Winless for a year but in good form, Arklow refused to wilt in a pressure-packed stretch drive in Saturday’s $507,500 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (G1) at Belmont Park. By coming out on top of a three-way battle with defending champion Channel Maker and Sadler’s Joy, the Brad Cox charge advanced his candidacy for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
The trio all competed in last year’s Turf at Churchill Downs, where Sadler’s Joy was best of the males behind Enable and Magical. Arklow was fourth that day and Channel Maker a too-bad-to-be-true 11th. Their class as Breeders’ Cup runners came to the fore here.
Channel Maker attempted to reprise his wire job from the 2018 Joe Hirsch, carving out tepid splits of :25.14, :50.85, 1:16.13, and 1:40.31 on the firm Widener turf. Sadler’s Joy uncharacteristically tracked in a close second, and Arklow, ridden for the first time by Junior Alvarado, moved up into third to flank him.
On the far turn, Arklow briefly put a head in front as the stalkers ranged alongside Channel Maker, who used his inside position to regain a slim advantage upon straightening. But Arklow kept grinding and Sadler’s Joy boxed on between them. In the final yards, Arklow got up by a half-length in 2:27.34 for the 1 1/2-mile feature.
Channel Maker tried his heart out and fended off Sadler’s Joy by a head. Next came Channel Cat, Cross Border, Zulu Alpha, and Ya Primo.
“Every race, I try to do my homework,” Alvarado said, “and sometimes you just have to go with how the race is developing. One thing I was sure of was that I didn’t want to get in his way. I wanted to save ground since it’s a mile and a half race. Coming by the wire at the first turn, I knew we were going a little slow. I didn’t want to go in behind those horses and then never be able to catch the frontrunner, so I just lost a little ground into the first turn but I never got in his way. I let him find his rhythm and he was there for me the whole way around.”
Arklow was exacting revenge for several of his losses this season. His reappearance in a Keeneland allowance was a non-event when the five-year-old unshipped his rider at the start, so his first real race was the May 11 Man o’ War (G1), where he rallied from last and missed by a neck to Channel Maker. Up in trip to two miles for the Belmont Gold Cup (G2), Arklow went down by a neck again to French shipper Amade. In the Bowling Green (G2) he was a half-length third to Channel Cat and Ya Primo, and when trying to defend his Kentucky Turf Cup (G3) title, he was a wide-closing second to Zulu Alpha.
Campaigned by Donegal Racing, Joseph Bulger, and Peter Coneway, Arklow has amassed $1,776,382 from his 23-6-6-2 line. The son of Arch scored his first stakes victory in the 2017 American Turf (G2). At four he added the Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Cup at Ellis Park prior to his Turf Cup, and he placed second in both the Mervin Muniz Memorial (G2) and Sycamore (G3).
Arklow was bred by Frank Penn and John Penn in Kentucky and sold for $160,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. The bay is a three-quarter brother to Maraud (by Blame), who himself took the American Turf in 2018. Their dam, the Empire Maker mare Unbridled Empire, is a half-sister to Grade 1 winners Fourty Niners Son and Cindy’s Hero, from the extended family of Hall of Famers Silverbulletday and Arts and Letters.
The other graded turf route on the card, the $401,200 Hill Prince (G2) for sophomores, went to Southern California shipper Neptune’s Storm. A neck second in the La Jolla (G3) and beaten by the same scant margin when third in the Del Mar Derby (G2) last out, the Richard Baltas trainee was ignored at 10-1 versus this ostensibly deeper cast at Belmont. But the key stat was that Baltas wins 28 percent in the “blinkers off” category. Neptune’s Storm responded to the equipment change and benefited from the race shape.
Under new rider Ricardo Santana Jr., the Stormy Atlantic gelding stalked front-running 9-5 favorite A Thread of Blue through slow fractions of :25.48, :50.92, and 1:15.20 on the firm inner course. A Thread of Blue tried to hang on, but Neptune’s Storm gradually wore him down by three-quarters of a length while finishing 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.74.
“I was just a passenger today,” Santana said. “He put himself in a position that he wanted. That horse is so classy and he knows how to win. He did everything by himself, to be honest. Turning for home, I knew I had plenty of horse and I knew I just had to wait. This stretch is so long, so I knew I could wait until the right moment. He gave me a nice, strong kick and finish to get home.”
A Thread of Blue barely salvaged second in a three-way photo from Standard Deviation and Henley’s Joy, who were the next two stalkers throughout. The deep closers couldn’t land a blow. Digital Age fared best of them, managing at least to advance into fifth after brushing the gate at the start.
Neptune’s Storm, who provided a $22.40 windfall, improved his scorecard to 12-5-2-3, $529,585, for owners John Rochfort, Saul Gevertz, Lynn Gitomer, Mike Goetz, Michael Nentwig and Daniel Weiner. The bay was second to Stubbins – Saturday’s Woodford (G2) winner at Keeneland – in the off-the-turf Pasadena in his final outing for Bill Morey. Neptune’s Storm captured his first two on the switch to Baltas, the April 28 Singletary and June 2 Cinema, before his near-misses at Del Mar.
Bred by Tracy Farmer in Kentucky, Neptune’s Storm is the first foal from the Iffraaj mare Immortal Life, a full sister to Italian classic heroine Stay Alive and a half to Group 3 scorer Gimmy. He’s appreciated in each tour of the auction ring, bringing $50,000 as a Keeneland November weanling, $70,000 at the same venue in September, and $130,000 at OBS April.