Sunday’s $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational, the middle leg of NYRA’s inaugural Turf Triple, offers a rematch of the top five from the Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) plus several intriguing newcomers.
Henley’s Joy sprang a 20-1 upset of the first leg, buoyed by the stretch-out to 1 1/4 miles and an ideal trip carved out by new rider Jose Lezcano. The Mike Maker pupil gets a little less ground to work with in this 1 3/16-mile test, but projects another ground-saving passage from his rail draw. The bigger question is whether the Kitten’s Joy sophomore was flattered by the tale of trips.
Belmont Derby runner-up Social Paranoia, who covered 35 more feet than Henley’s Joy according to Trakus, is drawn alongside his familiar foe in post 2. Although the ground loss can’t be ignored, the Todd Pletcher trainee was in close striking range throughout, struck the front, and just got outfinished.
The Belmont alumnus with arguably the strongest case in the rematch is third-placer Rockemperor. A new recruit from France for Chad Brown, the son of Holy Roman Emperor dropped back to last from post 14, then sizzled home in :22.14 to snatch third. Rockemperor brought a useful profile, having just missed in the Prix la Force (G3) and finished sixth in the French Derby (G1). With a much better draw in post 4, it’s logical that he’s the tepid 7-2 favorite with Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
A similar point can be made for stablemate Digital Age, who was himself held up far back from post 13 in the Belmont Derby and closed for fourth. The hitherto undefeated winner of the American Turf (G2) isn’t quite so far out here in post 8, although as an Invincible Spirit colt, he might be most effective going shorter. Digital Age needs to call upon the stamina from his dam’s side to put this to bed.
Seismic Wave, fifth as the lukewarm 9-2 Belmont Derby favorite, was another who improved position late. Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the Juddmonte homebred had been knocking on the door when fourth to Digital Age in the American Turf and runner-up in the Pennine Ridge (G3). Like Henley’s Joy last time, perhaps Seismic Wave can step up with a different kind of trip, but the waters are getting deeper.
Aidan O’Brien’s top Belmont Derby runner, Cape of Good Hope, was a disappointing eighth, especially as a full brother to Highland Reel who’d been fourth in the French Derby. The master of Ballydoyle sends him over again, only now he’s the ostensible second-stringer with Julien Leparoux astride.
Wayne Lordan jumps ship to stablemate Mohawk, fresh from beating an indifferent group of older horses in the July 18 Meld (G3) at Leopardstown. Mohawk had bested a rusty Cape of Good Hope in last year’s Royal Lodge (G2), but couldn’t confirm the form when seventh in the French Derby. The fellow son of Galileo sports a niftier result from the May 9 Dee at Chester, where Mohawk was second to eventual St James’s Palace (G1) hero Circus Maximus. The form held up again during this week’s Glorious Goodwood, as Circus Maximus beat all but Too Darn Hot in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) “Win and You’re In” Sussex (G1). Mohawk, pegged at 10-1 on the morning line, will likely cover extra ground from post 10.
Parked out widest of all in post 11 is Flying Scotsman. The Calumet homebred burst onto the scene for Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer last fall, edging Omaha Beach in a maiden and romping in the Cecil B. De Mille (G3). Flying Scotsman was switched to up-and-coming trainer Jack Sisterson this season, and his return sixth in the American Derby (G3) was full of promise. The English Channel half to Canadian champion Leigh Court contested the pace, took command, and tired as if needing the race.
Likely pace factor A Thread of Blue missed the Belmont Derby after a subpar fourth in a soggy Penn Mile (G2), but he’d be competitive if able to transfer his early-season heroics from Gulfstream Park. The Palm Beach (G3) and Dania Beach winner has found life tougher since shipping north, though, and had no answer when Digital Age motored late at Churchill. Note that trainer Kiaran McLaughlin had been mulling Friday’s National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2), so the decision to go for the big prize could be significant.
The other new shooters are Kadar, a European import for Maker who looks overpriced at 30-1, and Kent (G3) winner Eons. Kadar, a €700,000 ($836,150) Arqana May juvenile by Scat Daddy, won his lone start at two but wound up a lackluster fourth in the April 16 Feilden at Newmarket. Resurfacing stateside, the Phoenix Thoroughbred colorbearer was beaten a neck in third in a Saratoga allowance. Kadar gets blinkers and a rider switch to Jose Ortiz. The Arnaud Delacour-trained Eons extended his winning streak to four at Delaware last out, and the full brother to Giant Gizmo has more to offer.
Brown also has the morning-line favorite in Sunday’s other turf highlight, the $200,000 Waya (G3). His even-money Santa Monica goes for a graded hat trick following scores in the Orchid (G3) and Sheepshead Bay (G2), but must stop the streaking Gentle Ruler. On a roll since breaking her maiden in March, the Ian Wilkes trainee made it four in a row in the Robert G. Dick Memorial (G3). Dick runner-up Theodora B. was previously second in the Big Dreyfus at Laurel to I’m So Fancy, who came back to land the Matchmaker (G3).
Brown’s secondary chance, Fools Gold, hopes to break through after a trio of stakes placings, most recently in the River Memories over this 1 1/2-mile distance at Belmont. Also exiting the River Memories is German Group 2 veteran Sky Full of Stars, who is eligible to move forward off her comeback fifth for new trainer Christophe Clement. Rounding out the short field is multiple Grade 2-placed Woodbine shipper Get Explicit.
The marquee dirt event on the program, the $200,000 Adirondack (G2) for two-year-old fillies, features unbeaten Debutante winner Magic Dance. A half-sister to star sophomore Guarana, who recently added the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), Magic Dance is the 7-5 favorite to emulate her by staying perfect in her Spa debut. The Steve Asmussen pupil was a little more workmanlike in her stakes victory than in her maiden, both at Churchill Downs, but remains the one to beat in the 6 1/2-furlong dash.
Frank’s Rockette turned heads in her lone outing at Churchill, running away by 8 3/4 lengths, and rates as the 2-1 second choice on the morning line. The Mott filly is bred to be precocious as a daughter of Into Mischief and 2011 Arlington-Washington Lassie (G3) winner Rocket Twentyone, from the further family of Indian Blessing.
Perfect Alibi, a 9 1/2-length Churchill debut romper, settled for second as the favorite in the Astoria, but has every right to be more streetwise for Mark Casse. Pletcher’s Integral, who scored first out at Gulfstream, could benefit from her experience in finishing fifth in a muddy Schuylerville (G3).
Just Fly needed softer company to break her maiden in her third try, capitalizing in a race restricted to fillies who failed to bring more than $45,000 at auction. Gary Gullo’s Big Q upset a state-bred maiden here, and stablemate Miss Peppina was another big-priced winner at Belmont. Mylastfirstkiss has been well beaten after problematic starts in both of her races so far.
The first stakes of the day, the $100,000 John R. Morrissey for New York-bred sprinters, includes 2017 winner Celtic Chaos, last year’s runner-up Eye Luv Lulu, Gold for the King dropping from graded company, Build to Suit off the layoff for Brown, Vincento on the cutback, a rejuvenated T Loves a Fight.