By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: There’s no messing about from Ballydoyle as they send in a couple of big guns for a couple of lucrative turf prizes at Belmont Park on Saturday’s card.
Ryan Moore’s also in the big apple to partner beaten Epsom favourite Bolshoi Ballet (reportedly sore after race) in the $1m Belmont Derby Invitational, the first leg of the NYRA’s ‘Turf Triple’ and won by Aidan O’Brien with Deauville in 2016.
Rivals include French-based Derby Italiano winner Tokyo Gold (Satoshi Kobayashi/John Velazquez), while Hard Love (Jonathan Thomas/Manny Franco) and G2 winner Du Jour (Bill Mott/Flavien Prat) – transferred from Bob Baffert amid his New York suspension – look best of the home team.
Much-touted Santa Barbara does the honours for Aidan O’Brien as she bids to break her G1 duck in the Belmont Oaks. Like Ballydoyle’s 2018 winner Athena, she travels to New York shortly after running in the Pretty Polly Stakes at the Irish Derby meeting.
Nazuna (Roger Varian/John Velazquez) and Cirona (Christophe Ferland/Jose Lezcano) also cross the Atlantic for this $700,000 contest. The latter will be joining turf maestro Chad Brown after the race.
• All quotes provided by the NYRA media team (Ryan Martin and Keith McCalmont)
Shall we talk about it?
Belmont Derby: ‘The race wasn’t ideal at Epsom’
Belmont Park (Sat 10.12pm BST): Belmont Derby Invitational G1 $1m, 1m2f, turf, 3yo
Bolshoi Ballet: “He’s been training well since the Derby. Once he has good to firm ground, that makes a difference. I suppose the race wasn’t ideal that day at Epsom. The ground may have gone against him. He’s coming here now trying to pick up the pieces where he left off at Leopardstown. He won both the Ballysax and the Derringstown well. It didn’t work out that great at Epsom, but I’m sure he’s still on the right path to picking it up from there. He’s a good mover and he’s just a good-looking horse himself.” TJ Comerford (Aidan O’Brien’s travelling assistant)
Hard Love: “Since he broke his maiden last year, the idea was to figure out how to get to this race and he’s done nothing wrong up to this point. From what we’ve seen, the efficient way he moves, his pedigree, his disposition, we’ve been excited to try the mile-and-a-quarter distance. He seems to have a fair bit of stamina, though you never know until they do it. We’ve been excited to stretch him out.” Jonathan Thomas
Palazzi: “There wasn’t a whole lot of speed in his last race and Churchill Downs is never easy to close. I thought he ran really well. I think he’ll really like Belmont’s turf course as well. He’s a classy dude.” Mark Casse
Safe Conduct: “He’s a big, tall strong horse and he loves to train; he just loves his job. We didn’t know if he was going be worth $10,000 or more, but we knew he loved what he did out there every morning and that’s a good thing in a horse. I think anyone in the race could win and you wouldn’t be surprised. There are some really nice horses in the race, but a lot of them still have something to prove, including him.” Phil Serpe
Sainthood: “His works on the turf indicate that he likes it, and his pedigree certainly suggests that he will like it. He ran well on the synthetic and everything we’ve seen indicates he’ll handle it well. He’s tactical enough that hopefully we can get a bit of cover because I do think his turn of foot, from what we saw in his breezes, is pretty good.”
Belmont Oaks: ‘Every race she’s had has been a Group 1’
Belmont Park (Sat 9.06pm BST): Belmont Oaks Invitational G1 $700,000 1m2f, turf, 3yo fillies
Cirona: “It doesn’t look like there will be firm going up there – I don’t think some cut in the ground ever hurts with 90% of European horses. The race in the Diane probably didn’t set up well for her. While she was tenth, she was only beaten three lengths. She broke her maiden first out over six furlongs. She’s shown a turn of foot, and she can be tactically placed.” Peter Bradley (owner)
Con Lima: “She shows up and runs well every time. She finished up the mile and an eighth really well last time and being a daughter of Commissioner, you’d think the mile and a quarter would be within her scope. I’d like to see her prominent early, possibly on the lead. She seems to run effectively that way.” Todd Pletcher
Plum Ali: “She can be wherever she wants. The other day she was drawn on the outside, which is why she was so far back in the race. With a good draw, there’s no reason for her to be so far back. She finished well going a mile and a furlong, so we’ll give her another eighth of a mile and see what happens. She’s been a little bit unlucky, but hopefully she can put it all together.” Christophe Clement
Santa Barbara: “Every race she’s had this year has been a Group 1 and she’s been running very well in them. I suppose the ground was bad at Epsom when she ran in the Oaks and quicker ground suited her better taking on the older fillies [in the Pretty Polly] and she ran well. She came here on the back of that. It doesn’t seem to have fazed her at all. She looks magnificent. She looks like a colt, actually. Aidan thinks a lot of her. Her work at home has been all good. She probably is just running in tough races and getting all the experience from running in them.”
TJ Comerford (Aidan O’Brien’s travelling assistant)
Spanish Loveaffair: “There was some give in the ground last time and I think she’d prefer it a little firmer. She had a minor throat issue, so she missed some time. I thought, given the layoff, it was a really good effort. I was very pleased with her last start – she’ll have to be good, it’s a tough field. She should build off her last race.”
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