Big Blue Kitten seeks elusive Turf Classic win
Second by a nose two years ago and fourth as part of a favored entry in 2014, perhaps the third time will be the charm for Big Blue Kitten in Saturday's $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) at Belmont Park.
The 1 1/2-mile fixture on the Widener Turf is the most lucrative of five Breeders' Cup preps that will be held on the day's card.
Now seven, Big Blue Kitten is seemingly better than ever. The deep closer prevailed by more than two lengths in the Fort Marcy (G3) to kick off the season, was second to Slumber on good ground in the Manhattan (G1), and then got revenge on that foe in the United Nations (G1) at Monmouth Park. Last time, the ridgling fell a neck short of catching course specialist The Pizza Man in the Arlington Million (G1).
In addition to Big Blue Kitten, Chad Brown saddles Slumber, who didn't appear to handle the softish Million ground when eighth as the 3-1 favorite, and Shining Copper, the Million pacesetter who only missed by a length at odds of 27-1. The latter again looks like the controlling speed on paper, but couldn't quite see out 11 furlongs two back in the United Nations as a 129-1 outsider.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Red Rifle enters the Turf Classic in excellent form, with wins in the Dominion Day (G3) and Bowling Green H. (G2) and a second to the talented European invader Flintshire in the Sword Dancer Invitational (G3) in his last three starts.
Twilight Eclipse, second by a neck to Main Sequence in this event a year ago, earned a rare victory in the Man o' War (G1) here in May, but has since reverted to his minor-check getting ways with thirds in the United Nations and Sword Dancer.
Also possibly undone by the soft conditions at the Arlington Million was Quiet Force, who had previously taken the Arlington H. (G3) by three parts of a length over subsequent Grade 3 scorer Middleburg. He will need a career best, while Perfect Title is the rank outsider in the Turf Classic field of seven.
Wedding Toast, who dominated the Ogden Phipps (G1) and Ruffian (G2) at the Belmont spring/summer meet, returns to action in the $400,000 Beldame (G1) over 1 1/8 miles.
The Godolphin homebred's most notable opponent is Curalina, the Acorn (G1) and Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) winner attempting to stay in the three-year-old championship picture after a third-place effort in the Alabama (G1) behind the front-running Embellish the Lace.
Also among the field of six is one-turn specialist House Rules and recent Groupie Doll (G3) winner Call Pat.
Azar, maiden-breaking winner of the With Anticipation (G2) at Saratoga earlier this month, faces that race's runner-up Next Shares again in the $200,000 Pilgrim (G3), a 1 1/16-mile inner turf prep for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).
Chad Brown might have the two fear most, though, in debut winners Eidmilaad and Ray's The Bar. The former kicked off his career with a 1 3/4-length score at the Spa on August 30, while Ray's The Bar was up in time to win by a head at Ascot going seven furlongs in July.
Big Blue Kitten posting a 1 ½-length victory in the United Nations courtesy of Bill Denver/Equi-Photo