grade 1, $250,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic over the Widener turf at Belmont Park.
The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic honors the late horse racing columnist and founding president of the National Turf Writers Association, whose notable accomplishments include earning the Eclipse Award of Merit (1992) and the Big Sport of Turfdom Award (1993).
The 1 ½-mile mile test for older horses is one of five graded stakes events carded for Saturday’s action-packed program, which also includes the Grade 2, $150,000 Pilgrim for 2-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles over the inner turf; the Grade 2, $150,000 Kelso for 3-year-olds and upward going a one turn mile over the main track; the Grade 2, $150,000 Gallant Bloom for fillies and mares going 6 ½ furlongs over the main track, and the Grade 1 $250,000 Belmont Derby Invitational – a classic-distance test for 3-year-olds over the inner turf.
The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic has historically been used as a prep towards the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Horses to have scored the Joe Hirsch-Breeders’ Cup Turf double include Manila (1986), Theatrical (1987), Tikkanen (1994), Buck’s Boy (1998), English Channel (2007) and Main Sequence (2014). Other prominent victors of the prominent turf event include the great John Henry (1984) and fan-favorite John’s Call (2000), both of whom won the Joe Hirsch as 9-year-olds, and champions Waya (1978), All Along (1983), and Sky Classic (1992).
R.A. Hill Stable, Wachtel Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Gary Barber’s Channel Maker, winner of the 2018 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, will attempt to be the first non-consecutive winner of the race since Val’s Prince won in 1997 and 1999.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Channel Maker was a wire-to-wire winner of the 2018 edition and was previously sixth in 2017 and second to Arklow in last year’s running. The 6-year-old veteran of 35 lifetime starts arrives at the Joe Hirsch off a frontrunning victory in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational on August 29 at Saratoga, where he set an easy pace up front and responded well when urged by jockey Manny Franco, powering home in the final eighth of a mile to a 5 ¾-length triumph, garnering a 108 Beyer Speed Figure. He matched that figure when taking the 2018 Joe Hirsch.
“He seems to be doing well,” said Mott, whose other Joe Hirsch victories came with Theatrical (1987) and Shakespeare (2005). “Manny rode him very well the last couple of times and we’re lucky to get him back. The race he ran last time, you can’t expect that every time. But if he shows up, he’s usually a factor.”
Channel Maker has been a Grade 1-winner on the NYRA circuit for the past three seasons. Four starts after his 2018 Joe Hirsch victory, he won the Grade 1 Man o’ War in May 2019 over last year’s Joe Hirsch winner Arklow and multiple Group 1-winner Magic Wand. He boasts the highest amount of lifetime earnings having amassed $2,494,051 in a record of 35-6-5-4.
Bred in Ontario by Tall Oaks Farm, Channel Maker is by two-time Joe Hirsch winner English Channel (2006-07) and is out of the Horse Chestnut mare In Return, making him a full-brother to two-time Canadian Grade 1-winner Johnny Bear.
Franco will pilot Channel Maker for the fourth time in a row from post 3.
Woodslane Farm’s homebred Sadler’s Joy also makes his fourth appearance in the Joe Hirsch but is still in search of his first victory, having finished fourth in 2017 and third in the past two editions.
Trained by Tom Albertrani, the 7-year-old son of 2004 Joe Hirsch winner Kitten’s Joy will attempt to make amends after finishing a distant fourth to Channel Maker in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational last out.
Sadler’s Joy and Channel Maker first squared off in the 2017 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, which was won by Beach Patrol, where Sadler’s Joy finished fourth as the post time favorite.
“It’s a good rivalry. They’ve both finished ahead of each other in the past,” Albertrani said. “A lot will depend on the weather and who prefers softer ground, so hopefully the rain can hold off.”
As of Wednesday, the National Weather Service calls for a 10% chance of precipitation for the Elmont, New York area with a high of 68 degrees.
Albertrani said Sadler’s Joy is trip dependent and he does not want to see his horse too far off the pace to where he will need to make up a significant amount of ground.
“His ideal trip is not getting back too far,” Albertrani said. “There’s a point where you just can’t have him back too far and have him lose too much ground. That’s where the race is usually won or lost. In these races where he makes a late move, he usually runs the quickest last quarter. Sometimes in a smaller field it helps him, so we just have to hope that he gets the right kind of trip.”
Despite his age, Albertrani said Sadler’s Joy still has what it takes to compete at a high level. This year, he was third beaten three-quarters of a length in the Grade 1 Manhattan. In his following start, he crossed the wire first in the Grade 2 Bowling Green on August 1 at Saratoga before being disqualified to fourth.
“He still has it in him. He still trains well and he’s still into it,” Albertrani said. “Hopefully, we can win another big race with him.”
Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano will climb aboard Sadler’s Joy for the 18th time from post 1.
Gestut Ittlingen’s Laccario invades from Germany for trainer Andreas Wohler, whose only previous starter in the Joe Hirsch was Sabiango, who finished fourth in 2003.
The dark bay 4-year-old son of Scalo was seventh in his only start this year in the Group 1 Preis von Europa on August 15 at Cologne, which was his only off the board finish in eight lifetime starts. Laccario was a 1 ¼-length winner of the Group 1 Deutsches Derby in July 2019 at Hamburg going the Joe Hirsch distance.
Breaking from post 6, Laccario will be ridden by Dylan Davis.
Trainer Chad Brown will saddle a pair of contenders in Rockemperor and Master Piece.
Owned by Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb and Wonder Stables, Rockemperor joined Brown’s stable last summer after previously being campaigned in France by Simone Brogi and has finished in the money five of his six starts in North America. The son of Holy Roman Emperor was a last out third to stablemate Digital Age in the Grade 1 Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic on September 5 at Churchill Downs. In his prior effort, he was second beaten a neck to stablemate Instilled Regard in the Grade 1 Manhattan on July 4 at Belmont Park, where he registered a career-best 102 Beyer.
Bred in Ireland by Haras du Mezeray, Rockemperor is out of the Muhtathir mare Motivation whose dam Jade Island is a full-sister to multiple turf Grade 1-winning millionaire Yagli. He is a direct descendant of the prolific broodmare Best in Show.
Breaking from post 4, Rockemperor will be ridden by Jose Ortiz, who seeks a third win in the prestigious stakes.
Master Piece, a Group 2-winner in his native Chile, will make his North American debut for Brown. Owned by Don Alberto Corporation, the gray or roan son of Mastercraftsman won four straight races in the latter part of 2019, including the Group 2 Gran Clasico Coronacion on December 8 at Club Hippico.
Jockey Jose Lezcano will ride Master Piece from post 2.
Rounding out the field are Three Diamonds Farm’s New York-bred Cross Border [post 5, Kendrick Carmouche], winner of the Grade 2 Bowling Green on August 1 at Saratoga and Highland Sky [post 7, Junior Alvarado], who was third in the Bowling Green for trainer Barclay Tagg.
The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic is slated as Race 7 on Saturday’s 10-race program, which offers a first post of 12:40 p.m. Eastern. America’s Day at the Races will present daily television coverage of the 27-day fall meet on FOX Sports and MSG Networks. For the complete America’s Day at the Races broadcast schedule, and additional programming information, visit https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/tv-schedule.
NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Belmont Park, and the best way to bet every race of the 27-day fall meet. Available to horseplayers nationwide, NYRA Bets is currently offering a $200 new member bonus in addition to a host of special weekly offers. The NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.
Photo: Sadler’s Joy (right) and Channel Maker.
Credit: Dom Napolitano and Chelsea Durand