Based on what we saw in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational last year, this European invasion wasn’t only predictable, it was expected.
After supertrainer Aidan O’Brien sent Bolshoi Ballet across the Atlantic and into the Belmont Park winner’s circle in 2021, the British are definitely coming. So are the Irish. And the French. All told, five European horses are in the 13-horse field tackling the 1 1/4-mile trek around Belmont Park’s inner turf course.
The Belmont Derby headlines Belmont Park’s Stars and Stripes Racing Festival. It’s the ninth race on a card that offers up four stakes races, including its sister: the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational. There’s also the Grade 2 Suburban and the Grade 3 Victory Ride.
The Belmont Derby comprises the first leg of the Turf Triple series for 3-year-old turf horses. Next up is the Aug. 6 Grade 1 Saratoga Derby, followed by the Grade 3 Jockey Club Derby Invitational at Belmont Park this fall.
Stone Age anything but extinct here
To get to those coming attractions means getting past the first leg. And that means getting past an European armada led by two Irish colts: O’Brien’s Stone Age, the tepid 9/2 favorite, and Charlie Appleby’s Nations Pride (5/1).
Starting in Europe isn’t a bad place, considering that only two of the eight Americans: Tiz the Bomb (6/1) and Classic Causeway (12/1), have run 1 1/4 miles. And both did it on dirt in the Kentucky Derby. Tiz the Bomb finished ninth, Classic Causeway, 11th.
That established, along with Bolshoi Ballet setting the table, Stone Age is the 9/2 favorite in this deep field for a reason. His victory in the Group 3 Derby Trial was more impressive than his sixth in the Epsom Derby as the second favorite was disappointing.
Following Bolshoi Ballet’s dance
Along with that, Stone Age owns two victories at this 10-furlong distance: that Derby Trial and a maiden-breaking race in March. He’s also following the same playbook O’Brien used with Bolshoi Ballet. Oh, and ace jockey Ryan Moore returns in the irons.
“He’s a good moving horse and a good, strong traveler,” O’Brien said. “He’s very happy to be forward and to take the lead and he’s drawn wide. But he’s very uncomplicated, we think.”
Nations Pride arrives after his four-race winning streak ended at Epsom with an eighth. He’s actually cutting back in distance to 10 furlongs, the distance his granddam, Satwa Queen built her career at.
Three of his victories during that streak came at 10 furlongs, including the Jumeirah Derby on the Dubai World Cup undercard in March.
Nations Pride cutting back to 10 furlongs
“He just didn’t stay in the English Derby,” Appleby said about that eighth-place finish. “The quicker the ground, the better for him and he’s proven that already at Meydan’s quick, sound surface. “More importantly, coming back to the 10 furlongs will suit. He stays that well and on a sound surface, especially. He’s coming over there in good order and I think he’ll be a live player.”
The other Europeans are Royal Patronage (12/1), Machete (20/1), and Implementation (20/1).
As for the Americans, the logical starter is Tiz the Bomb, who offers value at his 6/1 — courtesy of the Europeans. He also offers versatility, owning victories on dirt, turf and synthetic, where he swept the Turfway Park Derby preps. Don’t discount his strong second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
“I think the further the better with him. He’s all class,” trainer Kenny McPeek said. “A mile and a sixteenth has been easy enough for him, but I think he should be able to get into a nice rhythm, and I think he’ll have a big shot in the race. He’s doing really well. He’s been training here in Kentucky on the grass all spring since the Derby and we’re excited to get him back on turf.”
Wasn’t Classic Causeway in the Ohio Derby?
As for his new stablemate, Classic Causeway, he makes his turf debut two weeks after finishing third in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby. That was the front-running colt’s first outing for McPeek.
The Belmont Derby being a turf race at Belmont Park, Chad Brown isn’t far away. And the four-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner sends out Napoleonic War (10/1). He finished second to Emmanuel, who is in the field at 6/1, in the Grade 2 Pennine Ridge.
According to Xpressbet, Brown has the best winning percentage of any trainer this spring in Belmont stakes races. He’s 13-for-41 (32%).
Not far behind, at 31% (8-for-36) is Todd Pletcher, Emmanuel’s trainer. The More Than Ready colt ran his first five races on dirt, including a third in the Grade 1 Blue Grass. But afterward, Pletcher saw the grass was truly greener. And after Emmanuel won the Pennine Ridge in his turf debut, the Belmont Derby was the logical next step.
Grade 1 Belmont Derby/Belmont Park
Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)
- Implementation, 20/1 (John Velazquez/Pia Brandt)
- Stolen Base, 10/1 (Luis Saez/Mike Maker)
- Napoleonic War, 10/1 (Flavien Prat/Chad Brown)
- Classic Causeway, 12/1 (Julien Leparoux/Kenny McPeek)
- Grand Sonata, 20/1 (Tyler Gaffalione/Todd Pletcher)
- Machete, 20/1 (Stephane Pasquier/Fabrice Chappet)
- Sy Dog, 10/1 (Manny Franco/Graham Motion)
- Royal Patronage, 12/1 (Joel Rosario/Charlie Johnson)
- Tiz the Bomb, 6/1 (Dylan Davis/Kenny McPeek)
- Nations Pride, 5/1 (Frankie Dettori/Charlie Appleby)
- Emmanuel, 6/1 (Irad Ortiz Jr./Todd Pletcher)
- Limited Liability, 12/1 (Jose Ortiz/Shug McGaughey)
- Stone Age, 9/2 (Ryan Moore/Aidan O’Brien)
“He worked well on the turf and we felt like the Pennine Ridge was the logical place to give it a try,” Pletcher said. “It was a good prep for the Belmont Derby. He took to it and we’re happy to step it up and give it a try. I think the mile and a quarter should be within his scope.”
Pletcher also sends out Grand Sonata (20/1), who Pletcher lauded for his consistency, if not his recent form, a second and a third in two Churchill Downs stakes.