December 4, 2021

Joe Hirsch Turf Classic attracts familiar foes; Firenze Fire seeks Vosburgh double

Gufo wins the Sword Dancer Stakes (Photo by Chris Rahayel/Coglianese Photos)

Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) — Race 7 (3:47 p.m. ET)

The $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) at Belmont Park on Saturday will have a strong resemblance to the Aug. 28 Sword Dancer (G1), as five of the first six across the line in that Saratoga fixture renew rivalry over 1 1/2 miles.

In the Sword Dancer, favorite Gufo held off a late surge from Coolmore raider Japan by a neck. It was more than three lengths back to Cross Border in third. Farther up the track were Rockemperor and 2020 Turf Classic winner and champion Channel Maker.

Although he didn’t compete in the Sword Dancer, Arklow is no stranger to Belmont or this race in particular, having prevailed by a half-length over Channel Maker in the 2019 renewal. Earlier that season, Arklow missed narrowly in both the Man o’ War (G1) and Belmont Gold Cup (G2), so is a horse for the course by any measure.

In his most recent start, Arklow missed by a neck in his attempt to win the Kentucky Turf Cup (G3) at Kentucky Downs for a third time.

“He had a tough trip last out at Kentucky Downs but he ran a really good race,” trainer Brad Cox said. “He came out of the race in good shape and had two nice works on the turf at Belmont.”

The field is rounded out by Serve the King, victorious last time in the restricted John’s Call S. at Saratoga.

Vosburgh S. (G2) — Race 5 (2:45 p.m. ET)

Firenze Fire will look to join four others, including Hall of Famer Dr. Fager, as a two-time winner of the $250,000 Vosburgh S. (G2). The six-furlong dash is the only official Breeders’ Cup Challenge prep among Belmont’s features Saturday, and is a traditional lead-in to the Sprint (G1).

Although unsuccessful in four previous trips to the Breeders’ Cup, Firenze Fire has been a tough nut to crack at Belmont, where he’s won seven times in 11 starts. He’ll look to end a three-race losing skid on Saturday, though two of them have been in photo finishes.

The latest was a head defeat in the Forego (G1) at Saratoga to Yaupon, who Firenze Fire attempted to savage in deep stretch, costing him crucial momentum while not running straight.

“It’s amazing how he stayed with Yaupon while trying to bite him through at least four strides,” owner Ron Lombardi said. “Another two strides he would have won it, not that he would have stayed up. It’s made him a rock star. It may have cost me a few dollars, but he’s definitely getting a lot of attention.”

The three-year-old Baby Yoda, who won for a $10,000 tag in his debut at Pimlico in late May, enters his stakes debut off a sizzling allowance win at Saratoga over 6 1/2 furlongs, achieved in a time of 1:14 1/5. Another allowance scorer at the Spa, Jalen Journey, followed up that 8 1/2-length triumph with a victory in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) at Laurel via disqualification.

The short field also includes Following Sea, distantly placed in the Haskell (G1) and H. Allen Jerkens (G1) in his last two, and European raider Good Effort.

Matron S. (G3) — Race 6 (3:15 p.m. ET)

Chi Town Lady might look to stay undefeated through three starts in the $150,000 Matron S. (G3), a six-furlong dash on the turf for juvenile fillies. The Wesley Ward trainee won on debut over the Keeneland dirt back in April, and then fired fresh on Aug. 18 with a 1 3/4-length win in the Bolton Landing S. at Saratoga.

Ward said he’s also considering Chi Town Lady for the Futurity (G3) over the same course and distance on Sunday, with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) a potential goal next month at Del Mar.

The congested field includes Bolton Landing runner-up Poppy Flower, another Ward entrant; the stakes-placed Mystic Eyes and Mainstay; and Lady Danae, who disappointed in her stakes debut at Kentucky Downs after an impressive debut victory at Saratoga.

Brad Cox also has a dangerous contender in Bubble Rock, runner-up to Lady Danae first out and subsequently a 3 1/4-length winner.