With every weekend that passed this summer, there was seemingly a fresh reminder within the Thoroughbred racing community of just how spoiled it currently is with dominating figures.
Last Saturday, champion Songbird remained unblemished in 11 career starts with another facile triumph in the Grade I Cotillion Stakes. Seven days earlier, it was reigning champion turf female Tepin flaunting her globally superior form when she captured the Grade I Woodbine Mile over males, her eighth straight victory.
On paper, Saturday’s Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park figures to serve as another such showcase for divisional dominance both for its overwhelming favorite and for the man who is set to lead him over.
Trainer Chad Brown has found a kindred spirit in the form of his multiple Grade I-winning charge Flintshire. While each has had wildly successful results prior to this year, the 2016 season could lead each to some year-end hardware — cases that figure to be strengthened when Flintshire takes on just three others in the $600,000, 1½-mile Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, one of eight Grade I races taking place between Belmont and Santa Anita this weekend.
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After racing primarily in Europe the previous three seasons, Juddmonte Farms transferred its homebred Flintshire to Brown’s barn this season for the purpose of a full-time North American campaign. While the son of Dansili was already a Grade/Group I winner and two-time runner-up in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, he has become the clear leader of the male turf division in this country with wins in the Grade I Manhattan, Grade II Bowling Green and Grade I Sword Dancer Stakes in his three starts this season.
Similarly, Brown has been on his own unrelenting tear of success this year as he seeks to earn his first Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer. Fresh off earning his first Saratoga training title after saddling a record 40 winners during the meet, Brown leads all North American trainers in earnings ($16,509,334) and graded stakes wins (31) with his most recent big score coming last weekend when he sent Connect out to upset the field in the Grade II, $1,250,000 Pennsylvania Derby.
“He came to me a great racehorse. I just try to keep him happy and healthy,” Brown said of Flintshire after his Sword Dancer win. “He’s a remarkable horse, we’re lucky to have him. I’m not surprised anymore (by his races).
“I’ve never seen anything like him outside of (Grade I winner) Lady Eli. He’s the greatest horse I’ve ever seen.”
Though Flintshire benefited from the quick fractions carved out by stablemate Inordinate in the Sword Dancer, the 6-year-old dark bay horse has a turn of foot that is deadly regardless of setup. In the Bowling Green, he rallied to a three-quarter length win after sitting off a pedestrian half-mile that went in :53.14 over firm turf at Saratoga.
Joining the Joe Hirsch on Belmont’s Super Saturday card is the Grade I Beldame for fillies and mares going 1 1/8 miles and the Grade I Vosburgh over 6 furlongs.
On the opposite coast, 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome will have all eyes on him as he goes for his sixth straight win this year in the Grade I Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park, one of five Grade I tests on that card. The star power will again be bursting at the seams as champion Beholder, second to California Chrome last time out in the Pacific Classic, seeks to win the Grade I Zenyatta Stakes for a fourth consecutive season as she takes on her Clement L. Hirsch conqueror and fellow champion, Stellar Wind.
Runhappy returns in Ack Ack
Reigning champion male sprinter Runhappy landed post position No. 5 for his much-anticipated 4-year-old debut in Saturday’s 24th running of the Grade III, $100,000 Ack Ack over one mile at Churchill Downs.
The Ack Ack, for 3-year-olds and up, is the centerpiece of a stakes tripleheader at Churchill Downs that also includes the $175,000 Lukas Classic, which lured the last two winners of the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap, and 3-year-olds on turf in the $100,000 Jefferson Cup.
Runhappy, who was sidelined by a front right cannon bone bruise this year, has prepped for his return to action with a series of five published workouts, including a 6-furlong move at Churchill Downs on Sept. 15 in 1:14.40 under regular rider Edgar Prado. The son of Super Saver has amassed $1,481,300 from seven wins in eight career starts that included a championship-worthy sprint campaign a year ago.
Joe Hirsch Turf Classic
What: “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Turf
Where: Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
Post time: 3:26 p.m.
Purse: $600,000 (Grade I)
Distance: 1 1/2 miles
For: 3-year-olds and up