Although the winner of Saturday’s $250,000 Belmont Derby (G1) will receive an automatic bid to the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Keeneland, the $250,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) earlier in the card is a more traditional path to participation, and sometimes success, in the country’s premier turf fixture.
The cast for the 1 1/2-mile Turf Classic includes the usual suspects — recent Sword Dancer (G1) winner Channel Maker, Sadler’s Joy, Cross Border, and Highland Sky — but includes a bit of foreign intrigue as well. Laccario won the German Derby (G1) last year and was actually favored to defeat Ghaiyyath next time out in the Grosser Preis von Baden (G1). In the event he finished third, more than 18 lengths behind that soon-to-be superstar.
Laccario was out of action from early October to Aug. 15, when he was a lukewarm 7-1 in the Preis von Europa (G1) at Cologne. Undoubtedly in need of the race, Laccario finished last by seven lengths. Some improvement is possible with Lasix added for his U.S. debut.
The Chilean invader, Master Piece, might be overbet hailing from the Chad Brown stable. A Group 2 winner in Chile, he fared poorly against Group 1 foes in Argentina when last seen in March. However, Brown has done well with the occasional South American import, like Wow Cat, that it would be foolish to dismiss the gray’s chances.
Rockemperor is seemingly the stronger of the Brown duo. Although only 2-for-13 lifetime and 0-for-6 since arriving from France, he just missed in the Manhattan (G1) two back and need more ground when third to stablemate Digital Age in the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs on Derby Day.
The 1 1/4-mile Belmont Derby, postponed from its usual July slot, includes Domestic Spending and Gofu, who were separated by a head in the Aug. 15 Saratoga Derby over 1 3/16 miles. With a little more ground, Gufo might have caught his rival as it took him awhile to uncork his patented late rally.
“We trained for here because we think he’s an ideal horse to run at Belmont with the wider turns and the mile and a quarter will be really good for him,” said trainer Christophe Clement of Gufo, who set a 1 1/8-mile course-record winning the Kent (G3) at Delaware Park two back.
Saratoga Derby third No Word was only a half-length behind Domestic Spending and might have room for improvement. The field also includes recent Del Mar Derby (G2) hero Pixelate and Dueling Grounds Derby scorer Moon Over Miami, the latter of whom is much improved since adding blinkers over the summer.
The $150,000 Pilgrim Stakes (G2), for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the inner, is likely to yield a starter or two for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). The Chad Brown-trained Public Sector enters off a two-length debut win upstate and is the likely favorite.
Other Spa graduates include American Monarch, who exits a fourth-place run in the Summer (G1) at Woodbine, and Shawdyshawdyshawdy, fourth as the favorite in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last time.
“He didn’t run badly at Kentucky Downs. A horse went down right next to him so it probably cost him finishing second,” trainer Jorge Abreu said.