Saturday is Stars and Stripes Day at Belmont Park and five graded stakes, including a pair of important Grade 1 turf tests for 3-year-olds, will be offered on the 11-race program.
The $1.2 million Belmont Derby (G1) and $1 million Belmont Oaks (G1) serve as the main events. In 2014, NYRA re-named the Jamaica (Belmont Derby) and Garden City (Belmont Oaks), increased purses and re-scheduled the races from fall to early July. The move yielded immediate dividends as both races significantly improved their profile in terms of depth and quality of competition.
Every running of the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks has attracted international interest, with a pair of European shippers entered for the Derby and a trio of overseas challengers ready for the Oaks this year.
The 1 ¼-mile Belmont Derby features a rematch of June 2 Pennine Ridge (G3) at Belmont when Catholic Boy re-rallied to edge Analyze It by a neck after being passed in the stretch.
Catholic Boy won his first two starts last year, including the grassy With Anticipation (G3), before recording a close fourth in an extremely salty edition of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Del Mar. The son of More Than Ready concluded his juvenile season with a romp in the Remsen (G2) on the main track and began 2018 on the Kentucky Derby trail for Jonathon Thomas.
Second when returning in the Sam F. Davis (G3), Catholic Boy was redirected to turf following a well-beaten fourth in the Florida Derby (G1). He left the starting gate as the 4-1 second choice in the Pennine Ridge and after showing the way on a clear lead, displayed tremendous resolve to battle his way back to the fore over being overhauled in upper stretch. Javier Castellano sticks with the likely front-runner.
Analyze It left the starting gate as the 1-5 favorite in the Pennine Ridge and appeared well on his way to remaining unbeaten before stunningly coming up empty in deep stretch, coughing up a clear advantage after surging past the pacesetter in the 1 1/8-mile event. A convincing winner of his first three outings, including a pair of Grade 3 events, the Point of Entry colt seemed no worse for the wear afterward, recording a trio of workouts for Chad Brown in the 35-day interim, and Analyze It will look to rebound with a top-class performance that puts him in the winner’s circle again. Jose Ortiz rides.
Hawkish rates as dangerous challenger following a visually-impressive romp in the Penn Mile (G3). Conditioned by Jimmy Toner, the Artie Schiller gelding has displayed an outstanding turn foot winning three of four starts so far and is a candidate to make his presence felt if able to handle the added ground Saturday. Manny Franco retains the assignment.
A total of nine are entered including Hunting Horn, who invades for Irish-based conditioner Aidan O’Brien following a 4 ½-length score in the June 21 Hampton Court (G3) at Royal Ascot. Both career wins have come at the 10-furlong trip and the son of Camelot will be guided by Ryan Moore. French-based Kingstar will be tested for class in his second outing of the year, but the lightly-raced colt appears to have a nice upside for Pia Brandt. Runner-up in a French Group 3 when making his second career start and juvenile finale, Kingstar opened his sophomore season with a convincing allowance score at Longchamp on June 2. Pierre-Charles Boudot will accompany the chestnut.
A rallying fifth in the Kentucky Derby, My Boy Jack will switch back to turf for Keith Desormeaux. The Creative Cause colt raced five times on the sod last year, recording a win and a second in stakes competition, but switched to the main track earlier this year and stamped his Kentucky Derby ticket by posting wins in the Southwest (G3) and Lexington (G3) and a close third in the Louisiana Derby (G2). Kent Desormeaux will be in to ride the confirmed closer for his brother.
Completing the Belmont Derby field are American Turf (G2) winner and Penn Mile fourth-placer Maraud; and Channel Cat and Encumbered, third and fifth respectively in the Pennine Ridge.
Seven of the 10 fillies in the competitive Belmont Oaks are grade/group winners including La Signare, a French import who has run well in a pair of U.S. starts since being transferred to Brian Lynch. A daughter of Siyouni, La Signare led wire-to-wire posting a one-length score in the June 7 Wonder Again (G3) at Belmont Park and Joel Rosario will be back aboard.
Significant Form finished second as the 4-5 favorite in the Wonder Again and remains a top contender for Brown, who has won three of the four runnings of the Belmont Oaks. The leading turf trainer will also send out Mighty Scarlett, who rallied for third when making her first start against winners in the Wonder Again. Significant Form, who captured the Miss Grillo (G3) at Belmont last fall and opened this season with a win in the Memories of Silver at Aqueduct, will keep Irad Ortiz Jr. Jose Ortiz has the call on Mighty Scarlett.
The Europeans appear to have a big chance as well. Athena is still seeking her first stakes triumph, but the O’Brien-trained miss displayed fine class when fourth in the June 21 Ribblesdale (G2) at Royal Ascot and third in the July 1 Pretty Polly (G1) at The Curragh. Moore will be up. Capla Temptress returns stateside after opening 2018 with a close fourth in the French Oaks (G1). The Marco Botti-trainee shipped to North America last fall and recorded a win in the Natalma (G1) at Woodbine and a seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). Castellano takes over the reins. Chipolata, who is twice stakes-placed in France this year and will make her first outing for Christophe Clement, completes the foreign contingent.
Thewayiam, who opened her sophomore season with three consecutive stakes tallies, merits serious consideration for Graham Motion. The French-bred filly found the one-mile distance a little short when closing boldly to be a neck second in the June 2 Penn Oaks and should appreciate the stretch out to 1 ¼ miles on Saturday. She gets a new rider in John Velazquez. Toinette brings improving form into her first Grade 1 test for Neil Drysdale. A maiden winner in late January, the Scat Daddy filly followed with an allowance tally at Keeneland and exits a game neck score over Rushing Fall in the May 4 Edgewood (G3) at Churchill Downs. Flavien Prat will be at the controls.
Paved, who defeated males when taking the El Camino Real Derby earlier this year, ships in from California off a convincing win in the June 9 Honeymoon (G2). Gary Stevens rides for Mike McCarthy. Fatale Bere faltered as the Honeymoon favorite but showed fine class when winning the Providencia (G3) at Santa Anita two back. Desormeaux has the call for Leonard Powell.