Why I'm Betting Robert Bruce in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

September 26th, 2018

There are plenty of talented horses entered in Saturday’s $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. I) at Belmont Park—five Grade 1 winners, a Canadian classic winner, a Grade 1-placed runner, and a European invader.

Still, I find it hard to look past the once-beaten Chilean-bred sensation #1 Robert Bruce, who figures to be the clear favorite in this 1 ½-mile “Win and You’re In” prep race for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I). I’ve voiced this opinion before, and I’ll voice it again—I think Robert Bruce is a beast.

Trained by Chad Brown, Robert Bruce hasn’t actually reached his fourth birthday yet—having been bred on Southern Hemisphere time, he was born on October 26th, 2014—but that hasn’t stopped him from beating up on older rivals in North America this year. After going 6-for-6 in his native country, Robert Bruce has won two of his three starts since arriving in the United States; furthermore, his only defeat came by one length in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (gr. I) in June, a race in which he received a dreadful trip and never got a chance to escape from traffic and lengthen his stride.

Robert Bruce encountered no such traffic issues in the 1 ¼-mile Arlington Million (gr. I) last time out, in part because jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. kept him at the back of the pack throughout and arguably waited too long before allowing Robert Bruce to make his move. As a result, Robert Bruce was still in last place with a furlong to run, but once he got going he swallowed the field with a tremendous turn-of-foot, powering clear to win going away in an impressive performance.

Robert Bruce will stretch out another quarter-mile in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, but he did win the Group 1 El Ensayo Mega going 1 ½ miles in Chile, so the distance shouldn’t be an obstacle. I expect him to win right back in the Joe Hirsch and affirm his status as the top U.S.-based contender for the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

#6 Spring Quality, winner of the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (gr. I), faced a tough task trying to rally into fast finishing fractions in the Sword Dancer Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga last time out. He actually only ran in the Sword Dancer because he had to withdraw from the Arlington Million after failing to travel well for the race, so I think we could see improvement from Spring Quality on Saturday. #4 Carrick, who clocked a faster final time then Robert Bruce while winning the 1 ¼-mile Secretariat Stakes (gr. I) on Arlington Million day, is an up-and-coming three-year-old that I'll strongly consider, while the speedy #8 Channel Maker finished second in the Sword Dancer and looms as one of the main dangers on the front end.

Here’s how I would play the race:

$15 to win on #1 Robert Bruce $5 exacta: 1 with 4,6,8 ($15)

Good luck!