Day at the Beach

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It’s about 6 p.m. Saturday evening and Belmont Park is quiet. As the sun began to dip toward the horizon, its last rays shined through the windows in the back of the grandstand, blanketing the facility in an orange glow. The last of 10 races on the program, the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, was complete and the facility emptied out, leaving the apron nearly barren. Among the stragglers were Chad Brown, trainer of winner Beach Patrol, and a small gaggle of reporters.

Brown wrapped up an improvised press conference in the winner’s circle, headed out through the gate, and made his way toward the tunnel. In hand, about a dozen purple Breeders’ Cup hats commemorating the race’s “Win and You’re In” status for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. His walk was solitary, only occasionally broken up by the odd “congratulations” or “way to go,” from the few racegoers remaining on the scene.

“We run the place here,” Brown joked as he passed a group of his morning riders in the tunnel. “My riders, they like that. They do a really good job.”

He may have been kidding, but with the numbers he’s posted this meet at Belmont, it’s difficult to gauge how much of it was tongue-in-cheek and how much was serious. Brown has stuffed the box with 65 starters through the first 16 days of racing in the Fall Championship Meet. He leads all trainers at Belmont with 21 victories through Sunday, more than double Saratoga leader Todd Pletcher’s nine.

“We have a terrific team and we have a really talented group of horses to work with. We’re real lucky,” Brown said. “We all get up as a team every day and I think of everything we have to work with, wonderful horses and clients that own them. I’m in a really good spot.”

Beach Patrol became Brown’s latest winner in the $500,000 Hirsch. While Fanciful Angel threw his head to the right as the gates opened, Sadler’s Joy loafed out of the gate, and several other rivals took back, Beach Patrol broke sharply under Joel Rosario. Oscar Performance came out running, too, with Jose Ortiz asking and took the lead in the opening sixteenth. Rosario planned to go to the front with his mount, but as 99-1 shot Converge darted through an opening at the rail and took off, he altered his strategy.

“I thought we were going to be just probably just right in front of Jose, Oscar Performance,” Rosario said. “But it looked like somebody else had showed some speed and Jose kind of just took back and I just tried to follow that horse that was in front.”

Holding his head high and climbing in his action as he streaked over the turf, Converge set an opening quarter of :23.81. He opened 3 1/2 lengths on Beach Patrol nearing the first turn and after a :48.23 half, Converge raced on a 7-length lead. Converge’s strides shortened past 6 furlongs in 1:13.81 and with a half-mile to run, his lead was only a length.

Rosario guided Beach Patrol alongside Converge entering the far turn while Oscar Performance advanced along the hedge in third. Brown’s other runner, Money Multiplier, tracked Beach Patrol while Fanciful Angel followed in fifth. As Converge weakened and backed through the field, Rosario struck the front with Beach Patrol, still 3 furlongs from the finish. Meanwhile, Oscar Performance shifted one path off the hedge to go around Converge.

“The horse that was in front of me kind of just backed up to me and I wasn’t asking anything too much,” Rosario said. “I was just keeping my spot where I was. I didn’t want to ask him too much just in case. I don’t like to move a little early.”

Beach Patrol swung wide into the stretch on the lead and Rosario guided his mount toward the rail to race alongside Oscar Performance, who advanced to the leader’s flank. While Ortiz went to the stick, Rosario shook up his mount and Beach Patrol kicked away from Oscar Performance, opening 2 lengths a furlong out. Although he dealt a few reminders in the final sixteenth, Rosario never broke out the whip on Beach Patrol, who increased his margin to 5 under the wire.

Fanciful Angel passed Oscar Performance in the final stride to nab second by a nose. Sadler’s Joy finished fourth. Beach Patrol completed 12 furlongs in 2:26.29.

“He just loves to run,” Rosario said. “When we got there, he just kicked it in and gave it to me. I was very confident when we were turning for home. I was pretty sure he was going to run a big race.”

Beach Patrol’s Hirsch victory is his second Grade 1 in a row after taking the Arlington Million in August and his third career Grade 1, adding to the Secretariat victory in Chicago as a 3-year-old. His back-to-back scores for owners James Covello, Sheep Pond Partners and Head of Plains Partners ended a six-race losing streak, all in graded stakes, and came after Joel Rosario got back on board in the Million.

“The horse is really developing nicely. He’s always been a class horse, he was a Grade 1 winner at age 3, he’s a very consistent horse,” Brown said. “Joel has really clicked with this horse. They’re developing great chemistry together. He understands the horse, he’s done a fantastic job of riding this horse for us and the horse has really responded. He’s only 4, he’s getting better.”

Rosario also rides Beach Patrol in the mornings and was aboard for the son of Lemon Drop Kid’s recent moves over the Belmont turf, completing 5 furlongs in 1:00.20 Sept. 24 and 1:01.02 Sept. 17. Rosario credits agent Ron Anderson for getting the mount back in the Arlington Million. Rosario rode Beach Patrol to a sixth in his first start for Brown in the Grade 3 Penn Mile last June and didn’t get the call again until the Million.

“He’s not an aggressive horse or anything like that. If you want to go a half-mile breezing in :55, he’ll go :55. If you want to go :48, he will do that. He’s a very kind horse, he’s a very easy horse to ride,” Rosario said. “He’s kind of like a free runner, you just let him do his thing and then he gives it to you. He’s a very good horse.”

Brown will point Beach Patrol to the Breeders’ Cup Turf, run over the same 1 1/2-mile distance of the Hirsch, at Del Mar Nov. 4. Although he’s trained eight Breeders’ Cup winners since 2012, Brown is careful not to overestimate his chances in the $4 million stakes that will attract some of Europe’s top stayers.

“The Breeders’ Cup is tough. We’ve had a lot of success there, but I don’t take it for granted,” Brown said. “You have to have a lot of luck. It’s international races and everyone brings their best. You have to work towards every win and I think we’re bringing out a good group again this year, but it’s going to be difficult to win one of those races.”