A pair of important Grade 1 events for turf sophomores, the $1.2 million Belmont Derby and $1 million Belmont Oaks, highlight a dynamite Stars & Stripes Racing Festival at Belmont Park on Saturday. The 1 ¼-mile affairs are among five total stakes being offered on the 11-race program and as usual, both have plenty of international flair with several overseas raiders.
The 11-horse Belmont Derby features an exciting up-and-coming pair in Arklow and Yoshida.
Arklow broke his maiden at Keeneland two starts back and followed with an excellent one-length victory over a nice field in American Turf (G2) on the Kentucky Derby undercard. Trained by Brad Cox, the Arch colt retains the services of Mike Smith. Yoshida, a Japanese-bred colt by Heart’s Cry who has raced exclusively in America for Bill Mott, also broke his maiden at Keeneland two starts ago and overpowered rivals by an easy four-length margin when stepping up to stakes company in the James W. Murphy on the Preakness undercard. John Velasquez takes over the mount.
Arklow and Yoshida each registered a commendable 101 BRIS Late Pace rating and it will be no surprise to see them continue to offer more going forward.
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner Oscar Performance was no factor in the American Turf two back but rebounded with a commendable front-running score in the June 3 Pennine Ridge (G3) at Belmont Park. Jose Ortiz rides the Brian Lynch charge. Grade 2-winning juvenile Good Samaritan will look to improve upon runner-up finishes in the American Turf and Pennine Ridge and it’s interesting to see Joel Rosario, who was up on Yoshida last time, stick with the Mott trainee.
Grade 3 scorer Ticonderoga, a rallying third in the Pennine Ridge, fits at this level for the ever-dangerous Chad Brown and will be running late with Javier Castellano. Grade 3 victor Big Score also has plenty of experience at this level, checking in third in the American Turf and second most recently in the Penn Mile (G3), and the Mr. Big colt invades from the West Coast for Tim Yakteen.
The international contingent includes a pair from Aidan O’Brien, who will be seeking his second straight Belmont Derby after winning last year with Deauville. The Irish trainer is sending out Homesman, who captured an Irish Group 3 two back and exits a fifth in the King George V Handicap at Royal Ascot; and listed winner and Grade 1-placed Whitecliffsofdover.
Called to the Bar, who exits a French Group 3 triumph in late May and has never finished worse than second in four starts, will make his U.S. debut in the Belmont Derby for conditioner Pia Brandt.
Brown, who will be seeking his third Belmont Oaks tally in four years, is well-represented with four of the 12 entrants including New Money Honey, who enters off a sharp two-length triumph in the June 8 Wonder Again (G3) at Belmont Park. The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro has won three of her last four starts, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) and Miss Grillo (G3) last season, and Castellano has the call.
Sistercharlie, one of three making their U.S. bow in the Belmont Oaks, is eligible to challenge for favoritism in her first outing for Brown. The formerly French-based filly won three of her first four starts, including a Group 3 two back, before a runner-up in the French Oaks (G1) last out. Velazquez takes over the reins. Florida Oaks (G3) winner and Wonder Again runner-up Fifty Five and last-out French stakes heroine Uni complete the Brown quartet.
O’Brien will be represented by last-out Irish stakes winner Key to My Heart. Other runners include Penn Oaks vixen Dynatail; stakes winner Coasted; and Beau Recall, who ships in from California for Simon Callaghan off runner-up efforts in the Honeymoon (G2) and Senorita (G3).