09/29/2011 1:30PM

Belmont Park: Cape Blanco jets back in for Hirsch Turf Classic

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Barbara D. Livingston
Cape Blanco is targeting his third straight Grade 1 victory in Saturday's $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Welcome back, traveler.

Cape Blanco seeks a third straight Grade 1 victory Saturday in the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park.

While his dominant wins in the Man o’ War at Belmont and the Arlington Million are notable accomplishments, the fact that Cape Blanco shuttled back and forth from trainer Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle training center in Ireland to the United States for each race makes the feat even more remarkable.

So much for jet lag.

“He appears to be in great form, so we’re hopeful he’ll run somewhere close to best again in the Joe Hirsch,” O’Brien said. “He’s an extremely laid-back horse, so the traveling doesn’t seem to take too much out of him.”

Cape Blanco breaks from the rail against five rivals in the 1 1/2-mile Breeders’ Cup Challenge Win and You’re In stakes. The winner is guaranteed a berth in the $3 million Turf.

BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Racing schedule, replays, and past winners »

Both Cape Blanco and Teaks North have already secured Breeders’ Cup slots with earlier Challenge wins. Cape Blanco earned his way in with the Arlington Million victory, while Teaks North punched his ticket in the Grade 1 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park.

While small in numbers, the Joe Hirsch attracted a quality field that includes four Grade 1 winners this season.

Like Cape Blanco, Teaks North is dual Grade 1 winner in 2011, having also captured the Gulfstream Park Handicap in February.

Winchester, the defending Joe Hirsch champion and one of two runners in the field trained by Christophe Clement, won the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga in his latest effort.

Mission Approved, a $35,000 claim by owner-trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul in June 2010, pulled off a 21-1 stunner in the Grade 1 Manhattan on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

Grassy, the uncoupled stablemate of Winchester, and Dean’s Kitten complete the field.

By any yardstick, Cape Blanco is the horse to beat as Jamie Spencer will again ride the 4-5 favorite.

Cape Blanco is 8 for 14 in his brilliant career, having also won a pair of Group 1 stakes last season in his native Ireland: the Irish Derby and the Irish Champion Stakes. He has earned more than $3.5 million, easily the best total in the field. Cape Blanco posted Beyer Speed Figures of 102 and 105 in his two U.S. triumphs, easily outstripping the competition.

And he has already won a 1 1/2 miles.

Cape Blanco was winless in three races to start the season, including a one-length loss in the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup on the synthetic track at Meydan.

Following a sixth-place finish in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, O’Brien decided Cape Blanco might benefit from a new venue.

It worked spectacularly well as Cape Blanco defeated two-time defending turf champion Gio Ponti by 2 1/4 lengths in the Man o’ War.

“He has always shown great tactical speed, so we were fairly confident he’d be well suited by the American style of racing, but you never really know until you try,” O’Brien said.

Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Field

POST HORSE JOCKEY TRAINER

1

Cape Blanco (IRE) J. Spencer
126 Lbs
A. O'Brien

1

Teaks North J. Castellano
126 Lbs
J. Sallusto

1

Dean's Kitten R. Dominguez
126 Lbs
M. Maker

1

Mission Approved R. Maragh
126 Lbs
N. Chatterpaul

1

Winchester C. Velasquez
126 Lbs
C. Clement

1

Grassy J. Velazquez
126 Lbs
C. Clement