09/30/2007 12:00AM

English Channel repeats in Joe Hirsch Turf Classic

EmailELMONT, N.Y. - Johnny Velazquez had a ton of horse aboard 2-5 favorite English Channel entering the stretch of Sunday's $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, he just needed some room.

Velazquez finally found some space at the eighth pole and he was able to squeeze English Channel on through en route to a 2 1/4-length victory over Stream of Gold in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch at Belmont Park. It was three lengths back to Interpatation in third.

Kiss the Kid, Mission Approved, Green Girl, and Mustanfar completed the order of finish.

As part of the Breeders' Cup's "Win and You're In" format, English Channel guaranteed himself a spot in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27. English Channel finished third in last year's BC Turf and fifth in 2005.

English Channel was virtually assured of getting into the Turf regardless of the outcome of the Joe Hirsch, but the race looked like the perfect prep to get him there as he towered over his six rivals.

The often-head-strong English Channel rated pretty well for Velazquez Sunday and he came to the quarter pole a close-up fourth after Mission Approved had carved out splits of 23.96 seconds 49.45, 1:13.73, and 1:38.23. Velazquez had no choice but to stay on the inside and wait for some room to open. Though Velazquez had to take a strong hold of English Channel at the three-sixteenths pole, Mission Approved drifted just enough at the eighth pole for English Channel to get through.

Stream of Gold, under Eddie Castro, had gotten the jump on English Channel, but English Channel had no trouble running him down. Trained by Todd Pletcher for James Scatuorchio, English Channel covered the 1 3/8 miles in 2:25.73 over firm turf and returned $2.80.

It was the second straight year English Channel won this race.

"I was committed in there and I was going to die in there," Velazquez said. "When I saw Coa's horse was drifting a little bit I pointed to the rail and I got him there and I made sure Coa knew I was there so he didn't come in and put me over the fence."

English Channel has now won 12 of 22 starts and banked $3,699,028.