Otter Bend Stables' Gufo, during the latter half of his 4-year-old season, has displayed an affinity for 1 1/2-mile turf tests. Gufo will meet a cast of familiar rivals when striving for more 12-furlong success in the 44th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic over the Widener turf at Belmont Park on Saturday, October 9.
The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, slated as Race 7, is part of a lucrative 11-race card that also features the Grade 2, $250,000 Vosburgh Stakes [Race 5], a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up which offers a "Win and You're In" berth to the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint on November 6 at Del Mar; and the Grade 3, $150,000 Matron [Race 6] at six furlongs on turf for juvenile fillies. First post on Saturday is 12:35 p.m. Eastern.
||Serve the King (GB)
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Gufo, a last-out winner of the Grade 1 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer on August 28 at Saratoga Race Course, has never finished off the board in a dozen starts sporting a ledger of 7-2-3 and lifetime earnings of $1,138,510.
The consistent Declaration of War chestnut will face a quality field which includes returning rival Japan, as well as previous Joe Hirsch Turf Classic victors Channel Maker [2018, 2020] and Arklow .
Trained by Christophe Clement, Gufo earned a career-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure when fending off Japan by a neck in the Sword Dancer. The talented turf stayer raced along the rail through the early stages of the Sword Dancer, picking up ground past the second turn and into the backstretch. He was in command past the three-sixteenths and held off Japan's menacing outside rally.
Prior to the Sword Dancer, Gufo was a one-length winner of the 12-furlong Grand Couturier on July 5 at Belmont.
During his sophomore campaign last year, Gufo secured graded stakes triumphs in the nine-furlong Grade 3 Kent at Delaware Park and captured the 10-furlong Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational two starts later.
While stretching out to 1 ½ miles has paid dividends for Gufo, Clement said adding blinkers for the Grand Couturier score has been equally as beneficial.
"The blinkers made him a bit more manageable," Clement said. "It's nice to have a horse that is so consistent at that level. We'll need some racing luck like always. He's run well in every Grade 1 in New York on turf this year and that's what it's all about. It's a Grade 1 so it will be a tough race by definition, but we'll be there."
Joel Rosario, the pilot aboard Gufo in six of his 12 starts, will have the call from post 3.
Japan seeks to turn the tables on Gufo for trainer Aidan O'Brien who shipped Cape Blanco to the United States to take the 2011 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.
Owned by Coolmore triumvirate Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith in partnership with Masaaki Matsushima, Japan gradually improved position throughout the Sword Dancer and attempted to collar Gufo in the final furlong coming up a nose short.
The 5-year-old son of Galileo was a two-time Group 1 winner in 2019, defeating three other Group 1 winners in the Juddmonte International in August 2019 at York. He captured the Group 1 Grand Prix De Paris in May 2019 at Longchamp.
Winless in five starts in 2020, Japan recaptured his winning form this season with a pair of Group 3 triumphs. In his seasonal bow, he won the Ormonde on May 6 at Chester, three starts ahead of a victory in the Meld on July 15 at Leopardstown.
"The turns at Saratoga didn't inconvenience him," said O'Brien's travelling assistant T.J. Comerford. "He went around Chester in England which has pretty tight turns. He just probably didn't get the run of the race when he wanted. He came out of it well. He's going the right way. He's training well and Aidan is very happy with him. All he has to do is run like he did the last time and that gives him a good shot."
Wayne Lordan ships in to ride from post 7.
A five-time graded stakes winning 7-year-old, Channel Maker captured both the Joe Hirsch and Sword Dancer last year ahead of a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf, which earned him Champion Turf Horse honors.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Channel Maker won both of his respective Joe Hirsch Turf Classics in wire-to-wire fashion garnering career best 108 Beyers.
After defeating a field of four Grade 1-winners by 4 ½ lengths in 2018, Channel Maker earned his second Joe Hirsch Turf Classic victory two years later, winning by 2 ¼ lengths under Manny Franco. He joined his sire English Channel amongst a compact group of horses to have won multiple runnings of the Joe Hirsch. A triumph this year would make Channel Maker the only horse to win three.
Channel Maker, one of five millionaires in the field, boasts the largest bankroll with earnings of $3,266,551. He is also the most seasoned amongst his competitors with a record of 41-7-6-5.
Franco will ride from post 6.
Donegal Racing, Joseph Bulger and the Estate of Peter Coneway's Arklow, the 2019 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic winner, will vie to join Channel Maker and Val's Prince [1997, 99] as horses to win non-consecutive Joe Hirsch Turf Classics.
Trained by Brad Cox, the durable 7-year-old son of Arch secured his only Grade 1 victory when defeating Channel Maker by a half-length two years ago.
Sporting a ledger of 35-9-8-2, Arklow has won at least one graded stakes race every year since 2017. After rounding out his 6-year-old season with a win in the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup in November at Del Mar, Arklow made his seasonal bow when coming from 10 lengths off the pace to win the Grade 3 Louisville on May 15 at Churchill Downs.
Arklow arrives off a late closing second in the Grade 3 Calumet Turf Cup on September 11 at Kentucky Downs, a race he had won in 2018 and 2020.
"He had a tough trip last out at Kentucky Downs but he ran a really good race," Cox said. "He came out of the race in good shape and had two nice works on the turf at Belmont. He's made almost $3 million in his career and it would be exciting to win this race for the second time."
Jose Lezcano picks up the mount from post 2.
In pursuit of his third Joe Hirsch victory, trainer Chad Brown will saddle Serve the King [post 1, Irad Ortiz, Jr.] and Rockemperor [post 4, Javier Castellano].
Peter Brant's Serve the King earned his first stakes victory last out in the restricted John's Call on August 25 at Saratoga, which he won a half-length. The lightly-raced 5-year-old son of Kingman sports a consistent record of 9-4-1-1.
Rockemperor, owned by Madaket Stable, Michael Dubb, Wonder Stable, Michael E. Kisber and Michael J. Caruso, was fourth in the Sword Dancer last out. The seven-time graded stakes-placed son of Holy Roman Emperor last found the winner's circle in a 10-furlong allowance optional claiming tilt on June 26 at Belmont. He will race with blinkers off on Saturday.
Completing the field is Three Diamonds Farm's Cross Border who enters off a third in the Sword Dancer for trainer Mike Maker. Unplaced in the last two Joe Hirsch Turf Classics, the New York-bred 7-year-old secured graded stakes victories with back-to-back wins in the Grade 2 Bowling Green at Saratoga [2020-21].
Cross Border was bred in New York by Berkshire Stud and B.D. Gibbs.
Luis Saez will ride from post 5.
The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational is named in honor of the late journalist, the founding president of the National Turf Writers Association, and recipient of the Eclipse Award of Merit . The press box at Saratoga Race Course is named in honor of Hirsch.
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