Saturday’s talent-filled Stars and Stripes Racing Festival at Belmont Park, which offers an amazing five graded stakes worth purses of $3.7 million, takes the thoroughbred racing spotlight on Saturday. The internationally popular event is led by the featured $1.2 million Belmont Derby (GIT) and $1 million Belmont Oaks (GIT) and is supported by three other mid-six-figure stakes which will see some much-loved fan favorites.
The New York weather forecast is supposed to beautiful, though slightly on the warmer side for Saturday with sunny skies forecasted and highs in the mid-80s. The Friday rain is expected to clear out and while a dry track is expected for the day Saturday, the turf course may have a little give, which is especially attractive for the multitude of European shippers.
The 10th is the featured 1 ¼-mile Belmont Derby, which is an invitational event for 3-year-olds that will be contested over the track’s inner grass course. Eleven names were entered for the event, which has been run as a summer feature since 2014 after moving from the fall when it was named the Jamaica Handicap, and has drawn the best grass sophomores from around the globe every year thanks to its new spot on the calendar and this year is no different.
Amerman Racing’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GIT) winner Oscar Performance finally got off the post-Breeders’ Cup schneid with a 1 ½-length win in the nine-furlong Pennine Ridge Stakes (GIIIT) five weeks ago. Trainer Brian Lynch said he’s confident the speedy son of Kitten’s Joy colt will give a good display of his talent this Saturday.
“He’s going into the race in very good order,” Lynch said. “We’ve had no hiccups. The prep was obviously the Pennine Ridge, and he fired a big one in there so it gives us the confidence to go forward with him, and there’s no reason to say he shouldn’t run big here this weekend.”
A confirmed early runner, there’s very little doubt jockey Jose Ortiz will send Oscar Performance from post position four and nurse him along as carefully as possible so he has something left in the tank for the stretch drive. He has some big speed, pace and class figures and has faced several of his rivals here before with mixed results, but his best makes him dangerous for a return trip to the winner’s circle.
Hall of Famer Bill Mott will send out the WinStar Farm-owned pair of Yoshida and Good Samaritan.
Japanese-bred Yoshida was a $756,000 yearling at the Japan Racing Association Sale of yearlings and weanlings in 2015 before being imported to have a career in North America. The Northern Farm-bred son of Heart’s Cry was second in his debut at Keeneland in the spring, but has won his last two, including the James W. Murphy Stakes at Pimlico May 20 in an impressive last-to-first performance. He seems to have trained well since and though he takes a step up in class, his best from way back under John Velazquez makes him dangerous at what may be a decent price.
Good Samaritan has never finished worse than third in five career starts and was second in the Penine Ridge to Oscar Performance. Woodbine’s Summer Stakes (GIIIT) hero, who was also third behind Oscar Performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, hasn’t won in nearly 10 months, but is consistent and the Harlan’s Holiday colt seems to be improving and owns some impressive figures. Like Yoshida, he’s a closer who should get the pace he likes, so all jockey Joel Rosario may need is a clean run to the wire.
Leading European trainer Aidan O’Brien, who saddled last year’s winner here in Deauville, sends the Magnier, Tabor and Smith-owned pair of Homesman and Whitecliffsofdover.
Homesman won the Airlie Stud Gallinule Stakes (GIIIT) at The Curragh two back and ships in off a fifth-place finish in the King George V. Stakes at Royal Ascot. The Kentucky-bred son of War Front and the Red Ransom mare My Annette is bred for this grassy stretch-out and looms dangerous on a course with some give under jockey Colm O’Donoghue in his New York debut. The pair drew post position three.
“Homesman is very lightly raced. He’s actually grown up to be a fine, big horse,” assistant trainer T. J. Comerford said. “They’re two similar horses. Homesman is progressing, it’s a big step up for him, but he’s entitled to do so.”
Stakes winner Whitecliffsofdover, who has never run beyond a mile in his seven-race career, enters the Belmont Derby off a very poor showing in the Jersey Stakes (GIIIT) at Ascot two weeks ago, but may appreciate the change in scenery here. Also a son of War Front, the $1.15 million son of the A.P. Indy mare Orate, who is a full sister to top sire Pulpit, should appreciate the stretch-out and if we throw out his last, he’s shown nothing but consistency. Jockey Wayne Lordan is in New York for his American debut and the pair will break from post position 10.
“I don’t think the distance will be a problem,” Comerford said about Whitecliffsofdover stretching out. “It’s not going to be a hard mile and a quarter like a mile and a quarter at home. It won’t be a problem to him. I suppose the ground, which we don’t get at home as often as you get here, should be a good look for him. He won his maiden on even ground, and was impressive that time, so he’ll handle it.”
French shipper Called to the Bar enters off a nice win in the Prix du Lys (GIIIT) at Saint-Cloud in May and the gelded son of Henrythenavigator has already won at the distance and has never finished worse than second for trainer Pia Brandt.
Arklow was the impressive winner of the American Turf Stakes (GIIT) at Churchill Down on Kentucky Derby (GI) Day, defeating a pair of good runners who we’ll also see here. And though he hasn’t raced since, he has the assets to post the mild upset, including improving speed and pace figures. Big-money rider Mike Smith will be back aboard and the pair will break from mid-pack and look for a mid-pack trip, waiting for the frontrunners to lose some gas on the front end before running them down in the lane.
Big Score is probably one of the better sophomore turf performers from the West and while he doesn’t win often, he does hit the board a lot and his win in the Transylvania Stakes (GIIIT) at Keeneland in the spring makes him dangerous here from mid-pack under jockey Flavien Prat.
Ticonderoga hails from the hot barn of Chad Brown and his numbers indicate he can pick up a piece with some better luck, considering he had some trouble in his last two since winning the Palm Beach Stakes (GIIIT) at Gulfstream Park in March. He’s another looking for a decent pace to run at and benefits from the services of Eclipse winner Javier Castellano in the irons.
Lexington Stakes (GIII) winner Senior Investment returns to the turf, where he finished fourth in his only grass try, after dipping his feet into the last two Triple Crown races. This seems like a tough spot for a return to turf.
Makarios was sixth in the Penine Ridge and may need a softer spot to find the winner’s circle.