Dirt and turf, sprints and routes, juveniles and older horses… there’s a little something for everyone taking place on Saturday at Aqueduct, Belmont at the Big A, where a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series qualifier and a Grade 1 event highlight a busy afternoon.
It’s ironic that the most prestigious race from a grading standpoint isn’t the Breeders’ Cup qualifier, but such is the case with the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1), a logical steppingstone toward the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) even though it doesn’t award a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup.
Seven horses have entered the Joe Hirsch, including three-time Grade 1 winner Gufo, who qualified to the Breeders’ Cup via a stretch-running victory in the Sword Dancer S. (G1) at Saratoga. Soldier Rising, the third-place finish from the Sword Dancer, is back for a rematch.
Defending Joe Hirsch winner Rockemperor never fired when finishing ninth in the Sword Dancer, but two starts back he won the Bowling Green S. (G2). The Chad Brown trainee is a logical contender to factor in his title defense, though he’ll have to reckon with stablemate Adhamo, who finished eighth in the Sword Dancer one start after snatching first prize in the United Nations S. (G1).
Adding intrigue to the Joe Hirsch field is the five-year-old mare War Like Goddess, who has rattled off six graded stakes wins from eight starts dating back to March 2021. War Like Goddess was compromised by an extremely slow early/fast late race shape when second by a neck in Saratoga’s Flower Bowl S. (G2) last month and figures to challenge if she gets a clean trip in her first start against males.
Rounding out the accomplished Joe Hirsch entrants are 2021 Del Mar H. (G2) winner Astronaut and 2020 Saranac S. (G3) winner Bye Bye Melvin.
Earlier in the afternoon, dirt sprinters will take center stage in the $250,000 Vosburgh S. (G2), a seven-furlong “Win and You’re In” qualifier to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). The improving Elite Power enters off three straight blowout victories for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, including an allowance optional claiming win at Saratoga, and looms as the horse to beat in his stakes debut.
Drafted was beaten to fifth place in the Forego S. (G1) when last seen, but during the spring he picked up the Runhappy S. (G3) and should appreciate dropping out of the Grade 1 ranks for the Vosburgh. The only question is whether Drafted will receive enough pace to enhance his trademark homestretch rally; in a small field practically devoid of speed, 2021 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) winner Jalen Journey may enjoy a favorable setup.
Completing the Vosbugh field are the two-time allowance winner Southern District and out-of-state raider Eastern Bay, who nabbed a seven-furlong allowance at Parx Racing just 10 days ago.
Rounding out Saturday’s graded stakes action at Belmont at the Big A is the $150,000 Matron S. (G3) for two-year-old fillies sprinting six furlongs on turf. Key contenders in this potential Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1) steppingstone include Danse Macabre, winner of the Untapable S. at Kentucky Downs; Determined Jester, a runaway winner of the Rosies S. over the Colonial Downs lawn; Redifined, exiting a third-place finish in the Bolton Landing S. at Saratoga; and Sweet Harmony, fifth in the Bolton Landing but previously victorious in Monmouth Park’s Colleen S.
Beyond the proven stakes competitors, Dontlookbackatall, American Apple, How Lovely, Fleetfooted, Personal Pursuit, Little Linzee, and Atomic Girl offer potential while exiting maiden victories. Sweetlou’sgotaces has yet to win a race, but was beaten only half a length in her debut at Saratoga and is fast enough to factor on the Brisnet Speed rating scale.
Apple Picker, exiting a seventh-place finish in the Spinaway S. (G1) on dirt at Saratoga, is entered for the main-track only.