Winchester unleashed a
powerful stretch run to collar favored Paddy O’Prado and win the 34th
renewal of the Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park on Saturday afternoon.
sat well-reserved at the back of the pack as Interpatation, last year’s Turf
Classic winner, led the field through pokey opening fractions of 25.58 and
52.98. Ninth and last through a mile in 1:20.37, Winchester angled out and
began to advance on the far turn, finding himself four wide coming into the
stretch, where he closed strongly to finish a length in front.
His final time for the 1 ½ miles was 2:36.09 over yielding
“The track is very soft so my horse was more comfortable
getting covered up,” said winning jockey Cornelio Velasquez. “Then, in the last
quarter, I put him in the clear and he finished very well.”
It was the second Grade 1 victory for Winchester,
whom Velasquez piloted to win the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap at Belmont on June 5. With
today’s win, the 5-year-old son of Theatrical ran his record to 5-5-2 from 19
starts and pushed his earnings over the $1 million mark to $1,057,898 for
owners Mr. and Mrs. Bertram R. Firestone. The Firestones also campaigned
Theatrical, who won the Turf Classic in 1987, and April Run, who took
back-to-back editions of the race in 1981 and 1982.
“On that ground [how far back they are] is irrelevant,” said
winning trainer Christophe Clement, who also conditions third-place finisher
Grassy. “When the ground is soft, either they like it or they don’t. He won the
very firm ground, which slightly puzzled me because I’ve always thought he was
better with a cut [in the ground]. We’re very lucky. He’s a very nice horse and
he’s won a Grade 1 on both types of turf. I think after this race, as long as
he trains well, we’ll have to think about the Breeders’ Cup [Turf].”
In the Manhattan, Winchester upset his dual
Eclipse-award winning stablemate Gio Ponti, who finished second to
Interpatation in the 2009 Turf Classic as he sought his fifth consecutive Grade
1 victory. This year, Clement has trained the winners of three of the four
Grade 1 turf route races run on the NYRA circuit, capturing the Manhattan and Turf Classic with Winchester and Man o’War with Gio Ponti.
“It’s great, I’m a lucky guy,” said Clement. “It’s wonderful
because Mr. and Mrs. Firestone have been supporting New York racing forever, I’ve never won
[this race before], they’ve won it three times before, and I’m just lucky to
train for that kind of people.”
The mare Treat Gently finished fourth, with Telling, Never
On Sunday, Interpatation, Strike a Deal and Bearpath completing the order of
finish. Al Khali and Solitaire were scratched.