Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred Big Blue Kitten will try to secure his third straight Grade 1 win when he faces an expected nine rivals in the $600,000 Joe Hirsch Classic Invitational Stakes Sept. 28 at Belmont Park.
Big Blue Kitten enters Saturday's 1 ½-mile turf race off clear victories in the United Nations Stakes July 6 at Monmouth Park and the Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes Aug. 17 at Saratoga Race Course. Trained by Chad Brown, the 5-year-old Kitten's Joy horse has won four of six starts this season and has hit the board in every effort.
"He's finally getting those longer distances, and I think that, in combination with physically maturing, has him in top form, as long as the turf is firm," Brown said. "He's won two Grade 1 races in a row, so he should be a major player."
While Big Blue Kitten is enjoying his finest season, Little Mike will try to return to the form that helped him capture three Grade 1 races last year. The 6-year-old son of Spanish Steps finished fifth on the yielding turf in last year's Hirsch Turf Classic. For the first time Racing Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will ride Little Mike, who has not hit the board in four starts this season.
"At times he's been on the lead most of the time, but I've seen one of his best races was from off the pace. So it's just about a matter of getting him into a rhythm that I feel like he's comfortable with, and I won't know that until I'm on him where that is, and then just try and go from there, and so hopefully he'll come back into form," Smith said. "I'm sure they wouldn't be running him in this race if he wasn't doing well, but it's just a matter of him just getting that form back, because I know the ability's there, we've all seen it, so we just have to wait and see what happens.
"But I'm excited about riding him, because he's certainly a horse that I have a lot of respect for and always like to have ridden, so I'm getting my chance."
Trainer Shug McGaughey will send out a pair of starters in Imagining, who enters off a gate-to-wire win in a restricted stakes Aug. 25 at Saratoga Race Course; and Boisterous, who was third in the Bowling Green Handicap Sept. 7 at Belmont after capturing the Man o' War Stakes there earlier this year.
As a Breeders' Cup Challenge race, the winner will earn an all-expense paid entry to this year's Breeders' Cup Turf.