Gufo Punches Ticket to Breeders’ Cup Turf on Action-Packed Belmont Card

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Gufo rallied powerfully to win the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes Oct. 3 on an action-packed card at Belmont Park that featured five graded stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Otter Bend Stables’ consistent 3-year-old Gufo turned in another strong performance to win the $250,000, Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes Oct. 3 at Belmont Park, his first top-level victory.

The Declaration of War colt trained by Christophe Clement has now won five of seven starts and placed in the other two.

“He won well. I thought he had a great trip from Junior [Alvarado] and when he asked him to quicken, he really quickened well in the stretch. He’s a good horse,” Clement said. “If you look at all his races this year, he’s been running well all year round. I know he got beat last time [second in the Saratoga Derby Invitational] but he actually ran a winning race when you look back at it.”

Prior to the Aug. 15 Saratoga Derby, Gufo won the Grade 3 Kent Stakes July 4  at Delaware Park and the May 2 English Channel Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

In the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Derby, Gufo was tucked inside and was sixth early as Todd Pletcher stablemates Mo Ready and No Work showed the way. Mo Ready set fractions of :24.67, :50.61, and 1:15.56 through six furlongs, at which point Gufo had moved up to fourth. Mo Ready ran a mile a in 1:39.26 but was down to a head advantage in early stretch.

No Word had just grabbed the lead when Gufo rolled past the front-runners on the outside to complete the distance in 2:02.25 on firm turf.

Gufo won by a length over No Word and Mo Ready was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third, holding on by three-quarters of a length over Ajourneytofreedom.

Gufo survived a stewards’ inquiry before entering the winner’s circle, with stewards reviewing when he moved in front of Moon Over Miami in the home stretch.

“One thing that he gives you quick is the movement to left and right,” Alvarado said. “He caught me by surprise there and I tried to correct him, but he’s just very quick when he does that. He did it with Johnny [Velazquez] once, but mentally he was prepared. They still didn’t catch me. I think it was a little clear enough over the horse. I was moving forward at that point. I was pretty happy with the way he ran today.

“After that he was completely fine. He focused and was very straightforward after that. He galloped out and finished up strong. He could have easily gone another eighth of a mile.”

The Belmont Derby awarded Gufo an automatic berth in the Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf Nov.  7 at Keeneland. Clement said he would check with the owner and see how Gufo comes out of Saturday’s race before a decision on Breeders’ Cup, though he also noted Del Mar has the Nov. 28 Hollywood Derby, a Grade 1 at 1 1/8 miles.

Front-Running Channel Maker Strikes in Joe Hirsch

The classy Channel Maker, making his fourth appearance in the $250,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes, won the race for a second time with a front-running victory.

Owned by Wachtel Stable, Gary Barber, R. A. Hill Stable, and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Channel Maker was ridden to victory by jockey Manny Franco.

A 6-year-old English Channel gelding, the Bill Mott-trained Channel Maker won the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic in 2018. He finished second in the race last year to Arklow and was sixth in 2017.

When the gates opened for the 1 1/2-mile event, Channel Maker sprung to the early lead while racing off the hedge on the Widener turf course. The pacesetter was joined by Cross Border to his outside, but Channel Maker, who was running comfortably, never relinquished his lead while setting fractions of :22.89, :49.44, 1:14.45, 1:38.20, and 2:01.98.

The final time on the firm course was 2:25.99.

Channel Maker’s margin of victory was 2 1/4 lengths over Laccario, who traveled from Germany for the race. It was another half-length back to third-place Sadler’s Joy in the seven-horse field of older males.—Karen Johnson

Complexity Turns Back Code of Honor to Win Kelso

The $139,500 Kelso Handicap was not the first time Complexity and Code of Honor finished one-two, respectively, in graded stakes action at Belmont Park.

At the same course and one-mile distance in October 2018, Complexity was successful over Code of Honor in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes. Though Code of Honor stumbled at the start of the Champagne, he did not have the same excuse for being unable to run down Complexity in the Kelso.

Code of Honor has won five graded stakes since the Champagne, including last season’s Runhappy Travers Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles, but the Kelso was the first graded win for Complexity in two years. The now 4-year-old Maclean’s Music colt picked up an allowance-optional claiming score in New York in November 2019 and another one July 2 — his first start back since December — and showed Saturday he still has the same credentials that carried him to graded glory as a juvenile.

Jose Ortiz was aboard Complexity, who is trained by Chad Brown for Klaravich Stables.

“He was very relaxed and Jose rode him terrific. It worked out well,” Brown said. “I thought Javier [Castellano] rode a smart race with Code of Honor. He didn’t let us get too far away and he was up next to us in the stretch and I was actually a little worried. I have a lot of respect for Code of Honor. They threw it down in the stretch and we just had a little bit more today.”—Christine Oser

Front-Running Fire At Will Powers to Victory in Pilgrim

Three Diamonds Farm’s Fire At Will utilized a front-running approach under Kendrick Carmouche to capture the $150,000, Grade 2 Pilgrim Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile inner turf test for juveniles.

Public Sector, the 4-5 favorite, broke sharply under Javier Castellano, who elected to settle along the hedge as Fire At Will battled his way to the front over a game Zippy Baby to set the opening quarter-mile in :25.58.

Fire At Will, who graduated last out in the off-the-turf With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, maintained his lead down the backstretch as Zippy Baby tracked in second outside of Step Dancer with Public Sector saving ground in fourth through a half-mile in :50.35.

Step Dancer, piloted by Dylan Davis, angled off the rail through the turn with Public Sector following suit, but Fire At Will surged away from his rivals at the top of the lane and continued to find more en route to a two-length score. Fire At Will stopped the clock in 1:43.46 on the firm inner turf.

Frank’s Rockette Waltzes in Gallant Bloom

Frank Fletcher Racing Operations’ Frank’s Rockette sailed home in the stretch to a hand-ridden victory against elders and notched a fourth straight win in the $145,500, Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap.

Piloted by jockey Junior Alvarado, the sophomore daughter of Into Mischief crossed the finish line a 7 1/4-length winner in a time of 1:16.12 for 6 1/2 furlongs on the fast main track.

Honor Way, who reared up at the start, rallied to finish second, three-quarters of a length in front of third-place finisher Royal Charlotte. Bertranda and Pacific Gale completed the order of finish. Bronx Beauty was scratched.

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