Belmont Park in New York hosts a pair of quality international fields on Saturday as the summer racing calendar moves on and the Breeders Cup meeting moves ever more sharply into focus.
Two Grade 1 races on turf headline the card, and as always, European raiders have targeted the grass course as the place to plunder these big prizes.
Belmont Derby Invitational, Grade 1, 3-year-olds. (Race 9, Saturday)
Worth $1 million, the Belmont Derby Invitational is run over 1 ¼ miles on the turf course. The race was formerly known as the Jamaica Stakes. A field of nine goes to post on Saturday. Post draw shouldn’t matter in a relatively small field around two turns.
1 Palazzi 20/1 – Well exposed for his age and level of form does not inspire confidence that the Mark Casse inmate is a Grade 1 winner-in-waiting.
2 Bolshoi Ballet 5/4 – From the Irish powerhouse Aidan O’Brien’s stable. This son of Galileo has won four of his six races, including two Grade 3 races at Ireland’s premier track, Leopardstown. However, the biggest question mark for me will be the firm surface – the horse has had success on softer ground at home.
3 Safe Conduct 25/1 – Course winner with two wins from three races on Turf, but allowance racing looks to be his level and he is overfaced here.
4 Sainthood 8/1 – Todd Pletcher saw enough to run this horse in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished a respectable 11th. Before that he had finished second in the Grade 2 Jeff Ruby Stakes, then coming back with a Grade 3 win. That race was slated to be on the grass but was moved due to wet weather. This looks to me to be exactly the kind of opportunity that Sainthood has been waiting for. Big chance.
5 Du Jour 4/1 – Won a Grade 2 on Kentucky Derby day, coming from down the field to complete a hat-trick of wins. Trainer Bill Mott has a great record on turf and the form of that Churchill Downs win looks solid. I think he’s the one.
6 Hard Love 7/2 – A two-time course winner, trainer Jonathan Thomas knows what it takes to win a Belmont Derby after claiming the prize in 2018. Hard Love has won three of four career starts and looks a live danger here.
7 Tokyo Gold 16/1 – This Italian Derby (G2) winner also has two wins in France under his belt. Although respected, I don’t think the grey wins today.
8 Cellist 14/1 – Has shown he can front run and come from off the pace. Won last time out at Churchill Downs. Trained by Rusty Arnold, Cellist is one of the least exposed in this field and any improvement could see him run well.
9 Hidden Enemy 50/1– Is outclassed on form lines through a couple of horses that re-oppose here today. On that basis, I’m out.
Analysis and Picks
Bolshoi Ballet stands out as the European big hitter. Aidan O’Brien is extremely shrewd and has been bullish about this horse’s chances. However, the firm ground is just enough of a concern for me and as a result, I’ll take Du Jour to win today. The Grade 2 winner looks best of the home contingent and can swoop late under Flavien Prat. Sainthood and Cellist can chase him home.
Selection – Du Jour 4/1
Belmont Oaks Invitational 1 ¼ miles. Turf. Fillies (Race 7, Saturday)
Santa Barbara is a –140 favorite to win this. Another raider from the Coolmore stable of Aidan O’Brien, she has been competing for the top prizes in the UK. She finished fourth in the 1,000 Guineas and fifth in the Oaks, before a good second behind an older horse in the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes. That form makes her hard to beat.
Of the others, Plum Ali (7/1) hasn’t carried much luck in her recent starts and connections hope that a step-up in trip here will see her in an even better light. Cirona (9/1) has question marks running on a firmer surface, while Con Lima (10/1) is consistent for Todd Pletcher.
Higher Truth (10/1) aims to give trainer Chad Brown his sixth winner in this race. She’s lightly raced and won’t be running here without a chance. Gam’s Mission (10/1) has been improving but looks to have too much to do.
Santa Barbara has been very highly tried in England and looks like she’ll take all the beating here. She’s by far the most likely winner. Plum Ali can follow her home.