A tough-trip runner-up in the July 9 Belmont Derby (G1), Godolphin’s Nations Pride enjoyed a smoother passage to prevail in Saturday’s $1 million Saratoga Derby (G1). Bettors stuck with the Charlie Appleby trainee, sending him off as the 2.40-1 favorite at Belmont and again backing him down to 2.10-1 at the Spa.
Three factors helped Nations Pride turn the tables on Belmont Derby winner Classic Causeway – a better draw (post 4 compared to post 10 at Belmont), a stronger pace, and reuniting with regular rider William Buick. The key was that Buick urged him early to secure position, unlike Frankie Dettori last time. A more speculative fourth factor is that the British shipper remained stateside for the past month.
Classic Causeway, who dictated the pace en route to his 26.75-1 upset at Belmont, was once more in the controlling position. But the front runner went faster at every call.
According to Trakus data (no official times were available due to a teletimer error), Classic Causeway posted fractions of :23.00, :47.18, 1:10.70, and 1:35.03 on the Mellon course. Contrast those with his Belmont Derby splits of :23.55, :48.02, 1:12.33, and 1:36.27 on the inner turf. Both courses were labeled firm, although late afternoon rain at Saratoga reportedly had an effect, and the turf had a bit of give.
Nations Pride was off a beat slow again, but responded to Buick and advanced into a ground-saving third entering the clubhouse turn. The Teofilo colt drafted in the leader’s slipstream until the far turn, when angling out in preparation for the stretch.
Classic Causeway tried to repeat his Belmont heroics, but Nations Pride was already on the premises. Staying on strongly to overhaul the pacesetter, the bay drove 1 3/4 lengths clear. Trakus recorded his final time as 1:52.82 for 1 3/16 miles.
Annapolis, the 2.90-1 second choice who rated a couple of further lengths back, made late progress to head Classic Causeway for the runner-up spot. Sy Dog rallied to snatch fourth from the Aidan O’Brien-trained Stone Age. Royal Patronage had a spot of trouble at the start, found himself restrained off the pace, and checked in sixth. Next came early stalker Main Event, Grand Sonata, Ethereal Road, and Emmanuel, who was eased. Stolen Base was scratched after running seventh in Friday’s National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2).
Appleby, on the scene for the big win, hopes that it’s a harbinger for his filly With the Moonlight, the Belmont Oaks (G1) runner-up who returns in Sunday’s Saratoga Oaks (G3).
“I came in yesterday and saw them train this morning and as a physical, I think they’ve done very well,” the Newmarket-based trainer said. “The style of training, they’ve adapted to it.
“On the back of Belmont, they were a touch unlucky,” Appleby added. “He (Nations Pride) was a bit slow from the gate there and had that wider trip around. It was a little bit messy, but that was by the by. We came in today confident that if we could just get him to break a bit quicker, and William could get him up in behind the pace, that we felt he was the right horse in the race and could go on and get the job done. It was a great ride by William.”
Buick noted that the colt didn’t break alertly, but the inside post helped.
“He was drawn 10 at Belmont and he jumped a step slow, which he did today as well. From the 4 gate, I managed to go to the inside, and the pace inside were going forward, too, so I managed to put him in there and get him into a good spot, and he did the rest from then on really.”
Buick felt that the fractions were comfortable for Nations Pride.
“I expected them to go faster, but I also had in the back of my head that the horse that made the run in the Belmont race (Classic Causeway) would want to be doing the same again today,” the winning rider observed. “Once I saw that, I knew Julien (Leparoux on Classic Causeway) wasn’t going to go too fast, and I was happy where I was. I knew there were a couple closers in the race, but I knew my horse would stay well and the way that rain took the speed out of the track a little bit, so I was confident that my horse would stay well and hit the line well.”
Annapolis, on the other hand, was not as enamored of the summer shower, according to jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.
“Irad said he was compromised by the soft ground,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “It had a little more cut to it than ideal for him. He likes hard ground. He kept trying at the end. It was just hard to accelerate on that ground. Certainly not (as soft as) at Penn National (when Annapolis suffered his only other loss in the Penn Mile [G2]), but still had some cut to it.”
Buick spotted the oncoming Annapolis late.
“I saw him (eventual runner-up Annapolis) in the corner of my eye, but all I had to do was keep my horse doing his job,” Buick said. “You never know until you pass the wire, but I was quite happy with the way he was running throughout the race. He felt comfortable and he looked great beforehand, and I know Charlie and his team liked the way he’s been training. The main job today was to get him into a good, forward position. He jumped OK, but we managed to get him a good start.”
Nations Pride sports a record of 8-5-2-0, $899,533. After scoring his first two wins on the Polytrack at Lingfield and Chelmsford, respectively, last fall, the Irish homebred raised his profile at the Dubai Carnival. Nations Pride crushed a Feb. 25 conditions race on the Meydan turf dubbed the Jumeirah Derby, stamping himself as a European classic hopeful. He confirmed that lofty goal next out in the Apr. 29 Newmarket S. at Britain’s “headquarters,” running away by seven lengths.
Supplemented to the Derby (G1) at Epsom, Nations Pride failed to shine in the 1 1/2-mile prize and wound up eighth. The subpar result was all the more disappointing since the colt he drubbed at Newmarket, Hoo Ya Mal, placed second in the Derby at odds of 150-1.
Nations Pride was then sent on his American mission, and the change of scenery has helped him recover his spark. Appleby will give him another chance at the 1 1/2-mile distance in the third leg of New York’s Turf Triple, the $1 million Jockey Club Derby (G3) on Sept. 17 at Aqueduct.
“I think we’ll step him up to the mile and a half in the Jockey Club Derby. That’s the most realistic aim now,” the horseman said.
Nations Pride was produced by German stakes heroine Important Time, a daughter of Oasis Dream and French Group 1 winner Satwa Queen. This is also the family of Grade/Group 1 scorers Lucky Vega, Spadoun, and Desert Blanc, as well as high-class but ill-fated Group 2 star Wichita.