Channel Maker Gets His Grade 1 in Joe Hirsch
RSS Feeds Monday, October 1, 2018

One of the knocks on Channel Maker throughout his development was that he had a tendency to be lackadaisical about passing other horses.

With little speed showing up for the Sept. 29 edition of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes (G1T) at Belmont Park, the connections of the English Channel gelding came up with a proper solution—go to the front in the 12-furlong test and see if the view from the top was alluring enough to convince him to stay there.

Consider the shift in tactics mission accomplished. Despite being prompted throughout his front-end journey by Teodoro, Channel Maker had plenty in reserve to thwart a challenge from grade 1 winner Robert Bruce in the stretch en route to a 4 1/2-length triumph and first top-level score in the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.

Saturday marked the ninth try for Channel Maker against grade 1 company. He first dove into the deepest waters when he finished seventh in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1T), and since that time, the Bill Mott trainee put together a series of results that threatened to earn him the label of underachiever.

After breaking his maiden in the 2016 Vandal Stakes at Woodbine, Channel Maker lost seven straight races before he prevailed at the 1 1/2-mile distance in the 2017 Breeders' Stakes. He followed that run with a sixth-place finish in last year's Joe Hirsch, part of another seven-race skid he racked up before getting over the hump in the July 28 Bowling Green Stakes (G2T) at Saratoga Race Course.

In defeating the likes of grade 1 winners Sadler's JoyBigger Picture, and Hi Happy that day, Channel Maker showed his talent had top-level potential. Coming off a runner-up effort in the Aug. 25 Sword Dancer Stakes (G1T) where he rated second behind race winner Glorious Empire, the decision was made Saturday to let him roll out of post seven and see if he couldn't take advantage of the fact that expected pacesetter Hi Happy had scratched.

"We thought it would be a possibility that we could wind up on the lead," Mott said. "Everybody was all-in on letting him do it if that's the way it shaped up. With Hi Happy scratching out of the race, I assumed he scratched because of the soft going, and it kind of left the race a little void of early speed.

"A horse couldn't be doing better than he's been doing. I don't know if he can stay this good for another four or five weeks but he's just gotten better and better since we had those two runs at Saratoga. He's been hard to hold on the ground. Put it this way, he needed to run. I'm glad we didn't have to wait another four or five weeks to run."

With Jose Ortiz at the helm, Channel Maker took command past the stands for the first time and had Teodoro ranging up to his outside as he reached the opening quarter mile in :25.05 over the soft going. Those two proceeded to open up about three lengths on Carricksitting back in third through a half in :50.52 and were still clicking along well clear of their challengers through three-quarters in 1:16.31.

"At the three-eighths pole, he was still pricking his ears, waiting for somebody to come," Ortiz said. "When we left the 5 horse (Teodoro), he was waiting for somebody to come and no one came. When I asked him to go, he responded beautifully."

When Teodoro threw in the towel around the far turn, even-money favorite and Arlington Million XXXVI (G1T) winner Robert Bruce was coming with his surge on the outside and looked ready to swallow up the 5-1 shot still holding his advantage at the head of the lane. That rally didn't get too far off the ground, though, as Ortiz shook up his mount and opened up another layer of daylight on his way to covering the distance in 2:30.73.

"He's got a little different running style (from last year)," said Mott, who indicated Channel Maker would go on to the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1T), having earned 'Win and You're In' status with his Joe Hirsch triumph. "Even the last two or three times, he's always broke and been back; he's never gotten away cleanly enough to be up on the lead. But, the last couple times, he's been breaking better."

Robert Bruce held for second under Irad Ortiz Jr., 5 1/2-lengths clear of Sadler's Joy in third. Fellow grade 1 winner Spring Quality never fired and was last in the seven-horse field

"I'm disappointed. There was no pace in the race and my horse broke so well and then he ended up behind," said Chad Brown, trainer of Robert Bruce. "I'm not sure why. The winner ran really good, but the pace was so slow and after breaking so good, I don't understand why he was so far back."

Owned by Gary Barber and Wachtel Stable, Channel Maker improved his record to four wins from 20 starts with $1,090,000 in earnings. He was bred in Ontario by Tall Oaks Farm and is out of the Horse Chestnut mare In Return.

"He may go back up to Saratoga and then we'll try to get to Churchill a couple weeks beforehand," Mott said.

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