09/27/2007 11:00PM

English Channel odds-on in Turf Classic

EmailELMONT, N.Y. - Given his history in this race, English Channel looms a dominant favorite against six rivals Sunday in the Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park.

With a victory, English Channel would become only the third horse to win the 1 1/2-mile Turf Classic twice, joining April Run (1981-82) and Val's Prince (1997, 1999).

English Channel missed by only a head in his first Hirsch attempt as a 3-year-old in 2005 and romped by 4 1/2 lengths last year at 3-5. The price doesn't figure to be more enticing this time.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has meticulously followed the same scheduling pattern of the last two years with English Channel: a mid-August race followed by a freshening for the Turf Classic.

"We're hoping for a performance similar to what we've gotten the last couple of years," Pletcher said.

The Turf Classic is part of the Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" Challenge. The winner gets an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Turf on Oct. 27 at Monmouth Park.

Not that English Channel needs any help. He ranks high among the divisional leaders with a win and two seconds in Grade 1 races this year. He has accumulated more than enough points to qualify for the Breeders' Cup, a victory in which is one of the few unachieved goals for the 5-year-old, who has captured 11 races and more than $3.3 million.

He was fifth in the Turf in 2005 and third last year.

This could be the year English Channel breaks through with the Breeders' Cup shifting to Monmouth Park. He has won the last two runnings of the Grade 1 United Nations Stakes there.

"We're excited for him that the Breeders' Cup is at Monmouth," Pletcher said. "I'm sure there will be some European imports there that will have something to say in the outcome. It's encouraging that his record is good there."

Usual rider John Velazquez will be aboard from the rail.

Most of English Channel's Turf Classic rivals will need a "Win and You're In" upset Saturday to join him at Monmouth on Oct. 27.

With the Breeders' Cup at her home track this year, owner-trainer Amy Tarrant would love to see Kiss the Kid in the Turf. He's short on graded stakes points and needs a Turf Classic stunner to make that dream a reality.

"I love being in this spot," Tarrant said. "I am the complete underdog. If I can get really lucky, good for me."

On the plus side, Kiss the Kid owns the best last-race Beyer Speed Figure, a 103 for a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Oceanport Stakes at Monmouth on Aug. 5.

Stewart Elliott picks up the mount as Kiss the Kid ventures beyond 1 1/4 miles for the first time.

"The biggest problem will be to keep him alert and engaged the whole time," Tarrant said. "I think he's fit enough to go the mile and a half. He comes out of a really nice race and he is training like a monster."

Completing the field are Mission Approved, a winner of two straight stakes; the French mare Green Girl; Interpatation, who was fourth in this race last year; and two from trainer Kiaran McLaughlin running uncoupled: Mustanfar and Stream of Gold.