10/01/2011 3:47PM

Belmont Park: Cape Blanco gives his all in narrow Hirsch score

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Tom Keyser
Cape Blanco (right) holds off Dean's Kitten to win the Hirsch by a nose.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Cape Blanco dug deep to capture a third straight Grade 1 stakes on Saturday, holding off Dean’s Kitten by a nose in the Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park.

The Hirsch was the second Breeders’ Cup Challenge Win and You’re In victory for Cape Blanco, who is assured a spot in the BC Turf.

He had to work hard to secure the Hirsch. A 4-year-old colt trained in Ireland by Aidan O’Brien, Cape Blanco started the winning streak with the Man o’ War at Belmont and then captured the Arlington Million.

In between each U.S. race, Cape Blanco returned to Ireland, a remarkable show of fortitude as he has withstood the travel and the quarantines to maintain a high level of success.

In the Man o’ War and the Arlington Million, Cape Blanco scored decisive wins. It was a much different scenario in the Hirsch, contested over a yielding course.

As expected, former claimer turned Grade 1 winner Mission Approved set the pace in the five-horse field. Cape Blanco broke from the rail and jockey Jamie Spencer quickly moved him outside into the two path to stalk the leader.

There they sat, while Mission Approved set slow fractions - 52.42, 1:19.37 and 1:44.92 - on the squishy course.

Spencer turned Cape Blanco loose three furlongs from the wire and he quickly took the lead. That was also the cue for Dean’s Kitten, with Ramon Dominguez aboard, to take up the chase.

Cape Blanco led by 1 1/2 lengths turning for home but Spencer, sensing trouble, was all over his colt through the lane. Spencer kept whipping and driving as Dean’s Kitten persistently ate into the lead. It came down to the final head bob.

“The ground was very testing,” Spencer said. “It was sticky. His heart won it in the end. Whenever you ask him, he finds more. I was glad to win, but the ground was totally against this horse. He wasn’t handling the surface.”

Cape Blanco got his ninth win in 15 starts, paying $3.20 to win. The time was 2:36.61 for the 1 1/2 miles.

It was heartbreaker for Dean’s Kitten, longest shot in the race at 14-1.

“He’s just getting better and better,” said trainer Mike Maker. “Maybe we’ll get them at Churchill Downs. We’ll go on to the Breeders’ Cup Turf.”

Grassy was third followed by Mission Approved and Winchester, the defending Hirsch winner and 2-1 second choice.