Saturday’s $1 million Belmont Derby (G1) has so far eluded the powerful Chad Brown stable since it became a seven-figure race and extended to 1 1/4 miles in 2014, but the barn will take four swings at the centerpiece of Belmont’s Stars and Stripes Racing Festival.
Demarchelier and Digital Age enter with identical three-for-three records for Brown. The former captured the main local prep, the Pennine Ridge (G3), by a half-length over Seismic Wave, while the latter earned back-to-back tallies in the $75,000 Columbia at Tampa Bay Downs and American Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs earlier in the year.
Brown also sends out French import Rockemperor, who missed by a neck in the Prix la Force (G3) two back but was only sixth in the Prix du Jockey Club (G1) when bet down to 2-1. The quartet is rounded out by Standard Deviation, a minor stakes winner at Monmouth last month.
Coolmore and trainer Aidan O’Brien won the Belmont Derby three years ago with Deauville, and will try to take it again with Cape of Good Hope and Blenheim Palace. Cape of Good Hope followed a victory in the Blue Riband Trial at Epsom with a fourth in the Prix du Jockey Club and a 10th in the Hampton Court (G3) at Royal Ascot, while Blenheim Palace ran second just last week in a Group 3 at The Curragh.
“The ground didn’t help last time as it was soft the first two days at Ascot. He likes hard ground,” O’Brien’s assistant T.J. Comerford said of Cape of Good Hope. “He won at Epsom on hard ground going a mile and a quarter. He was ridden patiently and came home well. He’s a grand horse and he’s arrived well.”
The Belmont Derby has attracted several Kentucky Derby veterans, including Japanese invader Master Fencer, who ran a respectable seventh at Churchill Downs and fifth in the Belmont S. (G1). Meanwhile, UAE Derby (G2) hero Plus Que Parfait and Louisiana Derby (G2) runner-up Spinoff look to improve on grass after not holding their own against the better three-year-olds on dirt.
“He’s been working really well on the turf at Churchill,” trainer Brendan Walsh said of Plus Que Parfait. “We’ve been trying to do this, and I think he can run a big race. It might really suit him.”
The competitive field also includes Penn Mile (G2) winner Moon Colony; $100,000 James W. Murphy victor English Bee; and the multiple graded-placed Social Paranoia and Henley’s Joy.
Chad Brown, unsurprisingly, holds a strong hand in the $750,000 Belmont Oaks (G1), a race he’s won five of the past seven years. Newspaperofrecord, last year’s leader in the division, is seeking her first win of the season after dropping the Edgewood (G3) to Concrete Rose and the Wonder Again (G3) to stablemate Cambier Parc.
Concrete Rose was a below-par eighth to Newspaperofrecord in the Breeders’ Cup, but has won all of her other starts, including the Florida Oaks (G3) and Jessamine (G2) for trainer Rusty Arnold.
“She’s improved from two to three but we had a little edge on Newspaperofrecord last time out,” Arnold said. “We got a race in at Tampa and Newspaperofrecord was coming off a longer layoff, so the edge went to us. Now, she [Newspaperofrecord] has two races into her and we have two races in us, so it’s a different ballgame now.”
The foreign contingent for the 1 1/4-mile Oaks includes French stakes winner Olendon, second in the Prix Saint-Alary (G1) at Longchamp most recently. Coolmore, which won last year’s edition with Athena, will be represented by Group winners Just Wonderful and Coral Beach, neither of whom have placed in three prior outings this term.
Coming from further afield is Japanese invader Jodie, who finished far up the track in the Japanese Oaks in May as a triple-digit-odds longshot.