10/07/2006 12:00AM

English Channel outclasses Hirsch foes


ELMONT, N.Y. - English Channel, perhaps the best American hope in the Breeders' Cup Turf, tuned up for the challenge with an emphatic 4 1/2-length victory Saturday in the $600,000 at Belmont Park.

The Hirsch win was the third Grade 1 win of the season for the 4-year-old English Channel, trained by Todd Pletcher. English Channel ($3.30) also won the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs and the United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park. Overall, he is 4 for 6 in 2006.

"That was a dominating performance from English Channel," Pletcher said. "He settled beautifully and really responded. This horse has a heavy argument for being champion turf horse. His record stacks up with anyone's in the division."

Pletcher has now set his sights squarely on the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.

"He was fresh and ready to run today," Pletcher said. "Now we have to keep him in form and reproduce the same kind of effort four weeks from now."

For the first time, English Channel had the help of a rabbit, the recently acquired Icy Atlantic.

As expected, Icy Atlantic jumped to the lead in the seven-horse field and set a crawlingly slow pace. The three-quarter time was only 1:16.35.

"The fractions weren't that fast," Pletcher said. "The main thing, we didn't want to be on the lead with English Channel. With one horse to follow, Icy Atlantic, we knew we'd be okay."

English Channel, three wide throughout, settled in fourth while Icy Atlantic did his thing on the lead.

Once John Velazquez gave the signal at the top of the lane, English Channel explosively surged to the front.

"From the quarter pole home, it was easy," Velazquez said. "He proved today he can get 12 furlongs."

The time for the 1 1/2 miles on the firm course was 2:28.93.

Freedonia and Royal Highness, two fillies from Europe making their first U.S. starts, finished second and third, respectively.

Interpatation was fourth followed by Frost Giant, Dreadnaught, and Icy Atlantic.

The victory gave Pletcher 91 stakes wins this year, one shy of the record set by Hall of Famer and Pletcher's former boss, D. Wayne Lukas, in 1987.

"The hardest two records to accomplish are Wayne's 92 stakes wins and Frankel's 25 Grade 1 wins in a year," Pletcher said. "I didn't think the 92 was attainable but we've had an incredible run. We won't take for granted that we'll get one more, but we'll hope."