Postponed from last week due to inclement weather and a saturated course, the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) will again face a potential battle with Mother Nature as one of four grass stakes on Saturday’s program at Aqueduct.
The Bill Mott-trained six-year-old mare War Like Goddess will seek to defend her title against the boys in the 1 1/2-mile fixture. The first female in nearly four decades to win the Turf Classic when scoring by 2 3/4 lengths as an odds-on choice last season, War Like Goddess subsequently finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) to Rebel’s Romance, but both she and that Godolphin homebred enter the Turf Classic off back-to-back losses.
Sixth in the New York (G1) over a too-short 1 1/4 miles, War Like Goddess was most recently second by a neck in the 12-furlong Glens Falls (G2), a race she won last year, and evidence perhaps she has lost a step this term.
Rebel’s Romance, meanwhile, never factored in his season debut last March in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), and last time lost his rider after clipping heels in the Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga, an excusable effort.
Also lining up for the Turf Classic are division mainstays Astronaut, Soldier Rising, Stone Age, and Pioneering Spirit.
The $500,000 Jockey Club Derby (G3) over 1 3/8 miles has yielded the eventual Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner (Yibir, 2021) and betting favorite (Nations Pride, 2022) in its last two runnings. Neither is likely to be the case this year, though Godolphin and trainer Charlie Appleby have a chance to win it for a third year in a row with stakes newcomer Measured Time.
A Frankel half-brother to the aforementioned Rebel’s Romance, Measured Time enters undefeated from three starts. After two wins over the all-weather at Kempton, Measured Time easily won his turf debut at Newmarket in late August, scoring by five lengths in a minor handicap over 1 1/4 miles.
Grade 2 winner Webslinger, fourth in the Belmont Derby (G1) and a head second in the Saratoga Derby (G1) in the first two races of this three-year-old series, is the most accomplished horse in the field. However, a trio of last-out winners at Kentucky Downs are also potential threats. Anglophile enters off a half-length win in the Dueling Grounds Derby, while the lightly-raced Faraday and Fearless Soldier both scored in allowances at the all-turf track.
Also at 1 3/8 miles is the $200,000 Waya (G3) for older fillies and mares. Grade 1 veteran McKulick will look to reverse the form of the Flower Bowl (G2) at Saratoga, in which Parnac beat the odds-on McKulick under a masterful, pedestrian-pace ride by Dylan Davis.
Among the other six entered for the turf is Romagna Mia, an Italian Group 2 winner who finished third in the Beverly D. (G1) at Colonial Downs in her U.S. debut two months ago.
“I think she’s improved since then. I hadn’t had her for very long,” said trainer Graham Motion regarding Romagna Mia. “I’m pretty high on this filly. She really has done nothing wrong. I thought it was a really good effort for her at Colonial and I think she’ll appreciate the added ground. I’m a little concerned about the weather because we don’t feel she could handle soft ground.”
The $200,000 Belmont Turf Sprint (G3) over six furlongs might be an ideal rebound spot for Dancing Buck, who won this race by five lengths last season. In his first start since November, the Sept. 2 Harvey Pack S. at Saratoga, Dancing Buck set the pace before weakening to fourth in a race he undoubtedly needed.
Thin White Duke and Big Invasion, the one-two finishers in the Harvey Pack, also return in the Belmont Turf Sprint. Shortening up from longer races is multiple graded winner Wit, who also makes his second start off an extended layoff.