2021 Belmont Derby international scouting reports: Bolshoi Ballet, Tokyo Gold

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July 6th, 2021

Aidan O’Brien has won the Belmont Derby (G1) once, in 2016, when he dispatched Epsom Derby (G1) also-ran Deauville to Belmont Park. On Saturday, the master of Ballydoyle will send out an even more accomplished colt looking to rebound from Epsom — beaten Derby favorite Bolshoi Ballet.

The other international invitee is Tokyo Gold. Based in France with Satoshi Kobayashi, he comes off a breakout performance in the Derby Italiano (G2).

Bolshoi Ballet

Coolmore had a battalion of Epsom Derby contenders, but ended up with just Bolshoi Ballet for the June 5 classic. The Galileo colt was so impressive in both of his preps at Leopardstown that he went off as the 11-8 favorite at Epsom, only to fade to a disappointing seventh, behind Adayar.

The reason was forthcoming. He came out of the race with a nasty gash on his right hind leg. He was struck by a rival, felt it as the race unfolded, and reportedly was very sore the morning after. But for that mishap, Bolshoi Ballet would have performed better, and might not have ventured here on a retrieval mission.

Although Bolshoi Ballet was arguably an underlay at Epsom, based on the form of his Irish wins, he is entitled to enjoy Belmont as much as Leopardstown. He is undefeated in three starts over that broadly similar left-handed circuit, including two wins at the 1 1/4-mile distance.

Bolshoi Ballet has always been sharper than full brother Southern France, who placed in the St Leger (G1), Irish St Leger (G1), Queen’s Vase (G2), and Yorkshire Cup (G2), before he continued his career in Australia. Their full sister, What Say You, produced Editor at Large, the third-place finisher in last fall’s Miss Grillo S. (G2) at Belmont.

Bolshoi Ballet’s juvenile campaign consisted of three races within a three-week span in October. After a promising third on debut at Newmarket, Bolshoi Ballet obliged as the even-money favorite next time at Leopardstown. He got a flyer out of the gate, found a pace companion in no particular hurry who did not offer any real pressure, wound it up in the stretch, and powered clear by four lengths.

Eight days later, in the the Criterium de Saint-Cloud (G1), Bolshoi Ballet flanked eventual winner Gear Up but was bogged down in the heavy going. His mechanics were noticeably different, as he was unable to reach and extend as he does on a better surface. Bolshoi Ballet was still beaten only a couple lengths, in fifth.

Bolshoi Ballet was in his element back at Leopardstown this spring. In the April 11 Ballysax S. (G3), he raced prominently, took time to build up momentum, and ultimately ran out a decisive winner. Bolshoi Ballet was dynamic in the May 9 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (G3), over the same 1 1/4-mile trip, where he delivered the coup de grace on the far turn, en route to a six-length romp.

The Derrinstown time (2:07.37) was considerably faster than the Ballysax (2:11.61), both on good ground. Bolshoi Ballet also defeated a high-class rival in the Derrinstown, Mac Swiney, although the lackluster fourth was later found to be under the weather. Mac Swiney was much more himself when he returned to a mile to capture the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1). 

In a handy position at Epsom, Bolshoi Ballet was virtually in tandem with Adayar until the latter surged in the straight. Bolshoi Ballet's tactical speed should put him in good position at Belmont, and the cut back to 1 1/4 miles removes another variable. Bolshoi Ballet handles a range of ground conditions, from good to yielding or soft, and the turf would have to be truly heavy to be a detriment.

With his array of Group 1 entries versus elders over the summer and fall, Bolshoi Ballet is probably using this as a springboard to loftier targets. If he runs back to his best, you can call it a confidence booster. 

Tokyo Gold

A Teruya Yoshida homebred with an Olympic-themed name, Tokyo Gold looked like a different animal in the Derby Italiano. The gray was finally on good ground, after he dealt with varying degrees of soft in his native France, but the easier opposition was at least as important a factor. The question now is whether he can back up that effort against a much deeper field.

Tokyo Gold is by the prolific French sire Kendargent, whose current headliners are Prix d’Ispahan (G1) hero Skalleti and his brother Skazino, last seen in a Prix Vicomtesse Vigier (G2) victory. Kendargent has also had a useful stateside performer in Canessar, the runner-up in the 2018 Belmont Gold Cup (G2).

Tokyo Gold’s full sister, Notte Bianca, was a smart juvenile of 2015. Second to future dual classic heroine La Cressonniere in the Prix Isonomy, she finished third against males in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud, where she edged O’Brien’s Idaho. Notte Bianca and Tokyo Gold are out of Italian stakes winner Biancarosa, by Dalakhani, the sire of two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) victor Conduit.

At two, Tokyo Gold displayed greenness, yet still won twice from four starts. He did his best work late, when third on debut at Saint-Cloud, then had success in the provinces. Tokyo Gold parlayed a more forward trip to break his maiden at Saint-Malo, where he wandered a bit in the stretch.

Overlooked at 14-1 in his first stakes attempt, the Criterium de l’Ouest at Craon, Tokyo Gold stalked and appeared surrounded. Yet he stayed on to prevail narrowly in a three-way finish. Tokyo Gold returned to Saint-Cloud to try another rung of the class ladder in the Prix Thomas Bryon (G3). The result was inconclusive, since he was eased in the stretch, perhaps sapped by the heavy going.

Tokyo Gold was not seen again until the March 9 Prix Maurice Caillault on Chantilly’s Polytrack. Wrangled off the pace, he steadily closed on the outside but was overpowered by the last-to-first winner, Fort Payne.

Back up in class and distance for the about 1 5/16-mile Prix Noailles (G3), Tokyo Gold caught a very soft course at Longchamp. The 18-1 shot resumed tracking tactics, struck the front, but got outkicked by Pretty Tiger and Cheshire Academy and lost third late to Gregolimo. Cheshire Academy, who was awarded the win via disqualification, and Pretty Tiger went on to finish fifth and sixth in the French Derby (G1) to O’Brien’s outstanding St Mark’s Basilica. Pretty Tiger just came back to wire Sunday’s Prix Eugene Adam (G2).

Tokyo Gold’s decent fourth in that French classic trial made him the favorite in the May 23 Derby Italiano. For once, the competition was softer than the ground, and he capitalized. Held up off the pace and steered outside, he rolled by four lengths in the 1 3/8-mile classic in Rome. 

Tokyo Gold also handed Kobayashi his first Group victory. The trainer was quite level-headed about the depth of the race in his comments to Jon Lees of

I hope he was a good Derby winner, but I think this year the level is a little bit low. We will see how he runs the next time with other horses.

I don’t know where that will be yet. Traveling from Chantilly to Rome is a very long trip. He will get home on Tuesday evening (May 25) and I want to see how he is.

I think I will give him a little bit of a break and maybe he can run in Deauville during the summer.

Needless to say, a New York venture is aiming higher. Note that, according to both Equibase and NYRA, Tokyo Gold is listed as trained by Shinya Kobayashi, a fledgling trainer in Japan. 

Tokyo Gold has so far excelled on the periphery, not so much in the epicenter around Paris. On the plus side, he has been consistent, except for that one flub as a juvenile on heavy going, and Satoshi Kobayashi has reason to believe Tokyo Gold can progress again.