What the trainers say as Bolshoi Ballet bids for second $1m prize in Saratoga Derby

Horse Racing Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Ballet (Ryan Moore) wins Belmont Derby Invitational. Photo: NYRA/Chelsea Durand (Coglianese)

By Nicholas Godfrey

Derby flop Bolshoi Ballet bids for a second $1m prize in the US in Saturday’s Saratoga Derby Invitational – but the feature event at the New York venue is the Whitney, in which Knicks Go and Godolphin’s Maxfield face off against star filly Swiss Skydiver.

• All quotes provided by the NYRA media team

Bolshoi Ballet heads strong European team

Saratoga: Saratoga Derby Invitational G1 $1m, 1m1½f, turf, 3yo (Race 9, 10.10pm BST)

In a field full of European interest, Bolshoi Ballet (Aidan O’Brien/Ryan Moore) bids to follow up his victory a month ago in the Belmont Derby, the opening leg of the New York ‘Turf Triple’, with more of the same.

Sent off a tick better than even-money favourite at Belmont, the much-touted son of Galileo won decisively enough in the end, even if it is was one for the solid-rather-than-spectacular category as he was under pressure a long way out before staying on in workmanlike fashion.

While Ryan Moore’s presence is a statement of serious intent, this looks a tougher assignment. Secret Protector (Charlie Appleby/Mike Smith) brings a decent level of form for Godolphin, while Bolshoi Ballet’s Irish compatriot Cadillac (Jessica Harrington/Shane Foley) regained the winning thread last time in G3 company at the Curragh. 

State Of Rest (Joseph O’Brien/John Velazquez) also travels from Ireland, while Soldier Rising (Christophe Clement/Irad Ortiz), a son of Frankel, won a couple in France for former trainer Andre Fabre. He breaks from the rail in an 11-runner field.

Shall we talk about it?

Bolshot Ballet: “It’s a good opportunity for him. He’s doing well and came back here in good order. Aidan and the team are very happy with him at the moment. If he runs to his last race, he should be right there again.” TJ Comerford (Aidan O’Brien’s travelling assistant)

King Fury: “We’re really using this race as a prep for the Travers, which is something that Catholic Boy pulled off. So that will be interesting. A good horse will run on just about anything given the chance and I think he’ll handle the grass just fine. He’s a lovely horse so hopefully it’s one step and a big one for him.” Kenny McPeek

Palazzi: “He needs luck and pace, two things he didn’t have in his last start. It was very frustrating because he was down on the inside with nowhere to go.” Mark Casse

Secret Protector: “Trip-wise it looks really made for him. His run at Ascot was very good. I know he didn’t win but from where he was in the run to how he finished was quite striking. It’s going to be a tough race with Aidan’s horse and a few of the others but Charlie is fairly confident if he runs the race he run at Ascot, he will take a bit of beating. He wouldn’t really want it like a road but on the quicker side of things is fine,” Chris Connett (Charlie Appleby’s travelling assistant)

Whitney: ‘The only one more confident than me or you is him!’

Saratoga: Whitney Stakes G1 $1m, 1m1f, dirt, 4yo+ (Race 10, 10.48pm BST)

The phrase ‘small-but-select’ might have been coined for the five-runner field assembled for Saturday’s $1m feature. Four of them are G1 winners – and the fifth, By My Standards, probably should be.

Pegasus World Cup winner Knicks Go (Brad Cox/Joel Rosario) got back to winning ways last time going two turns in minor G3 company at Prairie Meadows in Iowa. Sure, it was a weak race – but he could hardly have won more easily as he made all to score by 10¼ lengths giving weight away for the highest Beyer speed figure of 2021.

Godolphin four-year-old Maxfield (Brendan Walsh/Jose Ortiz) is making up for lost time after an injury-interrupted career since he won the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland as a juvenile. He has now won seven of his eight career starts, most recently slamming his rivals in the Stephen Foster (only recently downgraded to G2) at Churchill Downs.

Silver State (Steve Asmussen/Ricardo Santana) comes in off a six-timer following his rail-skimming triumph in the Met Mile on the Belmont undercard. Whitney opponents By My Standards and Knicks Go were second and fourth there.

All of which leaves champion filly Swiss Skydiver (Kenny McPeek/Irad Ortiz), no stranger to success against her male counterparts after beating subsequent horse of the year Authentic in last year’s Preakness Stakes. The four-year-old won the G1 Beholder Mile on her seasonal debut but is unseen since a flat effort at Oaklawn in April.

Shall we talk about it?

By My Standards: “He’s been a very consistent and good training horse. He runs well and brings it every time; we’re unfortunate to not get a Grade 1. This will be a deep and high-quality field. He has a good shot in there, but it’s obviously very, very tough.” Bret Calhoun

Knicks Go: “It [Prairie Meadows win] gave us the confidence to try the Whitney. The race solidified that the horse needs two turns, which he’ll get in the Whitney. We’re excited about getting him back in the Grade 1 ranks going around two turns. He’ll break running. We’ll see how far he can take himself around there, hopefully the whole way. He’s set up for a big effort. He’s been working really well at Ellis.” Brad Cox

Maxfield: “This year, we’ve got a nice body of races into him which he hasn’t done before. He hasn’t really missed a beat since December. We’ve spaced his races out good and except for one or two, he’s had four-to-six weeks between starts. He’s still a fresh horse and that’s a good position to be in at this time of year. He’s a horse that is still lightly raced. We were always on the back foot with him. It’s a big test for him, so we’ll see how he stacks up against them.” Brendan Walsh

Silver State: “His work the other day was exactly what we asked. “[Assistant trainer] Scott [Blasi] said he’d give you a lot of confidence and I said, ‘The only one more confident than me or you is him!’. He’s won six in a row. The Whitney will establish the leader of the division. I have nothing but respect for who’s in it, but we’re very fortunate to have a horse as good as Silver State to run in it.” Steve Asmussen

Swiss Skydiver: “She’s had a bumpy first half of the year. No major issues, but just stuff that kept her from showing off. She had a little hind leg infection that was bothering her. It didn’t appear to be a big deal going into Oaklawn, but it might have been why she ran a little flat that day.” Kenny McPeek

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