Thursday, September 25, 2008
STRIKE A DEAL COULD SAY `CHEESE!’ IN TURF CLASSIC WIN PHOTO
For years, Alan Goldberg forged a reputation as a dangerous trainer, one who does not ship in for races on a whim but on a real chance for a win.
And Saturday afternoon, he hopes to live up to his reputation when he sends Jayeff B Stable’s Strike a Deal to Belmont Park for the 32nd running of the Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at a mile and a half on the Widener Turf Course.
Although the star of the day is defending Horse of the Year Curlin and his quest to become the first American horse to earn $10 million when he goes to post later in the day in the 90th running of the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, Strike a Deal has a big chance to upstage the day if he can win the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and end an eight-race losing streak. The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic will be race 9 (5:19 p.m. Eastern) on the 11-race card and will be the third leg of a guaranteed $500,000, all Grade 1 Pick 4.
“HE JUST CAN’T GET THE CHEESE,” bellowed Goldberg. “HE SMELLS IT. HE JUST CAN’T GET IT.”
Goldberg, however, is far from discouraged with this four-year-old, who like Curlin, is a son of Smart Strike. The colt has shown the ability to rate or to run on the lead and has raced at distances from a mile to a mile and three-eighths.
This time, Goldberg is hoping the extra furlong makes the difference.
“He just can’t seem to come up with the ideal scenario,” Goldberg said. “But he’s a genuine horse and he tries. Maybe this time, it will be his turn.”
Goldberg will go with jockey Javier Castellano for the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, which has attracted outstanding Grade 1 winners. Keep in mind, however, that Strike a Deal came within a neck of being a Grade 1 winner when he lost the 11-furlong United Nations Handicap on a yielding course at Monmouth Park to Presious Passion.
The main obstacle here is Phipps Stable’s Dancing Forever, whose career started slowly but quickly gathered momentum. Now 5, the Rahy horse has blossomed this year and got up to win the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap by a nose here on Belmont Stakes Day, June 7. He ran fifth in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational, but that is a race that Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey is willing to forgive.
“He has always been a big horse, and it took a while for him to grow into himself,” McGaughey said. “When we took him to Keeneland last year, that’s when his form started to change. He had been doing well, but in the Sword Dancer, he really didn’t like the ground that soft. When he did get hold, he started running, but he was scrambling. So, I hope that was all it was.”
The threat of rain Thursday night and Friday from a Nor’easter doesn’t have McGaughey too worried. At least, not at the moment.
“The turf is pretty hard,” he said, “and there is supposed to be a lot of wind along with the rain, so maybe it will all work out.”
Rene Douglas will ride Dancing Forever.
Presious Passion, a 5-year-old Royal Anthem gelding owned by Patricia Generazio, has lost two starts following his win in the United Nations.
“The Oceanport was simply a prep for the Sword Dancer, and it was too short for him,” said trainer Mary Hartmann. “He ran sixth, but he had a lot of trouble in that race. The Sword Dancer wasn’t a bad race because he ran fourth and the turf was beyond yielding that day. All those days of rain made that course extremely soft.”
Which raises the question of whether Presious Passion will run in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic as a predicted Nor’easter materializes in the next two days, bringing plenty of wind and rain.
“We’re going to run regardless,” Hartmann said. “We’re not sure what our plans are beyond Saturday, but we are definitely taking our shot.”
Eddie Castro has the mount on Presious Passion.
Trainer Bobby Ribaudo has done such an outstanding job with Marc Keller’s Grand Couturier (GB) that it is impossible to ignore the 5-year-old Grand Lodge horse in the Turf Classic.
He already achieved his main goal of the summer, which was winning Saratoga’s Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational for the second consecutive year. Grand Couturier is loving his trainer’s game plan and has improved throughout the year.
“He’s been a bit more manageable this year with his soundness issues,” Ribaudo said. “That’s been the biggest help. But you realize that you only have a handful of these races to go after, and there is no secret why you take it easy in the early spring and summer and point to Saratoga and the fall. Those races are all a half-million or more and you know that every horse cannot dance every dance.
“That being said, we thought about this race and we thought about the race in Canada [Pattison Canadian International at Woodbine on October 4]. Now that race is $2 million, but it is a week away. Going there almost takes you out of the Breeders’ Cup, and we want to run in the Breeders’ Cup [Turf].”
One factor that helped Ribaudo arrive at his decision to run in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic was the New York Racing Association’s decision to move the Grade 1 Man o’War from Belmont Park’s Fall Championship Meet to the spring/summer meet to create better spacing in its turf schedule.
The move proved serendipitous for everyone: the Man o’War attracted Horse of the Year Curlin – he was beaten by Red Rocks (IRE) – and it gave Grand Couturier more time to recover from his Sword Dancer victory.
“For us, it has worked out perfectly,” Ribaudo said. “He’ll have this race, and hopefully, get four weeks to get ready for the Breeders’ Cup. And with the synthetic surface out at Santa Anita, a lot of horses that would have run in the Turf are going to run in the Classic. Horses like Henrythenavigator and Duke of Marmalade not running in the Turf makes that an easier race, but certainly not an easy race.”
Alan Garcia will be back aboard Grand Couturier for the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.
Gary A. Tanaka’s Proudinsky (GER) was badly beaten in the Manhattan Handicap, ran a troubled sixth in Saratoga’s Grade 2 Bernard Baruch and then ran second by a neck in the Monmouth Stakes to Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner Big Brown. Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel has a serious contender here, and jockey Ramon Dominguez will ride.
Also entered here are Summer Patriot, who has won three of his last four starts but takes a big jump in class; Interpatation, who was third in the Sword Dancer, Grade 3 winner Jade’s Revenge and graded-stakes placed Elusive Fort (SAF).
The field for Saturday’s 32nd running of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational:
PP. HORSE TRAINER JOCKEY
1. Interpatation Robert Barbara Jose Espinoza
2. Elusive Fort (SAF) Raja Malek Robby Albarado
3. Dancing Forever Shug McGaughey Rene Douglas
4. Proudinsky (GER) Robert Frankel Ramon Dominguez
5. Summer Patriot Barclay Tagg Eibar Coa
6. Grand Couturier (GB) Robert Ribaudo Alan Garcia
7. Strike a Deal Alan Goldberg Javier Castellano
8. Presious Passion Mary Hartmann Eddie Castro
9. Jade’s Revenge H. Graham Motion Edgar Prado
All starters will carry 126 pounds under the weight-for-age conditions. (No three year-olds were entered.).
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