Hot Stones steps up to majors
ELMONT, N.Y. – In the Grade 1 Manhattan, it was Slumber over Big Blue Kitten. In the Grade 1 United Nations, it was Big Blue Kitten over Slumber. In the Grade 1 Arlington Million, it was a near miss for Big Blue Kitten and annihilation for Slumber.
On Saturday, Big Blue Kitten and Slumber will be in the starting gate together for the fourth consecutive time when they face the surging Red Rifle, the consistent Twilight Eclipse, and four others in the Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park.
The Joe Hirsch, at 1 1/2 miles, is one of five graded stakes on an 11-race program that starts at 12:55 p.m. Eastern.
Big Blue Kitten and Slumber, both trained by Chad Brown, will again have a pacemaker in the field in the form of Shining Copper, who finished third in the Arlington Million and fourth in the United Nations. Brown also trains Shining Copper.
Big Blue Kitten has a 3-2- 0 record from six starts at Belmont. He finished fourth to Main Sequence in last year’s Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.
“He emerged from the Million in great shape,” Brown said. “I like him on this course, yes, but there are other courses I like him on, too. He ran really well at Arlington even though he was second best.”
Big Blue Kitten will break from post 3 under Joe Bravo.
Slumber finished fourth in the 2013 Joe Hirsch – a race in which Big Blue Kitten was beaten a nose by Little Mike – but did win the Manhattan over this turf course.
Slumber was nearly put over the rail in the Arlington Million, emerging with lacerations that “were pretty significant,” Brown said. “Thankfully, he’s healed up from them and looks okay.”
Slumber will leave from post 5 under Irad Ortiz Jr.
Red Rifle, the runner-up in the Sword Dancer, has the rail. Twilight Eclipse, beaten a nose in this race last year, has post 4. Perfect Title and Quiet Force complete the field.
Hot Stones, the dominant 9 1/4-length winner of the Saratoga Dew Stakes for New York-breds at Saratoga, will take on Grade 1 winners Wedding Toast and Curalina in Saturday’s Grade 1, $400,000 Beldame Stakes.
Hot Stones tried Grade 1 company last year and finished last in the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga. She wrenched an ankle in that race and, after two losses to begin her season, has won her last two impressively.
“I’ll take the blame for her two defeats this year,” trainer Bruce Levine said. “She just wasn’t as fit as I thought she was.”
Wedding Toast makes her first start since winning the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps going 1 1/16 miles here on Belmont Stakes Day. She missed a little training time during the summer when she was being pointed to the Personal Ensign but has been working regularly since Aug. 20.
Curalina won the Grade 1 Acorn here on Belmont Stakes Day.
Completing the field are Call Pat, the Groupie Doll Stakes winner, and Catch My Drift, the Summer Colony Stakes winner.
The Beldame will go as the fifth race.
Salutos Amigos eyes upset
Rock Fall looks to be a solid favorite in Saturday’s Grade 1, $400,000 Vosburgh Stakes at six furlongs. He has won six straight races, including the Alfred G. Vanderbilt by a nose over The Big Beast.
But trainer David Jacobson isn’t conceding anything to Rock Fall. Jacobson will send out Salutos Amigos and Stallwalkin’ Dude in the Vosburgh, which awards the winner a fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland on Oct. 31.
“Put it this way: If Salutos Amigos shows up with his ‘A’ game, it’s going to be a good race,” Jacobson said.
After returning from Dubai, where he finished eighth in the Golden Shaheen, Salutos Amigos won a stakes at Monmouth Park before finishing fourth to Rock Fall in the Vanderbilt and fifth to Private Zone in the Grade 1 Forego. Salutos Amigos will break from post 6 in the Vosburgh.
Rock Fall, who is 3 for 3 at Belmont, including a powerful win in the Grade 2 True North, drew the outside post in the seven-horse field.
Palace, Wildcat Red, Weekend Hideaway, and Brothersofthetime complete the field.
Classic Point returns
Classic Point, away from the races since March, when she won the Grade 2 Inside Information Stakes, returns in Saturday’s Grade 2, $300,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap seeking her fourth consecutive victory.
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens said Classic Point had some issues with tying up internally when she returned from Florida this winter, but she appears to be in good shape now.
“She’s the heaviest I’ve ever seen her,” said Jerkens, who credited his assistant Steve Moyer with getting the filly “pointed in the right direction.”
Classic Point, who drew post 6 in the seven-horse field of fillies and mares, will take on La Verdad, who is 4 for 4 this year; Dame Dorothy, who won the Grade 1 Humana Distaff; and Room for Me, who has gone from $12,500 claimer to graded stakes-placed. Others entered are Street Story, Wavell Avenue, and Willet.
Big Blue Kitten, scoring a 1 1/2-length victory in the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth in July, will meet Slumber for the fourth straight time in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.